Wwhat do you get when you cross an Australian ballroom dance teacher with the owner of a small cinema? Genetically, the answer comes in the flamboyant form of Baz Luhrmann, the music-loving director of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge!who learned tango with his mother and watched movies on the screen his father owned in the small town of Herons Creek.
Born Mark Anthony Luhrmann in Sydney in 1962, he’s already the creator of a handful of lavishly popular hits and now tells the story of Elvis Presley, one of the most vivid – if not lurid – of all real-life stories. his biopic, Elvisstarring 30-year-old Austin Butler and Tom Hanks as the singer’s calculating manager, Colonel Tom Parker, will have its world premiere on May 25 at the Cannes Film Festival†
A prolonged crescendo of public interest followed the birth of the project eight years ago, which reportedly featured the original nominees for the title role, including Harry Styles. The anticipation level rose further in early 2020 when filming in Australia was interrupted as Covid hit Hanks. And early this month, excitement was reignited when the film won public approval from Presley’s widow.
Luhrmann, who looked radiantly tanned at the Met Gala in New York, posed on the red carpet with Priscilla Presley, who later tweeted after a private screening of Elvis: “I relived every moment in this film. It took me a few days to get over the emotions. Beautifully done Bass.”
Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, loved it too, Priscilla revealed, adding that she was sure his granddaughter, actor Riley Keough, would feel the same.
The film should spark stellar Hollywood tension on the legendary Croisette this festival, as Cannes shakes off its pandemic gloom. And the premiere of Elviswhile not competing for the Palme d’Or, will mark a significant moment in a festival where the appreciations of rock heroes on the big screen are prominent.
On Sunday, May 22, Ethan Coen, one half of the famed film-making brothers, will make his solo film debut with a documentary about another American rock titan, Jerry Lee Lewis. his video, Problems in mind, charts the unruly career of the musician they dubbed “Killer.” On Monday, May 23, a documentary by David Bowie, Moonage Daydream, created by Brett Morgen, also has a world premiere. The American director, who has already made Mounting of Heck about Kurt Cobainspent four years collecting hours of unseen Bowie footage for this “experiential cinematic odyssey.”
Music documentaries took the film industry by storm after the success of 2012 Seeking sugar man† In recent years Summer of the soul was praised, and there was a joyous response to Edgar Wright’s Sparks brothers movie† The annual Cannes Classics lineup, this festival honors Martin Scorsese’s admired masterpiece of the genre, his 1978 documentary about the band, The last waltz†
A parallel boom in rock biopics has seen images of Freddie Mercury, Hank Williams, Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Morrissey all whiz off the production line. But Luhrmann promises something more daring and colorful. As a director who probably tackles the most significant events in commercial pop history, he knew he “couldn’t make this movie if the casting wasn’t quite right.”
“We searched thoroughly for an actor with the ability to evoke the unique natural movement and vocal qualities of this peerless star, as well as the inner fragility,” he said.
Incidentally, Luhrmann also set himself the arduous task of finding a convincing BB King, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Little Richard for the Elvis form. But then music is in the bones of this son of the owner of the ballroom dance clothing store Barbara and her late husband, Leonard Luhrmann, a Vietnam veteran who ran a farm and gas station (as well as a movie theater).
Their boy loved music and dance and as an adult has earned Grammy nominations for his movie soundtracks, as well as some acclaim as an opera director. In the early 90s, Australian production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream won the Critic’s Prize at the Edinburgh festival, and in 2002 he released Puccini’s La Boheme to Broadway, where it received seven Tony nominations.
Coupled with his love of high fashion, Luhrmann’s passion for music has led to lavish advertising campaigns for Chanel, as well as promotional films honoring designers Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli.
“I’ve always been spread too thin,” admitted Luhrmann. Yet there is another string to his bow that only viewers of the Australian TV drama, A national practice in the eighties, you may recall. Luhrmann started out as an actor and graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney in 1985. Even before that, at age 18, he had played small roles in a few episodes of the daytime soap.
By this time he was already “Baz”, not “Mark”. He had initially been nicknamed by school bullies in a reference to Basil Brush, the British children’s TV doll character. “I had this crazy curly hair, this big fro, and in school all those guys beat me up,” the director remembers. With impressive teenage bravado, he responded by polling changing his name to Bazmark, linking the mockery to his birth name forever, and effectively launching a creative brand into the world.
When fame came, it came quickly and suddenly, at 30, with the release of Strictly Ballroom, the first of Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain Trilogy” of films. What started as a short play in drama school became a quirky movie cult hit, later changing mainstream TV entertainment by inspiring the BBC to revamp its defunct ballroom show as Strictly Come Dancing†
For Luhrmann, the film was “the first step in such a 10-year journey to make musical cinematic language”. Then came his vivid vision of Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet in 1996† Critics tend to call this his true masterpiece, and the director is certainly still somewhat in love with it.
He recently described it as “the most romantic movie experience I’ve ever had”, adding: “Someone should make a movie about us making that movie. Can you imagine? Leo DiCaprio was 19, we all live in Mexico, there are helicopters and explosions and we are doing iambic pentameter!”
A year after it came out, Luhrmann married production designer, Catherine Martin, who has now won four Oscars for his films. The couple have two children and have talked about maintaining an unconventional home set-up, living separately during the week and meeting in hotels on weekends.
In 2001, Luhrmann took center stage when he had cinema audiences sing Jim Broadbent’s Madonna’s Like a Virgin in Moulin Rouge!† Starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, he has won the most accolades to date, including eight Oscar nominations. The latest of his Red Curtain trio, he sees it as rooted in the expressive greatness of 1940s Hollywood: “It’s a heightened theatrical cinematic language, which I like to think of as a big lie revealing a great truth.”
Since then, the critical reception of Luhrmann’s work has proved less reliable. He keeps a small notebook of project ideas, but the recent picks haven’t flown that high. To be historical saga from 2008, Australia, again starring Kidman but this time co-starring compatriot Hugh Jackman, did well in Europe, but critics weren’t thrilled. His most recent film, a 3D version of Scott Fitzgerald’s F The Great Gatsby, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the glamorous antihero, also disappointed many reviewers. However, it brought in three times its estimated budget of $105 million at the box office. Last year, going downhis expensive Netflix series about the origins of hip-hop in the 1970s was canceled after one season.
At Luhrmann, it seems it is all or nothing. And it’s a creative philosophy that he seems to be extending to his audience. In defense of the full style of ‘s surprising opening scenes Moulin Rouge!, Luhrmann has argued that a slow, naturalistic approach would have been weak: “While you’re chatting and eating popcorn, you’re just getting a bunch of facts and figures so the movie can start. In our film we demand that you say: ‘Are you in or are you out?’” Next week will show which side the Cannes audience has chosen for Elvis.
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