Director Deep Dive – The Work of Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann has had a glowing career as a director, some of his work will go down his history. Throughout his stellar career, he has won various awards for his work, including BAFTA’s and Golden Globes. Let’s take a look into some of the work of this highly acclaimed director.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Featuring film stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo) and Claire Danes (Juliet), Romeo + Juliet is the third major film adaptation of the Shakespearean play. However, this film adaptation differs from its predecessors and the original play by portraying a modernised version of the story. Instead of warring families who stab each other with swords and sabres, the families are depicted as warring American mafia empires, who attempt to shoot each other instead. Despite the dissimilarities in appearance, the film retains its Shakespearean dialogue, and the story of the play remains the same, albeit with different scenery.
How It Starts
The film starts with a shootout between the Montagues (Romeo’s family) and the Capulets (Juliet’s family), for which the Chief of the Police warn the two families. Later that day, Romeo learns of a party at the Capulet residency and gate-crashes it and takes ecstasy with his cousin Benvolio. Feeling overwhelmed by the party and the effects of the drug, Romeo goes to the restroom and meets Juliet, and the two instantly fall in love, but are both unaware of who the other is. On Romeo’s way out, he is spotted by Tybalt Capulet, who vows to kill him for invading the Capulet’s home. After Romeo leaves the party, he and Juliet learn that they belong to rival families, but Romeo returns to see her and proposes. Juliet tells him that if he sends word the following day then they will be betrothed, and the following day Romeo asks Father Laurence to marry them, before passing the word to Juliet, and they then get married.
After the wedding, Tybalt encounters Romeo and his friend Mercutio at the beach. Romeo attempts to make peace, but Tybalt assaults him and Mercutio has to intervene and beats Tybalt to a pulp. However, Romeo stops Mercutio from killing Tybalt, but Tybalt takes the opportunity to fatally wound Mercutio, who curses both families. Enraged at his friend’s death, Romeo chases and shoots Tybalt dead. For the murder, the Police banish Romeo from the city, so he sneaks away to Juliet to consummate their marriage. Meanwhile, Juliet’s father decides that she will marry the city governor’s son. The next morning, Juliet is told of her father’s plans and refuses to comply, for which her father assaults and threatens her. To escape her father’s plans she seeks out Father Laurence, who helps her escape by giving her a potion to fake her death, but awakes 24 hours after.
Father Laurence sends a letter to Romeo to inform him of the plan, but he does not receive it and believes that Juliet is truly dead. After deciding that he cannot live without her, he buys a vial of poison, enters the church, and consumes it next to her. Juliet awakes next to Romeo just as he consumes the vial, but is unable to save him, and Romeo dies. Distraught over Romeo’s death, Juliet takes his gun and commits suicide.
Despite a measly budget of $14.5 million, the film performed well at the box office and garnered $147 million with respectable reviews from audiences and critics alike. The film itself would win 4 BAFTA Awards and would gain Baz Luhrmann the Alfred Bauer Prize, as well as lots of credit as a film director, writer and producer.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Sometime after the Red Curtain Trilogy, Baz Luhrmann directed, produced and wrote The Great Gatsby, a historical romantic drama based on the 1925 novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and stars Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher), Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
In The Beginning
The film begins December 1929 with World War 1 veteran Nick Carraway undergoing treatment at a psychiatric hospital, telling his doctor about Jay Gatsby, the most hopeful man he had ever met. The doctor suggests that Nick start writing down his thoughts.
Seven years prior, in the summer of 1922, Nick moved to New York and began renting a small groundskeeper’s cottage in the village of West Egg, next to the mansion of Gatsby, a mysterious businessman who frequently hosts extravagant parties. Nick goes to visit and eat dinner with his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom at their mansion nearby and meets Jordan Baker, a famous golfer. Upon his return home, Nick is surprised to see Gatsby standing by the harbour, reaching out towards the Buchanan’s dock. Later, Tom brings Nick to the Valley of Ashes, an industrial dumping ground, and picks up his mistress Myrtle Wilson.
One day, Nick receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties, while attending he meets Jordan once again and makes acquaintances with Gatsby himself. The next day, Gatsby takes Nick to Manhattan for lunch and tells Nick that he is an Oxford graduate and war hero from a wealthy family, they then meet Gatsby’s business partner Meyer Wolfsheim at a speakeasy.
Later on, Jordan tells Nick how Gatsby was a Captain in the army, and had started a relationship with Daisy in 1917 before the US entered WW1, and that he is still in love with her, explaining that he throws the parties in the hope that Daisy would attend. Some time afterwards, Gatsby asks Nick to invite Daisy to tea, and after an awkward reunion, the two begin an affair. However, Gatsby is dismayed as Daisy wants to run away with him, whereas Gatsby wants her to get a proper divorce. Gatsby brings Daisy, Nick and Jordan along to lunch to tell Tom that Daisy is leaving him, but Daisy prevents Gatsby from revealing anything and suggests a trip to the Plaza Hotel. On the way there, they stop at George Wilsons’s garage to get fuel, where George tells them that he suspects his wife Myrtle is unfaithful
Once at the Plaza, Gatsby tells Tom of his affair with Daisy, but Tom exposes who Gatsby really is, a man who was making a fortune by bootlegging with mobsters. After being exposed, Gatsby loses his temper in a fit of rage, and eventually Gatsby and Daisy leave. After fighting George about her infidelity, Myrtle runs out into the street and is fatally struck by Gatsby’s car. Upon learning of Myrtle’s death, Tom tells George that the car was Gatsby’s and that Gatsby was likely Myrtle’s lover, but Nick is able to deduce that Daisy was driving when the accident happened, Nick then overhears Daisy accepting Tom’s promise to sort everything out, and tries to warn Gatsby, but Gatsby stubbornly refuses to Nick and believes that Daisy will join him.
The Most Hopeful Man
Inside his mansion, Gatsby tells Nick the truth about his past, his impoverished upbringing and his real identity James Gatz, as well as him asking Daisy to wait for him after the war, but her instead marrying Tom after the war ended instead. The day after, Nick goes to work and Gatsby swims in his pool, awaiting a call from Daisy. When the phone rings a servant answers it, and Gatsby climbs out of the pool to go answer it, but a vengeful George walks into the back of the room and shoots Gatsby dead, before committing suicide. It is then revealed that it was Nick calling, and he is able to hear the gunshots. The only people to attend Gatsby’s funeral were media reporters and Nick, as Daisy, Tom and their daughter leave New York. The media falsely paints Gatsby as Myrtle’s lover and killer, enraging Nick, who becomes disgusted with the city and its inhabitants. Nick decides to leave New York after a final walk through Gatsby’s deserted Mansion and reflecting on Gatsby and his ability to hope.
In the Sanatorium, Nick finishes writing his memoir.
Unfortunately, the movie was not quite as well received by critics, with many criticising its inability to stick to the source material, one critic observed “The problem is that when the movie is entertaining it’s not Gatsby, and when it’s Gatsby it’s not entertaining.” However, some critics also quite enjoyed the movie and described it as “a lot of fun” but advised viewers that they must “put aside whatever literary agenda you are tempted to bring with you”. Despite a 50% critical approval rating, audiences enjoyed the film a bit more, with closer to %70 of viewers enjoying the 142-minute runtime. Despite the not-so-ideal reviews, the film would still win Best Costume Design and Best Production Design at both the Academy Awards and the BAFTA Awards. The film would also perform well financially, making $350 million from its $100+ million budget, so despite Baz Luhrmann not being received by critics as we film’s director, producer and writer, the film itself still performed very well for any investors and would not severely affect Baz Luhrmann’s reputation.
More recently, Luhrmann released a biographical drama, chronicling the life of American rock and roll singer and actor Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) and his manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).
Elvis And His Dishonest Manager
The film starts in January 1997 with Elvis’s former manager Colonel Tom Parker on his deathbed, recounting how he first met the singer. When they first met, Parker was managing country singer Hank Snow but upon witnessing Elvis play he saw potential and sacrificed his safe position and convinced Elvis to have him as a manager.
Parker starts Elvis’s meteoric ascent in popularity and signs Elvis to RCA Records. However, public opinion is divided about Elvis, as some feel that his music and dancing will corrupt children and stoke racial hostility. The Mississippi senator then calls Parker to an informal
Elvis And The Army
meeting and questions Parker’s past, putting pressure on Parker, and therein Elvis, to toe the Senator’s political line. Instead of complying, Elvis performs another wild concert, is forced off stage and faces legal trouble. Parker then convinces the government and Elvis that Elvis should serve in the Army instead of facing legal penalisation, but during basic training, Elvis is left devastated as his mother dies from alcoholism.
Following his return from the Army, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Elvis wanted to be more politically outspoken in his music, but Parker tries to get Elvis to sing happy feel-good songs for a Christmas television special. Instead of following Parker’s orders, Elvis turns the Christmas special into his little concert and sings what he wants instead, closing with “If I Can Dream”.
After the Christmas special, Elvis goes to fire Parker, but Parker convinces Elvis that he is the best choice for him, and says he will permit Elvis to go on a global tour if he plays for the International Hotel for six weeks. However, motivated by a gambling addiction, Parker then manipulates Elvis into signing a five-year-long contract for a Las Vegas casino residency, and Elvis begins to grow restless and is overtaken by a prescription drug addiction, which leads to his wife divorcing him. Once Elvis finds out that Parker is a stateless illegal immigrant, Elvis tries to fire him, but Parker leaves a bill of $8.5 million, which would leave Elvis broke, so Elvis reluctantly retains Parker as his manager, although the two rarely see each other anymore.
His Unfortunate Death
After touring continuously, Elvis feels exhausted and is now pale, obese and barely able to stand up, but on his last show, finished by singing “Unchained Melody” to thunderous applause. Parker states that it was not Elvis’s heart or drug addiction that killed Elvis, but instead his love of the people.
The Films Praise
Upon its release, Elvis received generally positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, with some stating “Baz Luhrmann’s dazzling energy and style was perfectly complemented by Austin Butler’s outstanding lead performance” and that the film “Delivers the icon like never before”, the Presley family themselves also greatly approved of the film and its accurate and respectful portrayal of Elvis. The film would receive many award nominations at the Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards and Golden Globe Awards, but would only win 1 award from the Golden Globe and 4 from BAFTA. Many have praised both Austin Butler for his fantastic portrayal of Elvis and Baz Luhrmann for his excellent job of directing, writing and producing the film and creating its deeply interesting story.
Written by Mark Murphy