A small, sincere appreciation to Baz Luhrmann (by someone who is not a fan)

Baz-LuhrmannI haven’t really liked any of Baz Luhrmann’s movies. I find them shrill, simple as that. But I don’t hate any of them; there’s way too much talent in them to completely write them off. There isn’t another filmmaker today who makes such fetishistically designed movies; when I watch, I just want to soak in all of the detail that went into the costumes and the sets.

One of my problems is Luhrmann’s hyperactive way of cutting; he’s like a tour guide who grabs you by the head saying, “LOOK AT THIS,” then before you get to see what it is he wants to show you, violently twists your head the other way and screams, “NOW LOOK AT THAT!”

And then there’s his exuberant way with actors; the more over-the-top a facial expression, the better, I guess. It’s like he’s directing for the stage, as if the audience member in the very back row of the auditorium has to know what actor on stage is expressing. That’s fine for theater, but when you then stick a camera with a wide-angle lens on that actor’s face, it becomes cartoonish. And after two or more hours of that type of visual assault, I’m both exhausted and annoyed.

It’s all just too much! His movies are like one of Nigel Tufnel’s amps that goes to 11. And, like Tufnel, he doesn’t have the self-awareness to see how ridiculous it is.

Many people disagree with me. Many people LOVE how rapid-fire and over-the-top Luhrmann is; they still feel an emotional connection with the material amidst all the chaos. And his fans are passionate! And that’s what I appreciate.

There aren’t many filmmakers today (I’m talking about those who make movies for the masses, not niche filmmakers like Lars Von Trier) whose work inspires such division and debate. And that’s wonderful! When a popular movie that’s not a sequel to some juggernaut franchise, but actually inspired by a piece of literature, a work of true merit, becomes the basis for heated water-cooler conversation, the cinema is all the better for it.

So thank you, Baz. In his own, excessive way, he’s keeping popular cinema culturally relevant beyond talking about how much money a movie made over the weekend. And though I’m frequently frustrated by him, I’m never bored. So whenever the next Luhrmann opus opens, I’ll be there the first weekend… and all geared up for those inevitable arguments shortly thereafter.

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