Moulin Rouge [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (1st December 2019).
The Film

"Moulin Rouge" (1952)

Set in Paris in the late 1800s and based on the life of the influential artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, "Moulin Rouge" also centers around the famous cabaret of the title where Lautrec famously drew the patrons and created many of the poster artwork. Lautrec is played by Josť Ferrer), who frequently reminisces about his past. Brought up in a bourgeoisie home, but suffering a debilitating fall that injures his legs permanently, the slightly distant relationship he had with his family, and his decision to move to Paris to have a career as an artist. He might be respected in the art world and his patronage to the Moulin Rouge is always welcomed, his heart is still unfulfilled without a romantic relation in his life. It is one evening on his way home that he encounters Marie (played by Colette Marchand) - someone who sees him as a person rather than a crippled dwarf, but where there seems to be love and compassion comes ugliness and despair as well.

"Moulin Rouge" is a biopic that does not play with convention as the person depicted was not at all part of convention. His artistic style of caricatures were not particularly standard at the time. His insight into mass printing and use of bold and stylized colors were innovative. While the film does showcase his artistic style, it is surprisingly not the main focus of the film. Instead it is much more about the man and the relationships he has with various people over the years, including his artistic muse Marie, who he drew in quite a few of his works. Also seen are Jane (played by Zsa Zsa Gabor), the star dancer and singer at the Moulin Rouge, his mother (played by Claude Nollier), his father (played also by Ferrer in dual roles), and more, and how each has shaped him emotionally as well as his influence on others. Lautrec obviously has reservations against a standard relationship and relies mostly on heavy drinking to clam himself. When he tried to open his heart to a woman in the past, it only led to heartbreak with the woman not being able to accept being with a man with shortened legs, therefore his willingness to open his heart again to anyone became more or less impossible. His art is his ultimate way of expressing his true feelings, and the man defying convention proves himself to others by his passion through work. Ferrer does a fine job portraying the artist as a sophisticated yet broken man, and was also a physical challenge. As he had to play a man with shorter than normal legs, special straps were made with him having to put most of his weight on his knees in braces, plus calculated camera angles, body doubles, and other trick photography for different sequences.

Director John Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris set to capture Paris in 1890 through Lautrec's eyes, and for that the Technicolor production was given a very unusual look to the image. Using fog filters, the bright whites would shimmer while bolder colors looked slightly faded, giving a hazy looking quality to the production. The look was intentional, though the Technicolor lab thought there was an error in the printing due to the unconventional looking colors. Not only were the colors unique, but the visuals also were fascinating with intricate crane shots and tracking shots within the Moulin Rouge structure, as well as shooting on location in Paris for many scenes redressed in the time period. The fashion and costume design were also very colorful and exquisite, though it can be said the can-can dancers' outfits are not so revealing in the film as opposed to how they would have been dressed at the time, with barely any skin being revealed in the movie. This was obviously due to censorship rules of the period.

While fascinating as it looks, the story itself and the storytelling techniques are not particularly innovative or unique, following a fairly standard linear story with occasional flashbacks, with some relationships being interesting to see while others seem out of place. The quarreling dancers at the Moulin Rouge seems comical, but serve really no purpose other than sudden comical value. There are also appearances by stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in very minor roles that are obviously underused, but then again they were not the big names stars just yet in their careers. The film may be titled "Moulin Rouge" but for people expecting a song and dance musical will not find one here, as the film is a biopic of Lautrec and the structure being more of a background setting, unlike the 1928 silent "Moulin Rouge" or the 2001 "Moulin Rouge" which did a job of ruining quite a lot of songs with the cover versions.

"Moulin Rouge" was a fair hit both commercially and critically on its release, grossing $9 million in America and receiving seven Oscar nominations and winning two, for Best Art Direction and Best Costume design, which interestingly were the two awards given to the 2001 film of the same name. In 2019, a fully restored version of the film in 4K was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and this BFI release marks the first Blu-ray and DVD releases of the restored version.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray and region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. This is the restoration done by The Film Foundation in 4K from the original nitrate 3-strip Technicolor 35mm negative which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 as part of the Cannes Classics selection. The film has always had a unique look and the restoration keeps that in place. A fog filter applied to the lenses made everything look smoky and dreamy, with light colors having a shimmer rather than deep detail. At times when it seems like colors are partly faded, this was the intended look that Huston and Oswald Morris were going for. The restored image is full of color in the dance sequences while the outdoor night sequences being very dark and thick in appearance. Damage is very minimal with cleanup done to remove dust and scratches, and the results are very pleasing. There are some very minor speckles left and some color fluctuation to a minor degree in scenes, but overall the work on the restoration is outstanding.

The film is uncut, with about 45 seconds of restoration credits at the start, with a runtime of 119:53 on the Blu-ray and 114:59 on the DVD accounting for 4% PAL speedup.



















Audio

Blu-ray:
English LPCM 2.0 mono
DVD:
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono

The original mono track was also restored, by Chace Digital for the 2019 restoration. Music plays a key role with the Can-Can and the score composed by Georges Auric sounding very good even with the limited mono fidelity. Dialogue is very clear as well, and balanced against the music and effects track, with no issues of hiss, pops, or dropouts. Considering the age and the source materials, it sounds quite good.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font for the main feature.

Extras

This is a dual format set with the film and extras on the Blu-ray in HD and the film and extras in standard definition repeated on the PAL DVD.


DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Audio commentary with script supervisor Angela Allen and the BFI's Vic Pratt and John Ramchandani

In this new commentary, the film's continuity girl Angela Allen at 90 years old is interviewed by Pratt and Ramchandani of the BFI. Working for Huston on 14 films, "Moulin Rouge" was their second, and she has a lot to talk about with the making of the film, as she was on set for almost every shot done for the production. Spanning a career from the 1940s to the 2000s, she discusses not only the work she did on this film, but also her work on other productions and how her job has changed over the course of time with technology including video playback being introduced. There are some spots that she cannot recall entirely, but her memory is quite spot on and it's wonderful to hear her thoughts and memories after all these decades.
in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Images of Paris in Silent Film (with Play All) (18:02)
- Panorama Around the Eiffel Tower (1900) (1:14)
- Paris Street Scene (1900) (0:45)
- Panorama of the Paris Exhibition No 3 (1900) (0:41)
- The Paris and St. Louis Expositions (1904) (12:56)
- The Paris Sensation (1914) (1:23)
- Balloon Accident at St. Cloud (1925) (1:02)

From the vaults of the BFI National Archive are a series of silent films showcasing Paris, taken by early production companies such as Edison, Gaumont, and others, these films feature some of the earliest footage of the Parisian streets on film. From ascending the Eiffel Tower to a lavish funeral procession, the early 1900s footage is not in the best condition to say the least, though the last two shorts do fare better in the picture quality.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0

Lightning Sketches: Posters, Printing and Comical Caricatures (with Play All) (20:03)
- Tom Merry, Lighting Cartoonish, Sketching Kaiser Wilhelm II (1895) (0:07)
- The Bill Poster (1899) (0:51)
- Employees of Co-operative Wholesale Society Printing Works (1901) (1:41)
- Anti-German War Cartoons (1915) (5:12)
- Studdy's War Cartoons (1915) (6:03)
- Dicky Dee's Cartoons No 3 (1915) (4:36)
- First World War Cartoon - Joffre (1915) (1:29)

Toulouse-Lautrec's style of caricatures and printing techniques influenced a new era of artwork, and these vintage shorts are some of examples. Whether they are for advertising, the use of his sketch techniques in propaganda, here are some fascinating works from the early days of cinema and animation.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music LPCM 2.0

"Lautrec" 1974 short (5:47)
Directed by Geoff Dunbar, this animated short is inspired by the notebooks of Toulouse-Lautrec, using rotoscope techniques to bring the Can-Can dancers to life as well as using still photos of Toulouse-Lautrec. The print is in pristine condition, with very little damage to be said.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (19:43)
An automated slideshow of theatrical posters, lobby cards, behind the scenes stills, and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4


DISC TWO (DVD)

Audio commentary with script supervisor Angela Allen and the BFI's Vic Pratt and John Ramchandani
Images of Paris in Silent Film (with Play All) (18:02)
- Panorama Around the Eiffel Tower (1900) (1:14)
- Paris Street Scene (1900) (0:45)
- Panorama of the Paris Exhibition No 3 (1900) (0:41)
- The Paris and St. Louis Expositions (1904) (12:56)
- The Paris Sensation (1914) (1:23)
- Balloon Accident at St. Cloud (1925) (1:02)
Lightning Sketches: Posters, Printing and Comical Caricatures (with Play All) (20:03)
- Tom Merry, Lighting Cartoonish, Sketching Kaiser Wilhelm II (1895) (0:07)
- The Bill Poster (1899) (0:51)
- Employees of Co-operative Wholesale Society Printing Works (1901) (1:41)
- Anti-German War Cartoons (1915) (5:12)
- Studdy's War Cartoons (1915) (6:03)
- Dicky Dee's Cartoons No 3 (1915) (4:36)
- First World War Cartoon - Joffre (1915) (1:29)
"Lautrec" 1974 short (5:33)
Image Gallery (18:55)

The extras are repeated on the DVD in standard definition.


Booklet
A 24 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is the essay "Lautrec, in a Movie" by writer John Oliver on the production of the film. Next is a biography of John Huston written by Dr. Josephine Botting, followed by credits, special features information, transfer information, and acknowledgements.

Overall

"Moulin Rouge" is a visually spectacular film with its unique look and style, with a fairly interesting take on the life of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The BFI release has the wonderfully restored in 4K version of the film with a nice array of supplements including the wonderful commentary track. Highly recommended.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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