Monday, December 6, 2010

Chicago vs. Moulin Rouge! No Sex in the Whorehouse

The choreography of Chicago is both suggestive and playful, adding the element of deviance that the plot requires. 

Musicals can be arguably considered a lost art in this day and age. When Rob Marshall was starting pre-production on Chicago (2002), he said that he felt it fundamentally problematic to convince a contemporary audience that people naturally and randomly break into song, hence why all of the musical numbers of that film take place in Roxie Hart's (Renee Zellweger) mind. The other big musical event of that year (well of the earlier year but close enough) was Moulin Rouge! (2001) (and yes there's an unnecessary exclamation point in that title). But back to the matter at hand. Considering these two films were made so close together, and were both a resurgence of cinematic musical culture, not to mention both nominated for a butt load of Academy Awards including Best Picture; Chicago won, Moulin Rouge! didn't, comparing them over a box of chardonnay became everyone's favorite conversation. Just as there are Elvis people and Beatles people, there are Chicago people and Moulin Rouge! people. In my opinion, people weren't taking sides considering the theatricality and quality of the musical numbers, but of the racy aspects of both. One involves a whorehouse, the other a sexy, sexy prison and very revealing underclothes. Deviant women is the content of both. And I think it's beyond who's hotter Catherine Zeta-Jones or Nicole Kidman (in my opinion, its not a question...Caty). But who was better at portraying a vagrant and unapologetic vixen. That is really the best way to measure the deviant quality in either film. 
Nicole Kidman is doing what she does best; playing the ice queen. Even if she ends up falling in love with a poor poet and sacrificing everything for him, you always feel that if you touched her she would crack like very fine porcelain. Considering this, it's difficult to see her in a sexual context. You can dress her up like a turn of the century fancy whore all you want, she's still going to seem like the bitchy older sister. 
reminiscent of a doll I used to own

On the other hand, Renee isn't that great as a seductress either. She's so emaciated that she is too androgynous to be considering a bona fide seductress. She has man-shoulders, and no rack to speak of, and her squish face is a little too overdone in the film. If you look closely, you'll notice that you can't really see her eyes underneath all of that heavy makeup; it's like someone drew two horizontal lines on either side of her nose with a thick sharpie. 
Caty-Z is undeniably the sex pot of Chicago (this is not counting Queen Latifah who is a pretty feisty firecracker herself). She's got a 'real' body, and her costumes are perfectly fitted as if they were directly sewn unto her. She has the dark eyes, cute 1920's bob haircut, supple lips, full boobs, the works. She's a one woman show, and she manages to give sex without smut, while Kidman can't even match the former. 
Also, let's take a look at the setting. I'm sorry but the Moulin Rouge seems like the least appealing whorehouse imaginable. The working girls are all either too thin or too old, and just nasty. It's the bad kind of smut where you would be thinking; 'well I'm horny, but i'd rather go home and jerk it by candle light.' 
As you're watching Chicago, first you're infuriated at how inaccurate the costumes are for the period (then again the same can be said for Moulin Rouge!), but then you're thinking, I should commit a crime so that I can go to prison and these amazing seductresses can dance around me every night...with scarves. 
Basically the premise is almost identical, and very Mulveyian. It is the story of women who are unapologetic for their 'deviant' behavior. Because of this, they are forced to suffer and in the end find some kind of redemption. And then there's glitter, fishnet stockings, elephant trunks, and acrobats...and of course musical numbers. 
Let's in the end judge both by this element. They are musicals after all, and in that genre, the plot is not particularly relevant. Because of this, I'll cast my vote proudly for Chicago. Rob Marshall is a seasoned choreographer and does brilliant execution. He made a stage play work for cinematic language and that is the key to a good musical. He reinvents categorically theater concepts so that they function by cinematic principles. Baz Luhrmann does what he does best; peppers in as much quirky and stylized visuals as possible so that the viewer is distracted by the complete lack of plot and density of the characters. Moulin Rouge! definitely does not work as a musical, quite honestly I'm not sure what to call it. It would make for an amusing music video but that's about it. And as for deviance, let's just say that it's completely ironic how a movie about a whorehouse can be so incredibly non-sexual and more or less just bland. 

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