4. Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Strictly Ballroom is the first in Baz Lurhmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy, followed by Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001). This first entry into the dazzling trilogy is one of the most performative films to come from Luhrmann’s entire filmography, showcasing how humble budgets and first-time filmmakers can achieve amazing success as long as the project has passion coursing through its veins.
On the surface, Strictly Ballroom follows an archetypal plot of a frustrated dancer (played by Paul Mercurio) who is constantly reworking the traditional dancing systems in hopes of rejuvenating the tired practices – the likes of Dirty Dancing (1987) immediately come to mind. From the exterior, Strictly Ballroom thrives in its own predictability; the viewer can sense when an emotional blow is about to hit, and they know that the passion on the dancefloor is bound to leap into the characters’ personal lives. Strictly Ballroom is unassuming in that it welcomes its audience to pause, take a moment, and just enjoy the beautifully uncomplicated nature of the movie.
Strictly Ballroom excels due to this sense of enthusiasm; the film almost acts like a love letter to everything bright, colourful, and exciting. Many audiences are still yet to discover Strictly Ballroom, with the film becoming almost hidden amidst the rest of Luhrmann’s glistening filmography, but it is certainly a treat waiting to be found.
3. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Baz Luhrmann is a gutsy filmmaker, not afraid to take risks as a means to meet his cinematic visions. One of his most bold choices came from his adaptation of the classic William Shakespeare tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes serve as the film’s star-crossed lovers torn apart by rival relatives. Rather than adhering to the source’s character backgrounds of regality, the film transports the age-old love story to modern day mafia land, with contemporary settings and modern archetypes to match. Anyone who has ever encountered Shakespearean literature understands the frustration that comes with grappling with the almost alien-like semiotics. Simultaneously, it’s nearly impossible to not become besieged by the enchanting romance of it all. A complete alteration to every aspect of the play would be a misstep, a tragedy in its own right. However, Luhrmann plants his stunning flair for detail amidst the masterly compositions. It is within this exact paradigm that Luhrmann flourishes; he adapts, alters, and enhances, but he never obliterates his inspirations.
Romeo + Juliet is a captivating, neon-lit, electric theatre show, with equal amounts of heart to match its fiery looks. The film does not utilise its modernised mafia revisioning to overshadow what lies at the base of this tragedy. The bond between the lovesick Romeo and Juliet is still as heartwarmingly tender and woefully tragic as the pair meet their fatal end. Lurhmann ups the ante, unlike any other Shakespeare adaptation, whilst still delivering the harsh story beats that made the play a monumental classic in the first place.
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