Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Can Can-can: The Incongruous and Eclectic Representation of Moulin Rouge

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PART ONE: As a postmodern artifact, Moulin Rouge can be considered an example of both postmodernism and postmodernity. Under postmodernism, it questions both the stylistic choices and artistic representation (Malpas 9) as it is, in itself, a challenge to the style and representation of film, musicals and the nature of storytelling. Although film does not strictly fall under Malpas’ categorical examples (architecture, art, and literature) of postmodernism, Moulin Rouge aligns itself with common traits and key phrases used to define its goals and effects upon viewers. A specific scene through which these can be identified and analyzed is the introduction of the Moulin Rouge itself, illustrating a whirlwind of colorful, provocative dancing and renditions of popular music from eras other than the setting of the film.

One of the opening scenes of Moulin Rouge, the structure (or rather, lack thereof) within this chaotic environment embodies the innovative stylization that will pervade throughout the entirety of the film. First of all, the cinematography and way in which the scene is edited plays with the use of time and space as the viewer experiences them, not unlike the postmodern architecture that Malpas describes. Rather than the barren, purely logical construction of space that stresses the modern desire to carefully create and redefine the world, this scene quite literally breaks down clear cuts between shots, emphasizing a flourish of montages over meticulous misc-en-scene. Additionally, the activities on screen are sped up or slowed down at seemingly incongruous points within the scene, challenging time and perhaps one of the most inherent structures of the world as it is experienced by the individual as incontestable reality. The ostensible irrationality of time and space directly contrasts the essence of modernity as it is exemplified through simplistic and utilitarian architecture, challenging its deliberate construction of the world with chaotic frivolity.

Although Moulin Rouge is not a piece of art in the form that Malpas primarily discusses (that is, paintings), it can certainly be considered a work of art within the postmodernist era as an apparatus of new media. In relation to the terminology surrounding the artistic representation of postmodernism, however, both this scene and the film as a whole overtly demonstrate the eclectic nature of postmodern art. Eclectic, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is that which “borrows or is borrowed from diverse sources.” Perhaps the most obvious example of this underlines the variety of eras from which the musical score is derived. While the film declares itself to take place in the years of 1899 and 1900, this scene alone draws from contemporary musicians such as Lil’ Kim, Pink and Nirvana that in no way emulate the musical style of this historical location and period. In this way and many others that (unfortunately) will not be addressed in this post, Moulin Rouge is explicitly eclectic as a majority of its content is both diverse and distinct in exterior origin.

(Oops! Almost forgot!) PART TWO:  Simulacrum & The Movie Theater


The movie theater as a simulacrum is demonstrative of all four orders of simulation, and as an audience enters the darkened space to lose themselves in a combination of images on screen, these combinations reflect a basic reality while both perverting it and masking its absence in the form of film.


Author: Denali Elliott

I am an undergraduate student at Whitman College and will graduate with a Film & Media Studies major, English and Politics double minor in the spring of 2015. Aspiring to become a multimedia, international journalist, I enjoy creating short films or experimenting with photography and writing through both academic work and free time. My latest films and photographs will be the product of my travels to Zurich, Switzerland and Paris, France over spring break. In addition, I share my work from an Advanced Filmmaking class, The Pioneer (a school newspaper), and projects or classes prior to this year.

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