‘Killing the author’ with reference to Moulin Rouge Charlotte Buchan CG Arts and Animation: Year 2 1,927 Phil



Contents Page Introduction: Page 3 Main Body: Page 4-9 Conclusion: Page 10 Illustrations: Page 11 Bibliography: Page 12- 13


Killing the author’ with reference to Moulin Rouge Introduction Post-modernism is a hard topic to define. Klages says this is because it does not fit into any one category.
It is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion and technology. It is hard to locate it temporally and historically, because it’s not clear exactly when postmodernism begins.
(Klages, 2006, 163).

This essay will analyse the film Moulin Rouge (2001). The film was released in 2001 and was directed by Baz Luhrmann. This essay will explore how Moulin Rouge depicts various aspects of postmodernism. Moulin Rouge is a mixture of different postmodern themes; however its most dominant trait is the idea of the Death of the Author by Roland Barthes. Death of the Author occurs when the creator's original ideas are taken and re wrote in the way the viewer wishes. This essay will also explain how subcategories such as intertextuality, mash-up and cliché all relate to the Death of the Author. These postmodern traits can be seen through its use of story, visuals and music.


Death of the Author was theorised in 1967 by Roland Barthes. He proclaimed that 'anything in culture can be decoded'. (Appignanesi & Garratt 1995: 74). Death of the Author is how audiences impose their own personal meanings based on their cultural understanding, regardless of what the creator intended. The author's original meaning when twisted in such a way makes it invalid, thus the author is dead. This leaves the text, as in a film, a book, a play etc., open to question because it is unstable and forever shifting. The audience is left questioning what happens to the author as it leaves the meaning open to reinterpretation. The same can be said about the examples. These examples such as Death of the Author and the sub categories, intertextuality, mash-up and cliché all display postmodern qualities, as Barthes explains 'We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message of the Author-God') but a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.' (Barthes, 1977, 146). He talks about the fact that all of the categories clash and overlap in their meaning. Not only do they clash they all have multiple truths. Butler also states that historians and scientists no longer hold truth. The basic attitude of Postmodernists was a scepticism about the claims of any kind of overall totalizing explanation...This heralded a pluralist age, in which as we shall see even arguments of scientists and historians are to be seen no more than quasi narratives which compete with all others for acceptance. (Butler, 2002, 15). 'It is a hydra-headed, decentred condition in which we get dragged along from pillar to post across a succession of reflecting surfaces, drawn by the call of the wild signifier.' (Rose, 1996, 4) Margret Rose quotes Hebdige's theory, saying that the age of postmodernism is therefore not defined by any single truth. When one delves further into the subject, more questions than answers arise. Like the hydra, when its head is cut off, more grow back. It is a continuous cycle with no end. Death of the Author is an example of this theory 4

because the text which would be viewed is open to numerous truths. This view is also helped along by the film's video and music editing. In addition to this, according to Bathes 'The film takes its own editing style largely from music videos, epitomizing the use of postmodern editing techniques.'(Booker, 2007, 58). Booker talks about how the film 'kills the author' by taking music from other cultures and mixes them together to tell the story. The film consists of famous songs such as 'Roxanne', 'Like a Virgin' and 'The Can Can' and are all revamped with different lyrics as well as different pitch in tune in some places. This gives it an eclectic mixture of cultural elements. The Moulin Rouge (2001) is a mixture of cultural elements. It has an Australian production team and crew as well as actors from the UK and around the world. The film consists of pop songs from America as well as Britain. All of which combine to make eclectic mix set in Paris.
The Bollywood-inspired show-within-a-show, numerous anachronisms that refuse to stay confined within the specified time setting of the late nineteenth century – disrupt the Classical ideals of artistic unity and integrity and suggest new postmodern geographies and temporalities. (Yang, 2010)

Figure 1 shows a screen shot from the film. In the background is the building of the Moulin Rouge, shining brightly amongst the dull buildings. One of the main characters, Harold Zidler is in the foreground. This shot shows the old fashioned Parisian background for where the film is set.
Figure 1, Moulin Rouge (2001), Screen shot of the streets of Paris and the Moulin Rouge.


Moulin Rouge is postmodern due to all the different themes from which it is constructed, as noted by Jencks 'postmodernism is fundamentally the eclectic mixture of any traditions with that of the immediate past.' (Jencks, 1989, 7). The film consists of many themes, such as romance, music and Greek myths. Peter French in his review for the Observer(2001) agrees that the Moulin Rouge is postmodern. ‘It's been called 'postmodernist' in the way it compacts numerous contrasting styles and disparate strands, in the manner of a garbage machine crushing everything it receives into a neat package.’ (French, 2001.) The name of the film has also been appropriated from 'John Huston's 1952 film also titled Moulin Rouge’, which ‘focuses on Toulouse-Lautrec as central character. Here, the diminutive painter is presented somewhat more realistically, though his presentation is still strongly tinted with Hollywood cliché' (Booker, 2007, 200). Figure 1 consists of a couple on a bed kissing. The couple are on a bed with red covering, in what appears to be a brown coloured room. The painting is similar to the scene in Moulin Rouge where Satine pulls the Duke onto the bed to
Figure 2: Henri de ToulouseLautrec, The Kiss, (1892), Cardboard, 39 x 58 cm., Private

distract him from spotting Christian as seen in Figure 2. Colour themes are similar as well as the pose. In both images the figures are lying on a

bed, kissing. Another similarity is the fact that in both images one figure is wearing a lot of clothes where as the other is wearing less. However, one contrasting element is in the characters' use of clothing; they appear to be dressed in an
Figure 3, Moulin Rouge (2001), Screen shot of Satine distracting the Duke by kissing him.

opposite way. This is an example of postmodern intertextuality because of how the film has taken an existing painting and applied the style and colours to the film. This postmodern theme is also applied to the characters of the film. 6

Not only is the set based upon Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings but the characters are also a replica of his models. Figure 3 shows Lautrec's painting of William Warrener, a gentleman at the Moulin Rouge. Warrener is portrayed, wearing a top hat, a moustache and very short hair. The character Harold Zidler seen in figure 4 is based heavily on Warrener's
Figure 3: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, William Warrener (Study for The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge)., (1892),

appearance. Harold is seen at some point in the film, wearing a top hat. Also his hair is similar in style to Warrener's,

shortly cut style. Both have a moustache and wear a cheerful expression.

Figure 5, Moulin Rouge (2001), Screen shot of Harold and co singing Spectacular, Spectacular.

In addition to the 1880's Post Impressionistic influences, Moulin Rouge (2001) also uses other past texts. The story of Orphean is about a man who descended to the underworld to bring his true love back to life. Hades makes a deal with him, allowing him to have his wife back so long as he does not look at her until they reach the Earth's surface. Upon spotting the sunshine, Orphean turns to share his joy with his love, only for her to return to the underworld. The narrative of Moulin Rouge may be considered to originate from the Greek myth of Orphean. He was a young artiste who journeyed to the underworld in search of romance. Satine, the star of the film and the main courtesan at the Moulin Rouge is tied between choosing the love of Christian and The Duke. (Urban, 2001). It maybe suggested that the film combines 'oldstyle Hollywood glamour, Orphean myth and boulevard farce, "Moulin Rouge (2001)" tells the story of … a doomed romance.' (Smith, 2001). This gives room for the film to be filled with clichés. The film Moulin Rouge is considered to be a film full of clichés (Booker, 2007, 59). According to French,


They're loving assemblages of conventions and clichés from musicals of the past, produced with a sort of aggressive brio that makes the audience feel as if they 're being targeted by a squadron of kamikaze bombers loaded with sugary marshmallow. (French, 2001).

What French is suggesting is that the music from the film has been taken and then reassembled to create a different meaning. French also quotes that 'although the Moulin Rouge is filmed in Paris, a city renowned for romance the Moulin Rouge is set in the Paris of 1899 in and around the eponymous nightclub, but it's shot entirely on Australian sound stages’. He feels that the film takes a cultural feel from a different place. The film is also considered to be kitsch. According to Matthew Turner (2001) 'the high levels of kitsch on display would seem to indicate that its status as a future camp classic' (Turner, 2001). This sets the film into the category of Society of the Spectacle. Society of the Spectacle is a postmodern theory discovered by Guy Debord in 1967.
But for the present age which prefers the signs to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, appearance to essence...truth is considered profane, and only the illusion is sacred. Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. (Debord, 1983).

Debored talks about how modern day society prefers false illusions to reality. The original is the most important and yet society prefers to hold the copy as more important. Moulin Rouge relates to the spectacle as Kellner concludes 'Moulin Rouge , a film that itself is a delirious ode to spectacle, from cabaret and the brothel, to can-can dancing, opera, musical, comedy, dance, theatre, popular music, and film. A postmodern pastiche of popular music styles and hits.' (Kellner, 2003, 6). Kellner suggests that the audience is so wrapped up


in the false illusion of the past in which the film is based that they forget where the film takes its sources.


Conclusion Moulin Rouge! Does, however, reflect on rather than merely reflect modernity and its cultures. It does this in aesthetic terms that are usually defined as Postmodern. Jim McGuigon offers a concise definition of the utopian Postmodern aesthetic as 'a pervasive pick-nmix and commodified culture in which modern boundaries between forms, media and spheres of social activity are crossed... and dissolved (Mayer,2007,206). Geoff Mayer states that Moulin Rouge (2001) is considered a postmodern film because of how it consists of different genres and mashes them up. The most dominant theme within the film is Death of the Author. However, intertextuality, mash-up and cliché are all sub categories, which relate to the Death of the Author. One might suggest that in this eclectic mix of diversity Moulin Rough has successfully ‘killed the author’ and the viewer has prevailed to interpret the film in their own way. This is seen through how the film's different texts which range from music, setting and character appearance.


List of Illustrations Figure 1, Moulin Rouge (2001), Screen shot of the streets of Paris and the Moulin Rouge. http://moviescreen1.tripod.com/moulinrouge/index.html http://img.neoseeker.com/view.php?entityid=22298&imageid=317498 (6/12/10) Figure 2: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Kiss, (1892), Cardboard, 39 x 58 cm., Private collection. http://www.abcgallery.com/T/toulouse-lautrec/toulouse-lautrec-2.html (Accessed 19/10/10) Figure 3, Moulin Rouge (2001), Screen shot of Satine distracting the Duke by kissing him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCEjUK_EfHc (Accessed 6/12/10) Figure 4: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, William Warrener (Study for The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge)., (1892), Cardboard, 57.3 x 45.3 cm., Private collection. http://www.abcgallery.com/T/toulouse-lautrec/toulouse-lautrec-2.html (Accessed 19/10/10) Figure 5, Moulin Rouge (2001), Screen shot of Harold and co singing Spectacular, Spectacular. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCEjUK_EfHc (Accessed 6/12/10)


Bibliography Appignanesi & Garratt., (1995). Postmodernism for Beginners, Cambridge: Icon Books LTD Barthes, R., (1977), Image-Music-Text, trans. Heath, S., United Stated of America Booker, M., (2006). Postmodernism Hollywood: What's New in Film and why it Makes Us Feel So Strange, Westport: Praeger Publishers Butler, C., (2002). Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction, Cornwall: TJ International Debord, G., (1983). Society of the Spectacle, London: Rebel Press Elements of Art/Design: Colour Schemes, (2003) http://www.writedesignonline.com/resources/design/rules/color.html (Accessed 19/11/10) French, P., (2001). Review of Moulin Rouge for the Observer http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2001/sep/09/philipfrench1 (Accessed 19/11/10) Jencks, C., (1989). What is Post-Modernism, London: Academy Editions. London: Wallflower Press Kellner, D., (2003). Media spectacle, Perth: Prepress Projects LTD Klages, M., (2006). Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed, London: Continuum International Publishing Group. Margaret A. R., (2002). The post-modern and the post-industrial: a critical analysis, Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge Mayer, G., (2007). The cinema of Australia and New Zealand, Ramer, J., (2004). Postmodernism and (Post) Feminist Boredom http://www.synoptique.ca/core/en/articles/feminist_boredom/ (Accessed 26/10/10) Smith, N., (2001). Review of Moulin Rouge, for the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/06/22/moulin_rouge_2001_review.shtml (Accessed 5/11/10) The Guardian., (2001) http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2001/may/10/features.features11 (Accessed 26/10/10) Time Out Film Guide , (2010)


http://www.timeout.com/film/reviews/73566/moulin_rouge.html (Accessed 26/10/10) Turner, M., (2001). The ViewLondon Review of Moulin Rouge (2001) http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/films/moulin-rouge-film-review-1639.html (Accessed 29/11/10) Urban, A., (2001). Review of Moulin Rouge, for Film Festivals http://www.filmfestivals.com/cgi-bin/cannes/film.pl?site=us&id=2889 (Accessed 12/11/10) Yang, M., (2010). Moulin Rouge and the Undoing of Opera http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract? fromPage=online&aid=7101412 (Accessed 29/11/10)