Baz Luhrmann, flamboyant director of the Moulin Rouge! and Romeo and Juliet, focuses on Elvis | Baz Luhrmann

OWhat do you get if you cross an Australian ballroom dancing teacher with the owner of a small cinema? Genetically speaking, the answer lies in the flamboyant form of Baz Luhrmann, the music-loving director of Ballroom strictly and Red Mill!who learned to tango with his mother and watched movies on the screen his father owned in the small town of Herons Creek.

Born Mark Anthony Luhrmann in Sydney in 1962, he is already the creator of a handful of exuberant popular hits and now tells the story of Elvis Presley, one of the most vivid – not to say sinister – of all tales. of real life. His biopic, Elviswhich stars 30-year-old Austin Butler in the lead role and Tom Hanks as the singer’s calculating manager, Colonel Tom Parker, will have its world premiere on May 25 at the Cannes Film Festival.

A long crescendo of public interest has followed the project’s birth eight years ago, with original candidates for the title role reportedly including Harry Styles. Anticipation levels increased further in early 2020 when filming in Australia was halted because Covid hit Hanks. And excitement was stoked again earlier this month when the film won the public endorsement of Presley’s widow.

Luhrmann, tanned at the Met Gala in New York, posed on the red carpet with Priscilla Presley, who then tweeted after a private screening of Elvis: “I relived every moment of this film. It took me a few days to overcome the emotions. Beautifully made Baz.

Tara Morice and Paul Mercurio in Strictly Ballroom, which made Luhrmann famous. Photo: Rank/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, also loved it, Priscilla revealed, adding that she was sure her granddaughter, actor Riley Keough, would feel the same way.

The film is set to spark stellar Hollywood tension on the legendary Croisette this festival, as Cannes shakes off its pandemic gloom. And the first of Elviswhile not competing for the Palme d’Or, will mark a key moment at a festival where big-screen appreciations of rock heroes are in the spotlight.

On Sunday May 22, Ethan Coen, one half of the famous filmmaker brothers, makes his solo film debut with a documentary about another titan of American rock, Jerry Lee Lewis. His film, mind problem, traces the unruly career of the musician they called “Killer”. On Monday May 23, a documentary by David Bowie, Lunar Reverie, directed by Brett Morgen, also has a world premiere. Its American director, who has already directed Heck’s assembly about Kurt Cobain, spent four years compiling hours of never-before-seen Bowie footage for this “experiential cinematic odyssey.”

Music documentaries took hold of the film industry after the 2012 success of Looking for confectioner. Last years soul summer was acclaimed and there was a joyful response to Edgar Wright’s Sparks Brothers film. This festival, the annual line-up of Cannes Classics, will pay homage to Martin Scorsese’s admired masterpiece of the genre, his 1978 documentary about the band, The last Waltz.

A parallel boom in rock biopics saw portrayals of Freddie Mercury, Hank Williams, Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Morrissey all roll off the production line. But Luhrmann promises something bolder and more colorful. As a director tackling probably the most significant events in commercial pop history, he knew he “couldn’t make this movie if the casting wasn’t quite right.”

Nicole Kidman in a scene from Luhrmann's hit film Moulin Rouge!
Nicole Kidman in a scene from Luhrmann’s hit film Moulin Rouge! Photography: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

“We carefully searched for an actor who could evoke the singular natural movement and vocal qualities of this standout star, but also the inner vulnerability,” he said.

Luhrmann, by the way, also gave himself the tricky task of finding a convincing BB King, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Little Richard for the Elvis cast. But the music is in the bones of this son of Barbara, the owner of a ballroom dancewear store, and her late husband, Leonard Luhrmann, a Vietnamese veterinarian who ran a farm and a gas station (as well as A movie theater).

Their boy loved music and dancing, and as an adult he earned Grammy nominations for his film soundtracks, as well as accolades as an opera director. In the early 90s, his Australian production of Benjamin Britten Dream of a summer night won the Critic’s Prize at the Edinburgh Festival and in 2002 presented the music of Puccini Bohemian on Broadway, where he received seven Tony nominations.

Coupled with his love of haute couture, Luhrmann’s passion for music fueled lavish advertising campaigns for Chanel, as well as promotional films celebrating designers Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli.

“I’ve always been scattered,” admitted Luhrmann. Yet there is another string to his bow that only viewers of the Australian television series, A country practice in the 1980s, perhaps remembers. Luhrmann started out as an actor, graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney in 1985. Even before that, at age 18, he had played small roles in a few episodes of the daytime soap opera.

Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet in 1996.
Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet in 1996. Photography: Allstar/Alamy

At that time, he was already “Baz”, not “Mark”. He was first nicknamed by bullies at school in reference to Basil Brush, the British children’s TV puppet character. “I had this crazy curly hair, this big ‘fro, and at school all these boys were beating me up,” the director recalls. With impressive teenage bravado, he responded by changing his name by deed to Bazmark, forever tying the taunt to his birth name and effectively launching a creative brand into the world.

When fame came, it came quickly and suddenly, at age 30, with the release of Ballroom strictly, the first film in Luhrmann’s “Red Curtain Trilogy”. What started as a short drama school play became an original cult cinematic hit, later changing mainstream TV entertainment by inspiring the BBC to revamp its former ballroom show as Come dance strictly.

For Luhrmann, the film “was the first step in this kind of 10-year journey to create a musical cinematic language”. Next is his vibrant take on Shakespeare Romeo + Juliet in 1996. Critics tend to point to this as his true masterpiece, and the director is certainly still a little in love with it.

Recently, he described it as “the most romantic cinematic experience I’ve ever had”, adding, “Someone should make a movie about us making this movie. Can you imagine? Leo DiCaprio was 19, we all live in Mexico, there are helicopters and explosions and we do iambic pentameter!

Luhrmann and his wife, costume designer Catherine Martin, arrive for the 2022 Met Gala.
Luhrmann and his wife, costume designer Catherine Martin, arrive for the 2022 Met Gala. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty

A year after his release, Luhrmann married set designer Catherine Martin, who has now won four Oscars for her films. The couple have two children and have spoken of maintaining an unconventional household setup, living apart during the week and meeting in hotels at weekends.

In 2001, Luhrmann became very popular when he gave cinema audiences Jim Broadbent singing Madonna’s Like a Virgin in Red Mill!. It starred Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, and so far has garnered her the most accolades, including eight Oscar nominations. The last of his Red Curtain trio, he sees it as rooted in the expressive grandeur of 1940s Hollywood: “It’s heightened theatrical cinematic language, which I like to think of as a big lie that reveals a big truth. “

Consequently, the critical reception of Luhrmann’s work proves to be less reliable. He keeps a small notebook of project ideas but the recent choices haven’t flown so high. His historical saga of 2008, Australia, again starring Kidman but this time alongside compatriot Hugh Jackman, did well in Europe, but critics were not thrilled. His most recent film, a 3D version of F Scott Fitzgerald Gatsby the magnificent, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the glamorous antihero, was also hated by many critics. It did, however, make three times its estimated budget of $105 million at the box office. Last year, Loweringhis beloved Netflix series about the origins of hip-hop in the 1970s was shot after just one season.

At Luhrmann, it’s all or nothing, it seems. And it’s a creative philosophy that he seems to extend to his audience. In defense of the complete style of the startling opening scenes of Red Mill!, Luhrmann argued that a slow, naturalistic approach would have been lame: “While you chat and eat your popcorn, you just get a bunch of facts and figures so the movie can get started.” In our film, we ask you to say, “Are you in or are you out?”

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