Baz Luhrmann strikes gold with Elvis, but it’s all style without substance

No one makes as much impact as Baz Luhrmann. The problem is that the splash is so superficial that it barely breaks the surface.

Baz is the King of Bling, the Bedazzler of cinema. His movies are all flash and tinsel. They’re loud, frenetic, hyperactive triumphs of spectacle over substance, and people just love them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to see your Elvis sitting at the top of the Australian box office. I am also delighted that he is continuing to make these big, bold and expensive films, and that they continue to be successful, because they play a key role in showing that the Australian film industry belongs on the world stage. Sure, it’s not the only pointer that matters, but Hollywood has set its sights on Australia in no small part because of what Baz (and George Miller) have consistently done in this country, on their own terms.

The king of bling: director Baz Luhrmann at the London premiere of Elvis last month.

The king of bling: director Baz Luhrmann at the London premiere of Elvis last month.Credit:access point

But the movies themselves… well, there my taste differs from the popular to quite a significant degree. Elvis it’s a bit messy. The Great Gatsby it was a bit messy. Red windmill with his mixes of pop songs it was a bit messy. Y Australia It was the mother of all messes. Only strictly ballroom – which was no less dazzling than the others, but was a breath of fresh air when it landed – and Romeo + Julieta perfectly judged marriage of MTV aesthetics and hyperinflated teenage emotion with Shakespearean text, stand out.

Baz has a vision, of that there is no doubt. But that view is very much about how things are seen (and really, it seems only right to acknowledge the role played here by his wife, production and costume designer, Catherine Martin; not surprisingly, her work has won four Oscars). ). And often that look is a pastiche of looks that have gone before.

Australia is indebted to the newsreels of the time in which it takes place, the 30s and 40s, to Jeddah and its contradictory myths of the dangerous and noble savage, to Chips Rafferty herding cattle across the dry plains in the overlanders. It confronts our shameful past (poisoned wells of water, the stolen generations, child sexual abuse by the clergy, sexism and racism entrenched in all walks of life) by mobilizing abbreviated images and gestures that are no more original than the recurring motif of the withered movie. Aboriginal man standing on one leg in front of a vast landscape. He can be an efficient way of telling stories, but it feels gestural, empty.

The Great Gatsby: Too much fuss is hardly enough.

The Great Gatsby: Too much fuss is hardly enough. Credit:village road show

Bass’s version The Great Gatsby it was hailed as a visual feast, but I felt like I had been force-fed OTT footage so my liver could be turned into pate. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s slim book was a precisely targeted attack on excess, but that’s Baz’s deed. So instead of framing Jay Gatsby’s spectacular parties as things of horror and rampant waste, he could only wonder how to get even more dazzle out of all that hoopla.

Elvis It is more of the same. Even before it begins, the screen has exploded in a riot of CGI jewels to form the Warner Bros. logo. The first 20 minutes are a chaos of noise and hyperactive camera, as if a hyperactive kid had gotten hard on red liquor. and then set out to make a movie. When Baz wants to convey the idea that Elvis’s twin influences were gospel music and blues, he has him as a kid literally running back and forth between church and honky tonk, between ecstasy and rapture of flesh. . it’s crazy

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