It’s a truth often overlooked, but no less true for all that, to say that it takes just as much skill to make good out-and-out entertainment as it does a small, independent masterpiece overlooked by audiences and awards-givers.
Baz Luhrmann has thus far made a career out of proving those who they think know better wrong. He did with his first film – Strictly Ballroom – which many who thought themselves wise told the director would never succeed. The film was too quirky & ballroom dancing would never make for a hit. A glance at prime-time Saturday night television schedules shows just how wrong they were. 1996’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet showed that he knew as well as anyone how to make the greatest English writer relevant to the global-village/MTV generation. He completed the set with the almost absurdly ambitious Moulin Rouge single-handedly rebooted the musical as a viable cinematic form; two years later Chicago won a hatful of Oscars.
So we come to Australia. It’s the film that adjectives like sweeping, epic and grand were invented for. It’s a western/love-story in the grand style of Gone With The Wind, with colourful and photography, simultaneously celebrating and making gentle fun of typical Australian stereotypes. It has A-list talent in Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman; it tries hard to tick the right ethical boxes with a story-line that touches on the ‘Stolen Generation’.
There’s a lot that could be criticised or analysed – and it may be right to do so. But really, this is a film that just wants to have fun. And it does so admirably; it’s to be enjoyed and celebrated, the work of a man who, with the full backing of the Australian tourist industry, has made a film that just wants to entertain. It’s as skillful and accomplished as many more ‘serious’ works, and could only be made by someone supremely confident of his own ability, but who doesn’t feel a need to prove it to anyone.
Amen to that.