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Also Known As: Mark Anthony Luhrmann Died:
Born: September 17, 1962 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Sydney, New South Wales, AU Profession: director, producer, screenwriter, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Considered one of the most innovative filmmakers working at the turn of the 21st Century, Australian Baz Luhrmann earned that title after having completed only three of his unmistakably stylized, visual gems. Luhrmann found equal measures of detractors and champions for "Strictly Ballroom" (1992), "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" (1996) and "Moulin Rouge!" (2001), all of which adhered to a specific style developed by Luhrmann and his collaborators that he dubbed "the Red Curtain." His films relied on simple plots with predictable outcomes but the world he created was one of heightened reality - visually rich with devices like dance, iambic pentameter or characters bursting out in song to drive the story. As Luhrmann grew more secure in his position as director and as his budgets increased with each picture, his camera and editing merged into a sort of helter-skelter, hellzapoppin' style that blended the emotional and p tic in new and revolutionary ways.Mark Anthony Luhrmann was born on Sept. 17, 1962 in Sydney, Australia. Nicknamed Baz by his beloved father, he spent much of his childhood living in the small rural town of Herron's Creek, where his father operated a gas station, made forays into...

Considered one of the most innovative filmmakers working at the turn of the 21st Century, Australian Baz Luhrmann earned that title after having completed only three of his unmistakably stylized, visual gems. Luhrmann found equal measures of detractors and champions for "Strictly Ballroom" (1992), "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" (1996) and "Moulin Rouge!" (2001), all of which adhered to a specific style developed by Luhrmann and his collaborators that he dubbed "the Red Curtain." His films relied on simple plots with predictable outcomes but the world he created was one of heightened reality - visually rich with devices like dance, iambic pentameter or characters bursting out in song to drive the story. As Luhrmann grew more secure in his position as director and as his budgets increased with each picture, his camera and editing merged into a sort of helter-skelter, hellzapoppin' style that blended the emotional and p tic in new and revolutionary ways.

Mark Anthony Luhrmann was born on Sept. 17, 1962 in Sydney, Australia. Nicknamed Baz by his beloved father, he spent much of his childhood living in the small rural town of Herron's Creek, where his father operated a gas station, made forays into pig farming, and operated the local movie theater where young Luhrmann became enthralled by the power of storytelling. After his parents' divorce, Luhrmann and his siblings settled with their mother in Sydney. While still in his teens, he decided to pursue a career as an actor and landed a film role alongside Bryan Brown and Judy Davis in "Winter of Our Dreams" (1981), written and directed by John Duigan. A couple of TV roles followed and Luhrmann enrolled at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA). But, having previously relied on his performer's instincts, Luhrmann found the school's program stifling and the experience more or less put him off of acting as a career path. Luhrmann had been nurturing an idea for a one-act piece which he called "Strictly Ballroom," so in 1986, he wrote and staged a 30-minute version. He formed a theater troupe, the Six Years Old Company, which presented a revised and expanded version of "Strictly Ballroom" in 1987 that proved a popular success and toured about Australia.

Building on his growing reputation, Luhrmann staged "Dance Hall" (1989), which recreated the look and feel of a 1940s establishment on the night the end of WWII was announced, and earned attention for his progressive "La Boheme" at the Australian Opera, which moved the action to 1950s Paris. In 1992, Luhrmann made the jump to the big screen with a film version of "Strictly Ballroom." Teaming with screenwriters Andrew Bovell and Craig Pearce, he reworked the material into a comic tale of Australian eccentrics obsessed with the world of competitive ballroom dancing and one individual (Paul Mercurio) who dares to break with tradition by creating his own spontaneous routines. As director, Luhrmann managed to juggle multiple storylines in a manner that kept the audience involved, as well as exhibited a flair for staging scenes, mostly via his now trademark moving camera. He also showed a reliance on using music to move the plot forward. The film was a box-office hit in Australia and winner of eight Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Upon its American release, "Strictly Ballroom" garnered appreciative critical notices and earned modest returns.

Based on this first appetizing sample of the promising up-and-comer, a revival of Luhrmann's staging of "La Boheme" was filmed in 1993 and aired in the USA on PBS' "Great Performances." Twentieth Century Fox took note of Luhrmann and signed him to a three-year, first-look deal which allowed the filmmaker to make his revisionist take on "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" (1996). Set in contemporary Florida, the film starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the Bard's star-crossed lovers who hail from rival gangster families. The film's shooting style was clearly influenced by music videos and Hong Kong actioners, and featured stylized settings (designed by Catherine Martin, whom Luhrmann married in 1997) as well as a throbbing alternative music soundtrack. Through it all, Luhrmann stayed true to Shakespeare with the use of improbable (yet arguably successful) iambic pentameter from the original play. American reviewers were divided over its merits, but the film found an audience, thanks to its attractive young cast and its visual razzle-dazzle, raking in more than $45 million in domestic grosses.

Luhrmann's development time between films was typically three years, and "Moulin Rouge!" (2001) was no exception. Again he collaborated with Craig Pearce to craft the screenplay, creating a large-scale movie musical set at the end of the 19th Century and based partly on the Orpheus myth, as well as drawing on "La Boheme" and other sources. "Moulin Rouge!" premiered at Cannes to appreciative audiences, but a divided critical response. The film's lavish production design, colorful costumes and overblown style appealed to many, while others found fault with the thin plot. Few had quibbles with stars Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor and Jim Broadbent - all of whom did their own singing - and nearly all agreed that if nothing else, "Moulin Rouge!" helped to revitalize a moribund art form. In the wake of "Moulin Rouge!" mania, Luhrmann brought his adaptation of "La Boheme" to Broadway, where it enjoyed a six month run and Luhrmann and the musical were both nominated for Tony Awards. His wife again walked off with a statue for her scenic design.

In 2003, Luhrmann directed a typically lavish, multi-million-dollar commercial for Chanel N° 5 titled, "N° 5 the Film," starring Nicole Kidman and Rodrigo Santoro - the look of which was very "Moulin Rouge"esque. After investing some time in an aborted film project about Alexander the Great, he returned to theaters a full five years later with "Australia" (2008), Luhrmann's take on the sweeping historic epics of classic-era Hollywood set in World War II Australia. Critics were split over whether this melodrama starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman lived up to the "Gone with the Wind" (1939) epic-like expectations, but most agreed that the film was a standout alone for its gorgeous landscapes and visuals.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
  Australia (2008)
3.
  Moulin Rouge! (2001) Director
5.
  Strictly Ballroom (1992) Director
6.
  Boheme, La (1994) Stage Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Highest Honor - A True Story, The (1984) Able Seaman A W Huston
2.
3.
4.
 AFI Awards 2001 (2001)
5.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in a small town in New South Wales, Australia
1981:
Made early film appearance in "Winter of Our Dreams" opposite Judy Davis
1982:
Had a small role in "The Highest Honor - A True Story"
1982:
Began working on the stage production about competitive ballroom dancing, "Strictly Ballroom" with Andrew Bovell and Craig Pearce
1983:
Played featured role in the Australian TV docudrama "Kids of the Cross"; final acting role in a feature
1985:
Selected to observe director Peter Brook working on the production of "The Mahabarata"
1986:
Devised and staged a 30-minute theatrical version of "Strictly Ballroom"
1987:
Formed the theatre group called the Six Years Old Company
1988:
Staged a revised and expanded version of "Strictly Ballroom" that toured Australia
1990:
Directed Puccini's "La Boheme" for the Australian Opera; reset story in 20th-century Paris (aired on PBS' "Great Performances" in 1994)
1992:
Directed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the Australian Opera
1992:
Made feature directing and screenwriting debut with "Strictly Ballroom"; based on the original short play created by Luhrmann, Bovell and Pearce
1996:
Directed and co-scripted (with Pearce) the modern adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo + Juliet" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes
1997:
Founded Bazmark Inq. with wife and collaborator, Catherine Martin
1998:
Produced the compilation album, <i>Baz Luhrmann Presents ... Something for Everyone</i>
2001:
Directed and co-wrote (with Pearce) the Academy Award winning musical, "Moulin Rouge!" starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman
2003:
Staged "La Boheme" on Broadway; based on his 1990 Australian Opera set in 1950s Paris
2004:
Directed a lavish multi-million-dollar commercial for Chanel N° 5 titled, "N° 5 the Film" and starring Nicole Kidman and Rodrigo Santoro
2008:
Wrote, produced and directed the Australian period epic, "Australia" starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

National Institute of Dramatic Art: -

Notes

Luhrmann's father gave him the nickname "Baz".

His production company is called BazMark Productions.

"Luhrmann, like many first-time directors, is intoxicated with the possibilities of the camera. He uses too many wide-angle shots, in which the characters look like blowfish mugging for the lens, and too many story lines, until we worry we may have lost track of something, but what works is an exuberance that cannot be faked." --From Roger Ebert's review of "Strictly Ballroom" in The Chicago Sun-Times, February 26, 1993.

"What Hollywood is about and what the cinema is about is knowing how to make something work. There are now many executives running around that town talking about their next film saying, 'I don't care. I just want it like Romeo and Juliet." --Luhrmann on Hollywood's reaction to his film's success in The Age, December 24, 1996.

"Let me get this straight. There's a great mythology about this. Peter Brook came to Australia in the bicentenary year. The government spent a million dollars bringing him here so they said they had to let some bright young sparks work with him. So I get the gig and we sit there in rehearsal from twelve o'clock at night to six in the morning and sleep in the day. I'm like this acolyte. And one day I get my interview with Peter and he says: 'My only advice to you, dear boy, is why are you wasting your time watching me -- get out and do something.' I just left."

"At NIDA [National Institute for Dramatic Arts], I did the same thing. That was after NIDA, but at NIDA I was doing the acting course, but at night I would do my own show, and I acted in the original "Strictly Ballroom", so you know, it's not about 'You're not an actor.' There is, I find, too much paid to this craft called acting, this craft called directing. I mean, directors are a sort of recent invention. There is only one craft and that is the craft of telling stories. And that is the real craft -- what function you play in that and how you do it and what you use." --Baz Luhrmann quoted in 1996 interview at the now defunct Web site "MOGUL" (www.mogul.co.nz).

On his propensity for using quick cuts and visual images in his films, Luhrmann told The Age (Decemner 24, 1996): "The current generation's mental software for processing story is so much faster and is able to deal with three or four styles in a given moment. That is something inherent in the pop clip."

Ewan McGregor describing working with Luhrmann on "Moulin Rouge!": "It's been a f--in' amazing experience. He seeks perfection, he's so precise, he pushes you and pushes you. And he works like a dog." --quoted in "Bohemian Rhapsody" by David Jenkins in The Daily Telegraph, November 13, 2000.

On "Moulin Rouge!", Baz Luhrmann told Paul Fischer in a 2001 interview published at the "Cranky Critic" web site (www.crankycritic.com): "I feel like I've been gearing for this my entire life. ... As a kid I loved musicals and that idea that you saw an artificial film that made you feel, the fact that all of the audience was involved in the story. To a certain extent, "Strictly Ballroom" and "R[omeo] +J[uliet]" are musicals, so we've just taken a final leap, really, towards a breakout in songs in movie in the use of musicals to tell a story."

Luhrmann described "Moulin Rouge!" to London's The Sunday Times (May 6, 2001): "Without an iota of exaggeration, this film -- personally, emotionally and creatively -- tested me to my outer limit. Simply and easily the most difficult thing I have ever made."

"The third element of Luhrmann's style is, of course, camp and 'Moulin Rouge' ... is as camp as karaoke. When we met in 1997, I had assumed Baz was gay and was shocked by him telling me he'd just married CM [Catherine Martin], his devoted production designer.

"There is a whole gay sensibility to the work I do," he says today. "You can see it in the films, in the evolution of the work. And that is something that should be there both for CM [Catherine Martin] and me. As I said before, I see all sexual possibilities. We are married and are a real couple but we have never denied ourselves any of the possibilities in life."

So she's bisexual too? "Well, I won't speak for her but I think if you delve into her history, let me put it this way, she has seen all the possibilities in life too."

--From "Rocking With the Legend of Baz" by Andrew Billen in London's Evening Standard, May 9, 2001.

On why he stopped acting after attending drama school: "I gave up everything that I had felt instinctively and started to learn all over again, and it killed me. I had a total breakdown. I gave up school eventually and went back to my own thing -- basically, imagining and storytelling." --Luhrmann quoted in London's The Sunday Times, May 13, 2001.

"This cinema that I've been working on for the past ten years is 'Audience Participation Cinema'. What that means is that the rules of engagement between the audience and the film itself are changed from naturalism. They're quite old rules that are reinvented for now. ... The first fifteen minutes is what I call 'The wake-up call' where you go 'Oh my God, what's going on here?'. The next fifteen minutes you either buy the contract or you don't. Seventy-five percent of them are buying the contract. ... Some people can never sign on to this. ... It's THEATRICAL cinema. But most are into it ..." --Luhrmann to Nick Nunziata of www.CHUD.com, June 1, 2001.

"All my films are told in the same language. It's our way of doing movies. They all have primary myth at the bottom of them, it's very important that you know how the story ends as it begins, they're set in heightened creative worlds, and you have some sort of device whether it's dance, Iambic pentameter, or music to keep the audience constantly alive to the fact they're watching a movie. ..."

"I'm in a unique position. I have a big circus of creators I work with. We live in Sydney and movies is only one of the things we do. We do operas, we have a record label, theatre, the internet, and we've even done some election campaigns. We decide what to make and we make it on our own schedule. Now when you want to reinvent the musical, it took longer than I thought it would. We're not shooters. In Hollywood it's hyper. You get a couple of million bucks, you shoot your comedy, collect your paycheck and you're out of there. This is our work, our life." --Lurhmann to Nick Nunziata of www.CHUD.com, June 1, 2001.

"Fights? I don't have fights with actors. In absolute honesty, I've never fought with any actor ever. Nicole [Kidman] is no saint. We had crazy mornings. Were there tears? Were there times when I felt this very faint whiff of a desire to murder her? Yes, but if this was a circus high-wire act, she walked that wire without a net. I'd love to say we screamed, we yelled, we got into all sorts of theatrics, but I never yelled once at Nicole. And I never yelled at Ewan [McGregor], I would say, "Why are you yelling? What is going on? OK, let's sort this out because whatever happens, you're going to go back in front of that camera and we're going to make a great moment of drama." I understand that anything actors are doing, good or bad, is motivated by fear. I'm not allowed to be frightened -- though, of course, I am." --Baz Luhrmann quoted in Movieline, June 2001.

"I see myself creating an environment that protects people from the power of fear. I build a wall in Australia, behind which we create. Risk is possible in an environment in which fear is kept at bay. We just cannot hear the sirens calling, the press comment or what the studio thinks, because nobody does know, and all we can know is what's in front of us." --Luhrmann on the House of Iona, a former asylum in Sydney that serves as the headquarters for his company BazMark.Inq., quoted in London's The Sunday Times, August 8, 2001.

"All my work tries to push boundaries. Ultimately, I'm reaching out to engage an audience with something." --Luhrmann to the London Times, September 4, 2001.

"My early work was 16mm documentaries shot on the streets of Kings Cross, and he was very baroque. He's moved towards a kind of minimalism, whereas as we've moved to our own code, a kind of heightened artifice which is like his early work. But that isn't relevant. What is relevant is that we're sort of heading in the same direction, and there's a mutual admiration there, in the sense that we deal with primary mythology. Whichever way you look at it, the idea of access a direct emotional response through a kind of twisting of simple melodramatic - melodrama is a good word to use, because primary mythology is a basic kind of melodrama. All good, clean stories are melodrama, it's just the set of devices that determines how you show or hide it." --Luhrmann in The Guardian, September 7, 2001.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Catherine Martin. Production designer, costume designer. Born c. 1961; met when they were students at National Institute of Dramatic Arts; married in January 1997.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Leonard Luhrmann. Farmer, petrol station owner. Had served in the Navy in Vietnam; divorced from Luhrmann's mother; remarried; died of cancer on November 9, 1999.

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