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Is Baz Luhrmann really an auteur filmmaker?

As he prepares to release his Elvis biopic, we take a look at his career.

Baz Luhrmann
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

I can’t decide if I’m excited to see the new Elvis film, because ELVIS, or because this is a Baz Luhrmann Elvis film. 

The Australian director, writer and producer last gave us a film in 2013, ‘The Great Gatsby’, which he co-wrote and directed and which featured a host of well-known actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio as the infamous Gatsby. 

By contrast, Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic stars the relatively unknown Austin Butler (whose appearance is reminiscent of Nicolas Cage) in the title role of the rock and roll king. Harry Styles was being considered for the role of Elvis; Luhrmann felt that Harry is already a music star in his own right.

The ‘Elvis’ soundtrack of 36 songs contains Luhrmann’s signature style of reworking classics with a contemporary twist. It features Kacey Musgraves, Eminem with Cee-Lo Green, Stevie Nicks with Chris Issak and Doja Cat, as well as of course, the iconic Presley songs. Lurhmann’s innovations are evident across previous films including his silver screen debut ‘Strictly Ballroom’ (1992) and his next two projects ‘Romeo + Juliet’ (1996) and ‘Moulin Rouge’ (2001), the trio of celluloid known as the Red Curtain Trilogy.

And this is where it’s an easy yes to the question of whether Luhrmann is an auteur filmmaker; alongside award-winning film soundtracks, his films are also recognisable for their costumes and set design (the work of Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin) his cinematography, the camera placement, and lighting, and his reflective main characters, most often in the underdog category.    

The term of auteur in filmmaking was first used in Paris, by film critics Andre Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, in response to the industrialisation of Hollywood during the 1940s, and refers to a director who has control over all aspects of a film, becoming author and artist. This idea underpinned the French New Wave cinema era, led by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Luhrmann’s films have indeed won him many awards for their artistry. 

Recognisable auteur filmmakers in the twentieth Century included the British Alfred Hitchcock, whose family moved to California in the 1940s, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Nora Ephron (perhaps, for her quirky romantic-comedy subject matter), Quentin Tarantino and the Coppola family, including Sofia and her father Francis Ford with their own unique filmmaking design.  Contemporary auteurs alongside Luhrmann include Kathryn Bigelow and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I already suspect I’ll need several trips to the cinema to see ‘Elvis’, to fully appreciate each aspect of Luhrmann’s auteur filmmaking.

‘Elvis’ is released in UK cinemas on Friday 24th June 2022.

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