Secret Cinema Moulin Rouge


The best thing about Secret Cinema is when it puts you in the middle of worlds you would typically never experience. By painstakingly recreating the environments from famous movies and allowing visitors to wander around and explore, interacting with familiar characters and having their own little adventures they create a literally immersive theatrical experience. I have been to two previous Secret Cinema events where this was completely the case. At the Doctor Strangelove one I was barked at by unhinged military generals, tangibly surrounded by suffocating Cold War paranoia and caught up in the middle of a machine gun fight with army trucks sweeping in and removing people from danger. Even more exhilarating than this was the five hours I spent in a galaxy far far away at The Empire Strikes Back show. I haggled with jawas, was intimidated by Stormtroopers, tried to negotiate passage off Tatooine with Han Solo shortly before he shot Greedo with me at the same table and stood in awe as an X-Wing flew over my head on its way to blow up the Deathstar. It is fair to say that none of it was like anything I had done before or will hope to do again.

The problem with this latest event is that Moulin Rouge is a film centred all around the theatre and I have already been to the theatre a lot and will undoubtedly do so again. It didn’t take me outside of my normal realm of existence in anything near the same way. It’s not that Secret Cinema Moulin Rouge scrimps or fails in taking 1899 Montmartre and placing it in the east of London. It totally allows those that attend to wander around the review bars and naughty picture houses rubbing shoulders with Toulouse Lautrec and various other unabashed bohemians before entering Harry Zidler’s famous pleasure palace. In the end though, fun and exuberant as it all was, it was just singing and dancing, and drinking and partying, diamonds and poetry, all of which I’ve seen before to some extent or other. With the best will in the world and even with the greatest effort I just don’t think this was ever going to be as special as if they’d taken their audience into outer space or claustrophobic bunkers, or zombie outbreaks, prisons, Toontowns, mental institutions, vampire beaches or dystopian futures as they have before. 


There also didn’t seem to be as much going on as there has been at the other events. Previously there was something to see or get involved in through every door and in every corner but this wasn’t the case here. Similarly, while I love Baz Luhrmann’s film, there aren’t as many iconic scenes to re-enact for the audience to witness as they mill around. Much of the criticism of Secret Cinema surrounds the hefty ticket price and although I’ve defended this in the past, this time I am not as convinced that I got my money’s worth. Finally, and this is a minor niggle but if they are going to encourage patrons to wear top hats they should encourage them to remove them during the film as well. I did sometimes make it tricky to see over people’s heads. 


None of this is to say I didn’t have a good time. Doing Secret Cinema around a musical movie is a nice idea (they’ve already done Footloose, Grease and Saturday Night Fever) and the prescreening performances of the film’s big tunes were all strong (if you happened to be in the right room at the right time to see them). I cannot deny the pleasure I felt from being in a large crowd all belting out Elton John’s Your Song as if none of the actual notes were important. What the event lacked in terms of space craft and army vehicles it partly made up for with energetic dance numbers and the design of the stage and screen was suitably glitzy. It was amusing to see someone dressed in that ridiculous sitar outfit too.


The film of course is superb and watching it with an excitable, in many cases tipsy, audience is fun in itself. People cheered and booed in a way that is entirely in keeping with the tone of the movie. The story is very simple but executed with such verve, compassion and commitment and Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are both great as the romantic leads. I love McGregor’s singing voice in this film too. If I could sing I’d like to sing like that. Kidman also gives a great comedy performance which is not something she is known for. The support from everyone from Jim Broadbent to Kylie Minogue is also excellent and those arrangements of those songs are just tremendous.


Secret Cinema Moulin Rouge is still an experience even if they’ve done better and the spirit of movie has once again effectively spilled out into the crowd. The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return and whatever else it does or doesn’t do, it stays true to that.

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