Baz Luhrmann’s distinctive film style is not only uniquely aesthetic but the Australian is known to pick imaginative and modern music in his movies. Luhrmann was born in Sydney to a ballroom teacher and dress shop owner, which explains his musically inclined films with over-the-top colourful costumes.
His career began when he was cast in the Australian film Winter of Our Dreams in 1987 in the year of his high school graduation. He used the money made from the film to form his own theatre company. In 1983, he began an acting course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. He left the theatre and established himself as one of the most exciting young directors in the 1990s with his “Red Curtain Trilogy”, consisting of Strictly Ballroom (1992), William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), and Moulin Rouge! (2001).
Although Luhrmann has been criticised for not sticking his films to the source material, it’s important to realise his contribution to cinema with his ability to reimagine stories as opposed to simply adapting them. One of his most recognised techniques is his use of music. Luhrmann is noted for his Grammy-nominated soundtracks for Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby. He served as a producer on all of his musical soundtracks and holds writing credits on many of the individual tracks. We rank some of the best soundtracks from Baz Luhrmann’s films.
5. Australia (2008)
The 2008 film Australia is an adventure drama which stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Kidman plays Lady Sarah Ashley, an English aristocrat who inherits a cattle station from her late husband. She meets and falls in love with the driver, played by Jackman, who is hired to move the cattle across her property. The story unfolds with the bombing of Darwin in the 1940s during World War Two. The screenplay, written and directed by Luhrmann, features a classic orchestral film score composed by David Hirschfelder. It also incorporates several big band jazz standards into the soundtrack. The music selection for this film is a lot more traditional compared to Luhrmann’s other works.
4. The Great Gatsby (2013)
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby remained unmatched for years in Hollywood, until Luhrmann decided to update it. While Coppola’s soundtrack consisted of jazz standards set against a lush orchestral score, Luhrmann decided to go modern with music from the likes of Jay Z and Kanye West.
While critics argued that Luhrmann’s adaptation is a tad loud and colourful to make it accessible to mainstream audiences, the film style and soundtrack did capture the glamour and excess of 1920s America.
3. Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Strictly Ballroom began as a stage play written by Luhrmann and fellow students during his time studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney. The stage production was a huge success and even had a successful season at Sydney’s Wharf Theatre. Ted Albert, an Australian music executive, offered Luhrmann the opportunity to transform the play into a feature-length film. Luhrmann agreed but only if he was allowed to direct the film.
In contrast to Australia, Luhrmann’s music choices reflect the director’s earliest use of “camp” for aesthetic purposes. The most memorable soundtrack accompanies the dancing scenes. He expertly contrasted classical tracks by Johan Strauss II with cheesy pop like Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”.
2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Moulin Rouge! is set against the backdrop of Paris with a love story unfolding between a writer played by Ewan McGregor and the Moulin Rouge’s star attraction Satin, played by Nicole Kidman. The music selection for the film is like Moulin Rouge itself, wanting to be noticed by the venue’s performers. It blends cabaret and cover versions of tracks from David Bowie’s “Heroes” to Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit”.
1. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Ranked number one of the best of Baz Luhrmann’s soundtrack list is his 1996 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. He updated the bard’s setting from 16th century Verona to the modern-day Verona Beach. It is an uber cool and visually stunning film with the expert use of modern music to bring a dying classic to modern life.
While Luhrmann chose to keep the bard’s original dialogue, he expertly geared the soundtrack towards the MTV generation. The soundtrack is also supplemented by creative scores produced by Nelle Hooper and Craig Armstrong. Visually and musically, Romeo + Juliet is a feast both for the eyes and the ears.