Posted by: Jodi | March 16, 2011

El Tango de Roxanne

Timeless movies are the fruits of master storytelling.  Consider the movie Moulin Rouge which takes the traditional tragic romance to new heights using rich visuals, great music, and subtle (and not so subtle) foreshadowing.

Here’s the basic story:

Christian, a writer seeking inspiration in Paris, falls in love with Satine, a courtesan who is wanted by the powerful and wealthy Duke.  Both men are jealous of the other for what they can’t have.  The Duke has the right to Satine but not her love, Christian has her love but can’t have her.  Satine is obligated to the Duke and must decide between duty and her heart.  Christian agrees to write a play for the Moulin Rouge, but in reality is writing their story.

Within the movie we not only see the developing romance between Christian and Satine,  hidden from the watchful eye of the Duke, but also the development of the play that mirrors the same story.  The Roxanne Tango occurs the night Satine is forced to go to the Duke as a courtesan.  The performers at Moulin Rouge know that the future of the theater rests on the Duke being pleased with her.  They also know of the relationship between the two lovers.  The dance is meant to mock Christian’s pain but in reality it emphasizes the story to the watcher, laying out all the cards in one brilliant five minute montage.

The tango sequence also serves as the film’s emotional climax, bringing together all the elements of the story and holding them in stark contrast to each other.  Satine’s world has been turned gray reflecting the emptiness she feels with the duke.  Christian’s world is full of reds and blacks showing his burning love tainted by jealousy.  The Argentine tells the real story, his gritty voice singing the theme, “With no trust there can be no love, jealousy will drive you mad.”

Although in writing it would be confusing if not impossible to pull off a similar feat, being able to bring together all the elements of a story to a rocket hot emotional climax is not.  Moulin Rouge has little to no subplots, all the different elements steer us back to the story of Christian and Satine.

Here’s El Tango de Roxanne, enjoy!

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Responses

  1. As someone who dabbled in filmmaking in college (did a couple of shorts) and also writes fiction, I’m fascinated by the different tools of the the two storytelling artforms.

    In fiction, it’s obviously much easier to get into the character’s mind, and you can withhold a murderer’s identity without resorting to masks and disguises, which can be hokey.

    On the other hand, film editing allows you to reveal surprises to the audience moments before the character experiences them. It also enables you to show near simultaneous reactions, make implications based on who is on screen at a given moment, and, most importantly, speak without words.

    But fiction will always have one, huge advantage advantage over film: If a writer wants to add a sky full of five-headed dragons, all she has to do is type, “Suddenly, the sky was filled with five-headed dragons”*

    The filmmaker has to go to the studio executive and say, “Can I have 20 million more dollars for this five-headed dragon scene I want to add?”

    *I hope she’d be more creative about it, though. 😉

    • Written fiction does have that added edge where the reader can have that submersive experience and get inside the mind of the characters. Nowadays it seems many current movies make no effort to do so, relying solely on special effects to wow the audience instead of seeking an emotional tie.

      It shows how good a film editor is when they can time reactions and reveals for peak effect in the story. Harder than it looks.

  2. I love films, I love them as much as I love books actually. Moulin Rouge is a striking film, love the visuals. I’m trying to write a very visual novel. Trying to make it something that will easily translate to film because that is my other dream, to see my novel (and my boy) on the screen 🙂

    • What a dream it would be to land a deal with a major motion picture for your work! When it happens I’m hoping that your blog readers are the first to know. Creating good visuals is as much an art as any other aspect of good writing, thank heavens it’s something that can be further improved with time and effort.

  3. Yes, writing something with the imagery and power of this would be much more difficult to achieve. The colors and music are very powerful, but because they appeal instantly to our senses it doesn’t seem overworked or confusing. We don’t have to be told what to feel, we simply feel it. Translating this to the written word is so difficult because the feeling isn’t as instantaneous and so can feel dragged out or bogged down with too many descriptions and not enough forward progress.

    This is my favorite song/scene of the movie. It captures all the emotion perfectly and is just so distinctive and vibrant. Moulin Rouge is definitely in my top ten favorite movies.

  4. […] tragic ending many stories come to mind, Romeo and Juliet, Phantom of the Opera, Ghost, Titanic, Moulin Rouge, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, just to name a few.  In these stories one or both of the […]


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