Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Wait, what? This isn't a music post. This is a Film Experience collaborative feature. Yes it is. And no, it is. I'm making it about film music. Sneaky. Moulin Rouge!, Baz Luhrmann's smash hit jukebox musical from 2001, includes some beautiful arrangements of well known pop songs. Without a doubt, my favorite song in the film is "Come What May."

Oddly enough, "Come What May" is an original song written for Moulin Rouge!. It is informed by Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act I, Scene 3. In the play, Macbeth says it as he contemplates whether or not his kingship can sustain itself.

Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.

In Moulin Rouge!, the lines takes on a more romantic meaning. Star actress Satine and playwright Christian are forbidden lovers. They develop a strong romantic relationship in secret and eventually develop this loving anthem to each other. Deep down, they must know they will be caught in the end, but they'll settle for happiness in the meantime.

Here's the song in its entirety.

There's a lot to love in this arrangement. First and foremost, Ewan McGregor has a perfectly competent pop voice made all the better by strong acting. Is he helped with a little pitch correction during the lower parts of the verses? Yes. Does it distract from the message of the song? No. Nicole Kidman's sweet soprano opens to a very passionate upper register that really sells the song going into the bridge. They both give strong vocal performances; keyword: performances. They actually act out the song. While it may seem insignificant when it's done right, nothing ruins a musical factor that actors who rely on vocals alone.

The instrumentation is just flashy enough to fit in with Luhrmann's extravagant visual scheme in the film. Synth drums and keyboard are embellished with a full string section and even some occasional flourishes of french horn and trombone. The arrangement is key to the song working so well in the film. The audience has to believe that all of this music fits in the same period even though it's blatantly anachronistic for the late 19th Century.

You can have a great song in a musical but ruin it when putting it on the screen. Luhrmann uses the song as an actual plot device in the film. Christian writes this song as a secret "I love you" to Satine. They sing it apart in public to maintain appearances, but sing it together whenever they can in private. It becomes a game for them. A simple "come what may" brings a smile to both of their faces and no one else even notices what's happening. It's a great concept that truly cements their relationship before the tragedy strikes in the final reel.

My favorite shot from Moulin Rouge! happens because of this plot device using "Come What May." Christian and Satine are standing on the balcony outside the theater. The bright signs are subdued and the streets of Paris cast in a sepia-tinged haze. Christian is declaring his love for Satine with all of his might mere inches from where their relationship could be exposed to everyone.

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