This filmmaker, like many others, “offers the audience a contract” through his feverish editing and theatrical visual language.
The director of these mythic, glitzy, and overstuffed melodramas is often trying to capture the chaos of his mind. Baz Luhrmann, known for his fantasized realities in films like Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Elvis, is a director who loves the theatrics of storytelling, which inherently makes him one of the most exciting filmmakers to watch.
Whether you love a Luhrmann film or feel an intense pain in your neck from his whiplash editing, you cannot deny that Luhrmann is creating a mood and feeling that hits you like a bolt of lighting every time you think of his films.
Luhrmann’s collaboration with editors Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond creates pacing in each scene that hits every emotional beat Luhrmann wants the audience to feel.
“The idea of that—the pacing and the editing and all of that—is to make you kind of lean forward and go, I’ve got to work here as an audience member,” Luhrmann said in a recent interview with Vulture.
The idea behind Luhrmann’s intense editing, which has received much criticism over the years, is that he wants to convey he's “not doing a traditional thing, which is quietly lulling you and sneaking up on you."
Is there a formula to Luhrmann’s approach to editing a scene? Let’s break it down.
How Does Luhrmann Edit a Scene?
Obviously, Luhrmann’s editing style is untraditional in the basic understanding of cinema. It's erratic, quick, and often reflects the chaos that Luhrmann is trying to bring to the screen. Luhrmann revealed to Vulture that he has a formula that he follows in all of his films called “signing the contract.”
The contract is not between characters in the scene, but between the movie and the audience.
“The movie offers the audience a contract, and the audience either accepts the contract or not,” Luhrmann said.
An example of this contract is in Strictly Ballroom when Ken Railing (John Hannan) comes in and says, “Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs and I want to dance with you.”
It’s a ridiculous moment, but that is the style of the film. It’s an all-encompassing moment that confronts the audience and asks if they are in it for the long haul.
When it comes to editing a moment to reflect Luhrmann’s contract, the moment in The Great Gatsby when Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) introduces himself to Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) by spilling facts about himself and his fabricated life while driving like a maniac into New York City. It’s a chaotic scene that doesn’t allow the audience to absorb any information unless they are able to trust in Gatsby’s driving abilities so they can fully pay attention to what he is saying.
This is Luhrmann presenting the audience with what this particular tone and pace of the movie will be. It is up to the audience to decide whether or not they can meet Luhrmann’s film halfway.
“I’m probably the Stanley Kubrick of confetti,” Luhrmann said about his style. “I don’t put myself in the same gauge as Stanley. But I’ll tell you something. Stanley, Wes Anderson, me, Quentin Tarantino—we all have our own language. And you don’t have a language unless you know how to write in it.”
Each filmmaker that Luhrmann mentions pushes the boundaries of the language of traditional cinema. While all of those filmmakers' styles differ drastically, they are experimenting with the limitations of filmmaking, and they understand how important each phase of the production process matters to the final product that the audience gets to see.
Creating your distinct sense of style as a filmmaker comes from knowing how to translate your ideas clearly to others. Luhrmann can communicate exactly how he imagines a scene in his head through conversations and writing, and this gives his collaborators all the direction they need to understand what beats Luhrmann wants to hit and how he wants to hit them.
Luhrmann is a filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants and how he wants it presented. He is enamored of the beauty and the theatrics of storytelling, and it is an amazing talent to see on paper, on set, and on the screen.
Is there a scene in any of Luhrmann's films that stands out to you for its editing? Let us know in the comments which scene that is!