Deeper shade of ‘Rouge’

1952 Huston pic focused on artist Lautrec

For the MTV generation, the name “Moulin Rouge” is associated with Baz Lurhmann’s splashy, hyperactive, nouvelle musical that starred Nicole Kidman as a tubercular chanteuse involved in a star-crossed romance with young composer Ewan McGregor. The 2001 film was notable for purportedly reviving the musical genre and paving the way for “Chicago’s” current triumph. But 50 years ago, another “Moulin Rouge” made an Oscar splash with seven nominations, including one for best picture. Directed by John Huston, the 1952 version centered on the life and times of pre-Impressionist painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, brilliantly limned by Jose Ferrer, who portrays Lautrec as a man possessed of prodigious talent and a trenchant wit, but beset by self-loathing and unrequited love. (Lurhmann’s film depicted Lautrec, played with oafish glee by John Leguizamo, as a caricature.) And while Lurhman’s wife, Catherine Martin, accomplished a rare feat by winning Oscars for art direction and costume design, her wins were not without precedent. The designer on Huston’s film, the gifted Marcel Vertes, also experienced a dual triumph, winning Oscars for his costumes and art direction, back when those categories were divided into black-and-white and color, with period films usually distinguished in the latter category.

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