Consumptive Chic: The Postfeminist Recycling of Camille in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!
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Prostitutes, especially hookers-with-hearts-of-gold, have long tugged at the heartstrings of audiences on stage and in film. While Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001) offers a funky—if not campy—take on the turn-of-the-century Parisian underworld, the film is nonetheless an unmistakable retelling of Dumas fils’ nineteenth-century melodrama Camille (La Dame aux camélias). In fact, Lurhmann’s prostitute-character Satine emblematizes the ‘penitent whore,’ the figure that is scrutinized for her sexual transgressions, who expresses a sense of worthlessness, repents for her sins, and is ultimate punished—usually by death—to reinstate patriarchal order. As Satine, the Sparkling Diamond of the Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman is often fetishistically shot with a blue lens, giving her a necrophilic look, creating what Johnson calls ‘consumptive chic.’ The film’s cinematography highlights her fragility, pallid form, and glistening corpse-like whiteness. Satine’s whiteness also functions powerfully as a racial category, which is key to her desirability. Although Luhrmann’s postmodern approach is entertaining, the film eviscerates years of scholarship regarding representations of fallen women, the regulation of women’s sexuality, the politics of women’s work, the process of racialization, and commercialized sex. The film’s popularity can be seen a barometer of dominant culture’s attitudes toward the postfeminist moment and demonstrates the formative role of film in perpetuating misogynistic narratives, whilst giving lip service to women’s liberation. Johnson’s essay takes up the question of representing the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold and its resonance for postfeminism and media studies by analyzing Cukor’s Camille (1936), two versions of Moulin Rouge (John Huston 1952 and Luhrmann 2001), and the ‘Lady Marmalade’ music video (2002) produced by Missy Elliot.