Born on September 17, 1962, in Sydney, Australia, Baz Luhrmann directed theatrical productions before going on to create the internationally heralded film Strictly Ballroom. He has since directed the Shakespeare update Romeo + Juliet, the Oscar-winning musical Moulin Rouge and the epic Australia. He co-founded Bazmark Films with his wife, Catherine Martin, in 1997.
Early Life and Career
Mark Anthony Luhrmann was born on September 17, 1962, in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, and received his nickname “Baz” from his father, Leonard. The elder Luhrmann operated a gas station and later a movie theater in the country town of Herons Creek, where Baz grew up. As a result of his father’s work, the young Luhrmann viewed grown-up cinema at an early age.
After his parents’ divorce, Luhrmann moved back to Sydney with his mother and siblings. He attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art and was featured in the film Winter of Our Dreams (1982), yet ultimately decided that he preferred a career behind the camera.
Luhrmann went on to direct live theatrical work and helmed different versions of the production Strictly Ballroom, which took audiences into the world of competitive ballroom dancing. He created the Six Years Old Company, a theatrical group, and also directed major operatic works, including La Bohème and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Romeo + Juliet
Luhrmann directed and co-wrote the screenplay for a film version of Strictly Ballroom, which had its international premiere in 1992 and received much fanfare at the Cannes Film festival, winning its Prix de la Jeunesse award. Ballroom went on to win eight Australian Film Institute awards and opened in the United States in 1993.
Luhrmann then directed and co-wrote the screenplay for 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, featuring young stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in a gang update of the Shakespeare classic. The film performed well at the box office and started to establish Luhrmann’s reputation for idiosyncratic, anachronistic adventures. The following year Luhrmann would wed Catherine Martin, his creative collaborator; they would go on to have two children. The same year, the couple founded Bazmark, a film production company with the motto, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”
In 1998, Luhrmann released the album Something for Everybody, which contained mixes of songs from his film soundtracks and featured the hit “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).”
Luhrmann next hit the big screen in the summer of 2001 with Moulin Rouge, a visually lush, bombastic musical that starred Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as star-crossed lovers in turn-of-the-century Paris. (Luhrmann referred to his first three films as the Red Curtain Trilogy, a series of works that pushed “heightened artifice” and forced viewers to engage rather than be passive spectators.)
Despite its time period, Moulin Rouge boasted a soundtrack with updates of contemporary songs from artists like Madonna, Elton John and Labelle. Though there were many challenges during the production, including the death of Luhrmann’s father and injuries sustained by Kidman, the film and its stars received many accolades. Moulin Rouge won three Golden Globes and received eight Academy Award nominations; Martin earned the film’s two Oscar wins, in the categories of art direction and costuming.
Chanel, Australia and Gatsby
In 2002, Luhrmann brought La Bohème to the Broadway stage; the production won two Tonys for scenic design (Martin) and lighting (Nigel Levings). Luhrmann also directed Kidman with actor Rodrigo Santoro in a celebrated, long-form Chanel No. 5 ad in 2004.
In 2008, Luhrmann released Australia, an epic-length story that starred Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Set in the director’s home country, the film took place during World War II and focused partly on Aboriginal peoples while mixing different cinematic genres. Though the work received significant media attention and performed well in Europe, Australia was a disappointment at the U.S. box office.
In 2012, Bazmark Films entered into a deal with Sony Pictures to develop television projects. Luhrmann’s next big-screen work is a 3-D update of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby, slated to be released in 2013 and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.
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