The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.
Raised as a child in the small rural New South Wales township of Herons Creek, Baz Luhrmann moved to Sydney at age 15 to live with his mother. His parents had separated several years previously. He completed his education at Narrabeen High School (later Narrabeen Sports High), and then applied unsuccessfully to the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). Luhrmann's passion for all things associated with cinema came about largely as a result of spending a great deal of time at his father's picture theatre in Herons Creek. He and his siblings had also grown up in a very creative family atmosphere, much of it revolving around music and dance (notably ballroom dancing). Although rejected by NIDA he continued to pursue a career as an actor and was cast in the 1981 film The Winter of Our Dreams (starring Bryan Brown and Judy Davis, qq.v.). He also appeared in television series such as A Country Practice and the docu-drama Kids from the Cross. A few years later Luhrmann again applied to be accepted into NIDA and this time succeeded.
In 1986, while a student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, Luhrmann devised the first stage version of Strictly Ballroom with other students and directed the production. Around this time he also became involved in experimental theatre, primarily through re-inventing new ways to stage classic opera. With composer Felix Meagher he created Lake Lost for the Australian Opera. The production not only earned him the Victorian Green Room Award for Best Director, but gave him the opportunity to meet his future wife and business partner, designer Catherine Martin. In 1989 Luhrmann and Martin created a large scale 1940s retro musical spectacular at the Sydney Town Hall called Dance Hall. His 1990 production of La Boheme for the Australian Opera (winner of a Mo Award for Best Operatic Performance) was followed by a Hindu version of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. After seasons in Sydney and Melbourne it played the 1994 Edinburgh Festival (winning the Critic's Prize).
Baz Luhrmann's first feature film was an adaptation of his theatrical piece, Strictly Ballroom. Released in 1992, the film won the Cannes Film Festival's Prix de Ia Jeunesse and went on to gross more than US $80 million dollars. Soon afterwards Luhrmann signed a deal with 20th Century Fox that saw him make Romeo and Juliet (1996). A modern interpretation of Shakespeare's classic love tragedy, performed with the original dialogue, and starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes, the film grossed more than US $140 million and won numerous awards (including four BAFTAs). The soundtrack achieved platinum status.
In 1997 Luhrmann and Martin worked on the concept album Something for Everybody. It subsequently went platinum in Australia. Two years later he began working on the ambitious feature film Moulin Rouge. Released in 2001, and starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge grossed over US $170 million and won three Golden Globe Awards. It was also nominated for eight Academy Awards (winning Best Costume Design for Catherine Martin). Despite its mixed critical reception, many within the international film industry acknowledged Moulin Rouge's significant impact in revitalising the musical film genre.
Luhrmann presented his theatrical version of La Boheme to Broadway audiences in 2002 (the production ran until June 2003). He later began working on pre-production for a film about Alexander the Great, but this was eventually cancelled as Oliver Stone's film Alexander was then in production. In 2006 Luhrmann began working on the epic feature Australia. Starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman the film premiered in 2008.
Other: 2009: 81st Annual Academy Awards (various sketches)
At January 2012 Luhrmann's three films Australia, Moulin Rouge, and Strictly Ballroom were ranked in the top seven in a list of Australian feature films of all time, ranked by total reported gross Australian box office takings. Source: Screen Australia http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/statistics/mrboxaust.asp (Sighted 03/04/12)
Luhrmann was nominated for the 2013 AACTA Best Direction Award, Feature Film for The Great Gatsby.
form yThe Great Gatsby( dir. Baz Luhrmann)AustraliaUnited States of America (USA):Warner BrothersVillage RoadshowA&E Television Networks,2013Z19342362013single work film/TV An adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Long Island-set novel, where Midwesterner Nick Carraway is lured into the lavish world of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Soon enough, however, Carraway will see through the cracks of Gatsby's nouveau riche existence, where obsession, madness, and tragedy await.
At the beginning of World War II, Lady Sarah Ashley travels from her home in England to Northern Australia to confront her husband, whom she believes is having an affair. He is in the country to oversee the selling of his enormous cattle station, Faraway Downs. Her husband sends Drover, an independent stockman, to transport her to Faraway Downs. When Lady Sarah arrives at the station, however, she finds that her husband has been murdered (allegedly by King George, an Aboriginal elder) and that cattle station manager Neil Fletcher is trying to gain control of Faraway Downs, so that Lesley 'King' Carney will have a complete cattle monopoly in the Northern Territory.
Lady Sarah is captivated by Nullah (King George's grandson) son of an Aboriginal mother and an unknown white father. When Nullah tells her that he has seen her cattle being driven onto Carney's land, Fletcher beats him. Lady Sarah fires Fletcher, deciding to try to run the cattle station herself. To save the property from Carney, she enlists the aid of Drover; together, they drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land. In the course of the journey, she falls in love with both Drover and the Australian landscape.
Lady Sarah, Nullah, and Drover live together happily at Faraway Downs for two years, while Fletcher (the actual murderer of Lady Sarah's husband and very likely the father of Nullah) kills Carney, marries his daughter, and takes over Carney's cattle empire. When the authorities send Nullah to live on Mission Island with the other half-Aboriginal children, Lady Sarah is devastated. In the meantime, she works as a radio operator in Darwin.
When the Japanese attack the island and Darwin in 1942, Lady Sarah fears that Nullah has been killed and Drover, who had quarrelled with Lady Sarah and left the station, believes Lady Sarah has been killed. Learning of Nullah's abduction to Mission Island, however, he sets out to rescue him. Lady Sarah decides to sell Faraway Downs to Fletcher and return to England. Drover and Nulla sail back into port at Darwin as Lady Sarah is about to depart, and the three are reunited. Fletcher, distraught at the death of his wife, attempts to shoot Nullah, but is speared by King George and dies.