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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Please, when you read this, imagine me as the wrecked shell of Ewan McGregor that starts the film. Bearded, suspendered, drunk(?), and emotionally heavy. Because that's kind of how I feel on the other side of this viewing.

First, some history. This film came out the late spring/early summer of 2001, a few weeks before I left to study abroad in Germany. I remember this clearly for two reasons: I pouted at my high school boyfriend to take me to see it "BEFORE I GOOOO" and I listened to the soundtrack on my lil discman endlessly while in Germany. "Diamond Dogs" and "Children of the Revolution" (don't even get me started on "Complainte de la Butte") are etched in my brain along with core memories of my time in Bavaria. I hear their intros and I'm back in my bedroom there, looking out the window at the foothills and the cows. Truly, my happy place. Very glad it came up on the random number generator a few weeks before I get back there.

As I thought about watching this one today, I kept thinking, "It should surprise no one that this film became my personality for two years." My primary goal for the year is to speak more kindly to myself. I am horrible to myself, as a rule, and it needs to change. Step one is to notice the unkindness. And that "It should surprise no one" was dripping in disdain. Why? My reaction to the first ten minutes of the film answered that. "It's so cringey. Oh my god, this is so over the top. WHY IS HE CRYING LIKE THAT?" And I thought, "this is for theater kids who are inclined toward the tragic rather than the exuberant" and that was me all over. It made me think about how I had dinner recently with one of the only people I still know who knew me in high school. As we talked she kept saying (with genuine surprise in her voice), "You're. So. Fun." And I thought, "yeah, I guess. I mean, I'm funny." But no one ever calls me fun. And I can't blame them. I'm not, as a rule. I spent 30+ years taking myself So Seriously hoping that other people would too. Or that they'd respect me. And this old friend was shocked that now I'm fun. When I realized she was surprised, my internal monologue bent towards disdain. With a heavy dose of pity. "God, teenage Shannon took herself So Seriously. Her feelings were waaaaaay too big." (Note to self: unpack with therapist your need to separate your present from your past. They're both you, babe.)

But were my feelings too big? Or were they just what they were?

This viewing pulled into focus Christian's early assertion that he's never been in love before. And Satine has never allowed herself to be in love before. So naturally their feelings were huge. Not wrong. Not imagined. Troublesome, maybe. But they were real. God young love is such a drug. Every now and then I find myself longing for that kind of intense romance. But I shake that feeling off. "I don't want to be that dumb again." "I don't want the mess." (To say nothing of how happy I am in the life I live and the love that is central to it.) And of course, the lack of tidiness is part of the rush. But even messy, those feelings are real. Young love doesn't end because it's not real. It ends because we don't know what we really want and suddenly we need more. And if it didn't end in tragedy, it would be forced to endure the harsh light of day. The fights. The petty annoyances. The fact that "real" (read: realistic) relationships are no less lacking in LOVE, but they ask that you LOVE even when your spouse is sick and phlegmy or when they work themselves to exhaustion and crankiness. And that's not nearly as glamorous as surreptitious make out sessions backstage. But they're all real. All of it.

There's a lot in this movie that hasn't aged well. Mostly the exoticism/appropriation of Indian culture (though I fully understand that that was a choice based in 1899's fondness for appropriation). I was pleasantly surprised at how kindly the sex workers are treated. Yes, there are some tropes at play with Satine, obviously, but Christian never has a moment of realizing what she does and being grossed out by it. He's just sad about her pragmatism in the face of love. And yeah, maybe the movie isn't good? I don't know. I'm, in this moment, in awe of its ability to capture the MAGIC and MADNESS of idealism and infatuation. The dizzying highs. (How charming is all that smudged red lipstick on her ivory skin?) The crushing lows. How everything seems glittery and possible.

I had a few ideas for art pieces while watching but kept batting them away as being "obvious" or "trite." But... I think giving into those impulses is on brand for this. I think the reason I want to be dismissive is because this is not high brow or clever art. But it is very real.

Coming back and reading what I wrote immediately after viewing and having had a week to think about it, gosh I got good at gaslighting myself. Hugs, young Shannon. I'm so sorry I dismissed your feelings so quickly.

Beadwork & embroidery.


-This was a surprisingly emotional process. I spent a lot of time thinking about my relationship with my own emotions while I worked on this. A long history of being told I'm "too sensitive," that the reason I was picked on as a kid was because I wore my heart on my sleeve, that I was "crazy" because I was "emotional." Nothing that hasn't been said to every woman at some point. Doesn't mean it didn't do damage. It meant that for most of my adulthood to date, I bottle things up until I explode and then I really am too emotional. Or at least not calm. And what's worse than a femme human who's showing their feelings? I also thought about the first time I ever felt positively about my capacity for feeling. I'm ashamed to admit that it took multiple instances of this exact conversation to get it but once I did, it was powerful. It almost always happened after watching a movie or TV show that I wept through. Ben would look at me with shock on his face. I'd apologize for being a mess. He'd say, "You just feel so much. It's amazing." The first dozen or so times, I heard it as an insult. My deep feelings about [name a thing, anything, everything] had always been reflected back at me as a weakness so that's what I assumed Ben meant. But he was amazed. It was impressive. Not bad. And now, as I embrace my feelings and empathy (still laughing about Species with Andy last night... "she walked!"), I'm ready to wear my heart on my sleeve. Or at least my lapel.

-This is the second time I attempted some beadwork for the project. The first one was Human Nature and I quickly abandoned it in favor of rhinestones. It's so tricky! I finally hit my rhythm on this one (after a couple restarts) but even then, messy! I like it and I want to mess around with it some more but it is deceptively difficult.

-I originally was going to do an art nouveau design on the heart but 1) couldn't find a design I really liked (and I really struggle with the seemingly effortless curves of nouveau) and 2) saw a neat tutorial for a neon paint marker technique and thought, "Could I do that with beads? Neon would be neat!" And the answer was "kind of." I didn't have the right shades of bead that I think would have made it sing and wasn't about to drive 30 minutes to find out that the craft store didn't actually have what I needed. One of the perils of returning to a rigid-ish schedule with this, but truly done is better than perfect.

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