Moulin Rouge and Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp”

In Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp”, she explores the many different facets camp can take on and how to recognize when something is very “camp.” When dealing with camp, the main emphasis is placed on the extraordinary, the incredibly indulgent, and the whimsically elaborate. These qualities can be seen perfectly in this clip from Moulin Rouge. This movie is known for it’s incredibly over the top nature, but this scene highlights the main qualities of camp perfectly.

This is what Sontag would define as “deliberate camp”; there is an air of self-awareness about this camp. And in that way, it makes the viewer more uncomfortable witnessing the purposeful nature of the performance. The scene focuses on dancing and stylized props. The entire set is completely gaudy and ridiculous, focusing solely on a certain style and ambiance. Here, Sontag’s point about aiming for a unique style is highlight. Much like the example of Art Noveau, there are many stylistic elements that could be equated to this example in Moulin Rouge. The floral archways are made out of steel, but are incredibly romanticized and have an urban flora essence about them. The over use of lush fabric and glitter somehow distract the viewer, but also entice them to engage with the scene further.

The actor’s are trying to be ridiculous and funny in this scene. The purpose is to get a laugh, yet because it is deliberate, I do not think it is accomplished to the highest degree. It is too calculated and pragmatic to curate an organic reaction. Instead of viewing this for pleasure and symbiotically enjoying the experience, an aspect of discomfort is felt instead.

“Notes on Camp.” Against Interpretation, by Susan Sontag, Penguin Classics , 2009.

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