Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge (69)

The most famous cabaret in the world, without the slightest doubt, immortalised in the drawings of Toulouse-Lautrec and an infinite number of films, is the Moulin Rouge. Nobody can imagine the Can-Can without the existence of this temple of fun and French bohemia. 

As in other parts of Europe, life was intense in France during the interwar years. There was more freedom and the desire to forget the tragedy of the First World War made the Parisians feel like they wanted to have a crazy time. This spirit is what the Moulin Rouge offered since its foundation. Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler were the owners who opened it in 1889.

The site for the construction of the cabaret was not chosen at random. Montmartre was the cool zone of Paris. The worst elements of every home would come to get drunk or look for the company of prostitutes. At the beginning these were the people who came to the Moulin Rouge. But gradually it became the fashion for the upper classes to mix with the lower orders in a type of adventure sport of the time.

The most characteristic element of the Moulin Rouge is what gave it its name. A large red mill with rotating arms, and inside, a small stage, and mirrors and curtains everywhere.

Behind all these curtains a door opened that led to a summer courtyard. There stood a large plaster elephant that had survived the universal exhibition of 1889. Inside this elephant one could see a real provocation for the time: a belly dance.

Bazz Luhrman’s film Moulin Rouge gave a view of what must have been the transgressor and bohemian spirit of the venue in a very free vision. Previously the cinema had been interested in the relationship between the venue and the painter Toulouse Lautrec, directed by John Huston and starring José Ferrer.

In its early days, the Moulin Rouge forged its character at the hand of artistes such as Celeste Mogador. This woman became part of the history of show business as the creator of the famous Quadrille, the devilish dance that cause a furore in Paris and which was the precursor of the Can-Can. Many artists also found inspiration in the Moulin Rouge, among them Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, who with his drawings immortalised scenes from the show and its dancers.

Around 1902 the venue went through a bad period. There were disagreements between its founders, the star of the time had left, known as La Goulou and other venues were fierce competition. The Can-Can had also gone out of fashion. The Moulin Rouge had its days numbered. It would not be until 1907 when its splendour would return with the appearance of Mistinguett, who was raised to the status of music-hall star. When she retired, the hard times returned.

The crazy years really came to an end with the onset of the Second World War and the Nazi occupation of Paris. It was days before the liberation that one of the great artists of France appeared in the Moulin Rouge. On the stage of the cabaret appeared Edith Piaf at the hand of Yves Montand.

In the 1950s an attempt to renovate the Moulin Rouge was made when Georges France bought it. They were times in which the dancing and partying returned as well as the show-suppers. In the 1960s a giant aquarium was set up where nude dancers swam before the eyes of the spectators. Due to a strange superstition, all the review shows had names that started with the setter “F”. This turned into a tradition. In 1988, to celebrate the centenary of the cabaret, the title "Formidable" was chosen.

In Paris there are more famous cabarets, among which feature the Crazy Horse, famous for the art of the nude and which you could see in the Woody Allen film What’s new Pussycat?, the Lido de Paris, founded alter the Second World War and always with excellent reviews for its spectacular stage settings and splendid costumes, and the Folie-Bergère, famous above all for being where the exotic dancer Josephine Baker made her debut.

If you like the cabaret, then Paris is your city.

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