This “song” came on the radio when I was driving home from work the other day.
Baz Luhrmann, of course, is the incredibly talented director of films like William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), The Great Gatsby (2013), and most recently the Oscar-nominated Elvis (2022).
Luhrmann produced this song; he doesn’t voice the commencement speech himself. Ironically, the speech itself never was delivered at an actual commencement. Instead it was a newspaper column by Chicago Tribune writer Mary Schmich, setting forth the commencement speech she would deliver should she ever to have an opportunity to do so. (The speech went viral via email, the “social media” of the nineties, erroneously attributed to Kurt Vonnegut in a supposed commencement address delivered at MIT; Vonnegut said he’d be proud if the words would have been his.)
The music playing in the background is “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good),” by Rozalla, which appeared in Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Which, by the way in case you haven’t seen it is an interesting film, filled with surprises of all sorts (strikingly beautiful images, hip re-imaginings of the original Shakespeare, an outstanding cast) around every corner.
Leo DiCaprio has always been so good, even in his early films. I thought he was wonderful as Romeo. Check out this introduction to his character, the first time we meet him in the film.
The shot itself is beautiful, of course. The setting, the golden late afternoon sunlight, the slow tilt up to reveal the pensive young man. There’s something about the body language here that creates character for me without any words necessary. Although elegantly dressed, he is also disheveled, his shirt open at the neck, one collar rolled under. A cigarette held casually between two fingers. He turns his head and takes a drag, profile silhouetted against the intensely saturated orange sunlight beyond. The expression on his face when he sees his parents, gets to his feet, and turns away. How much of this was DiCaprio’s acting versus Luhrmann’s direction, framing, and editing, I don’t know.
But here is one of DiCaprio’s many death scenes from over the years, this one in The Quick and the Dead (1995). It is one of my favorites. Still breaks my heart. And he was just a kid, like 20 or 21 years old. Some actors have “it” (that natural spark, charisma, star quality, “look,” or whatever you want to call it) and some actors don’t. DiCaprio does.
I always think of Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can—he was so charismatic in that you could believe he was capable of fooling people easily!
And wow, that Baz Luhrmann Sunscreen song really brings me back to the 1990s. Super nostalgia hit for me.
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Heh, I remember when that “Kurt Vonnegut” commencement speech was making the rounds!
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