The Great Gatsby, or, Fitzgerald with added bells and whistles.

Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio): shit-eating grin
Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio): shit-eating grin

I first read The Great Gatsby around this time last year, on a plane heading towards Newark via Heathrow, on the recommendation of one of my tutors at NUIG, in the spirit of If There’s One Thing You Need To Do Before You Visit Princeton, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed it (well, at the time it *was* my first pleasure read in about ten months), and ever since then, I’ve kept a close eye on the film adaptation, which will be arriving in cinemas in the next number of months.

I want to make one thing clear: I love Baz Luhrmann’s films. I honestly do (skipping Australia, I just never got around to that). My love for Shakespeare was shaped by Romeo + Juliet. Moulin Rouge! is one of my favourite films of all time, mainly because I’m a sucker for musicals and I only realised that two years ago (didn’t stop fifteen year old me play it repeatedly on DVD, however). Strictly Ballroom is sweet and romantic and has loads of wonderful dance moves and an animated sequence in the middle. And that Chanel advert, amidst the whole Why Won’t You Let Nicole Kidman Live Her Life, That Is, A Life With A Poor Hot Writer, was my first introduction to Clair de Lune and Debussy, and is generally quite gorgeous.

But after seeing the first trailer, as well as watching the recent second one, I am very concerned. The novel itself is set in a very distinct time period, just between the Great War and the Great Depression — so, in that case, you can either respect the world of the novel or go in a wholly different direction. Luhrmann seems to have taken the latter option, prompting many questions similar to the beat of ‘why can I hear Kanye West/Lana del Rey/Jack White in the background?’ (Here’s a link to an article describing his decision to go with Jay-Z as musical collaborator. I’m not sure if  ‘We knew we had to unlock for the audience a way of letting them feel what it was like to read Fitzgerald’s book in the 1920s – to be in New York City at that time’ necessarily should mean LET’S PUT HIP HOP IN THE FILM.) I’m not saying that that in general is a very bad idea: it worked very well for Moulin Rouge!, which itself did not make any claims to historical accuracy, and Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette wore its anachronisms on its sleeve to great effect. But are these 3D effects, Beyoncé Knowles, and dizzying camera angles truly representative of the heart of the novel? Feel free to disagree with me, but what stands out for me is the melancholy and the deep sadness at the novel’s core — that green light, which unfortunately is rendered very garishly in both trailers. At the moment, the film looks too much like a Harry Potter film, and whereas I wouldn’t mind a guilty pleasure flick that you hate to love but love regardless despite what everyone else may say, I don’t think Gatsby deserves that.

this is a film about mildly interested people.
this is a film about mildly interested people.

I’d be grateful for any thoughts. I know my experience of the novel doesn’t quite encompass what everyone else may think, so: what do YOU think? In the meantime, I recommend this to pass the time.


6 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby, or, Fitzgerald with added bells and whistles.

  1. THANK YOU! I got the same feeling from the trailers. While I absolutely adore Baz and thought his use of pop music in “Moulin” was a cool device at the time, now I look back & I’m just not that jazzed about it. (No pun intended.)

    I like the way you think! At least in Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” the pop music was background music and it reflected the mood of isolation, ennuí and melancholy. This rap-hip hop doesn’t seem to reflect either the care-free prohibition-era setting or the central themes of social inadequacy and sadness that F. Scott intended. [I sincerely hope nobody sings in this new flick.]

    My final bone of contention: Toby MacGuire is the honest-to-God worst choice to play Nick Caraway. And they thought Mia Farrow as ‘Daisy’ in the Redford rendition was a miscast!

    1. Thank you for your comments! I think the contemporary DNA works well for Moulin Rouge!, but I don’t think he should be aiming to replicate the same aesthetic for this, as the novel is an entirely different beast from the story he meant to tell in MR.

      I don’t particularly mind Tobey Maguire myself (I don’t know, it must be my childhood attachment to the Spider-Man films, but who’s to say), and if anyone has to sing, let it be Carey Mulligan. That girl can hold a note. But regardless, I look forward to this with a great degree of apprehension! Oh dear…

      1. I just think Toby looks too young…like he just fell off the turnip truck! Nick Carraway wasn’t supposed to be as worldly as Gatsby and his friends, but not that naïve. [Or naïve-looking, I should say.]

        Yes, apprehension is the correct word. My prediction for an absolute dumpster fire of a movie will by “Grace of Monaco” with Nicole Kidman cast in the lead.

      2. Ha! I kinda want Grace of Monaco to be good. But that is the part of me that likes to think the best of people, and wants things to be good for the sake of those working on it.

        Sometimes I’m too kind. It shows.

      3. January Jones! She’s a dead ringer!

        I do think that Nicole Kidman can carry off the airs and graces that Grace Kelly carried off effortlessly, she’s been able to do that before. But hey, I like Nicole, so I admit some bias. Need to see pictures of her in the role though.

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