November 8, 2013

The Great Gatsby: What would F. Scott Fitzgerald make of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation?
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

The Great Gatsby: What would F. Scott Fitzgerald make of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation?

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel has seen a number of cinematic adaptations. The first, coming in 1926 from director Herbert Brenon, was the only one Fitzgerald got to see in his lifetime. Was he impressed? Not so much…

In fact, both F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald walked out before the end. (Later, in an undated letter from Zelda, she wrote: “It’s ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left.”) Pretty conclusive. So what would the author and his wife have made of this new version from Australian director Baz Luhrmann?

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby Baz Luhrmann

Fourth time lucky?

Luhrmann’s adaptation is the fourth cinematic release since the 1926 original (the fifth if you count Robert Markowitz’s TV movie), with two other attempts made in 1949 and 1974 - by directors Elliott Nugent and Jack Clayton respectively – with the latter starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, as well as boasting a screenplay written by none other than Francis Ford Coppola.

The new incarnation, starring Leonardo Di Caprio as the mysterious Jay Gatsby and Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway, is as visually appealing as you would expect from a director that also brought us Moulin Rouge and Australia. Di Caprio is the standout performer, while the supporting cast – intentionally or not – does an admirable job of conveying the vacuity of the novel’s nouveau riche and their New York party scene.

Luhrmann’s direction has always been about the spectacle, and The Great Gatsby is no different in this respect. The film’s lush cinematography and everything-turned-up-to-eleven approach sits nicely with the narrative of Jazz Age decadence and the excesses of the Roaring Twenties.

Fitzgerald’s novel, however, is quite nuanced. The author himself, much like Gatsby, was seduced for a while by the glamour and glitz of the prohibition era that generated fortunes for bootleggers. But he also saw through the façade of new money to the empty materialism of an America propelled by an all-too-rapidly booming economy, unchecked until the disastrous crash of 1929 that ushered in The Great Depression.

You could say that the Gatsby and Carraway characters in the novel are, therefore, conflicting aspects of the author’s own character, but instead of illustrating this, Luhrmann tries to create a false origin to the story through the mechanism of Nick’s narration from a sanitarium, taking place sometime ‘post-story’. In this sense, it isn’t really a true portrayal of the novel as Fitzgerald intended, and we can only speculate as to whether the author and his outspoken wife would have sat this one through to the final credits.

In its own right though, the film is entertaining and well acted. If you are a fan of Luhrmann’s frenetic, sometimes dizzying style of direction, there is plenty here to enjoy.

Watch the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, and an interview with the director himself. You can also download the soundtrack from hmvdigital now. 

Behind the Scenes with Baz Luhrmann

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