Give Baz a chance

Aka straightup random, possibly non-original, musings about a classic… I have mixed feelings about any film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. It’s a Top 5 book of mine, and I just don’t know if a good film can be made of it. The writing is just too beautiful. For instance:

I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

Or how about:

Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone—fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

And one more:

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others—poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner—young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

Again at eight o’clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five deep with throbbing taxi-cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible 70 gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.

I could go on and on, but most people have read it at least once, and you either like it or you don’t. The 1974 movie, though lovely to look at, doesn’t really capture much of the “racy, adventurous feel.” It’s a bit inert.

Mia Farrow, Robert Redford in THE GREAT GATSBY (1974)
Mia Farrow, Robert Redford

Although I’ve sworn off reading any reviews or blog posts about Baz Luhrmann’s version until I’ve seen it, I’ve nonetheless gathered that Luhrmann’s version may be a little more like how I imagined things from the book. At least it seems the parties are going to be appropriately wild. I’ve also gathered that there are a lot people who haven’t seen the movie yet but are less-than-thrilled to downright ticked off about it. It’s loud, frenetic, obnoxious, shallow and hollow. Well…yeah. Is that not what Gatsby and his world are? Is that not why Nick ends up back in the Middle West?

‘If Fitzgerald could claim he lived in the Jazz Age then, we live in the hip-hop age. So I wanted to make a translation,’ says Luhrmann, adding that the novelist – a failed screenwriter – was also fascinated by cinema. ‘Then, the big thing was sound; now, it’s 3-D.’

And Luhrmann felt that the story continues to resonate today with its themes of corruption and financial improprieties, greed, reckless pursuits of pleasures, disillusionment, cynicism and the excesses of the rich.

An article, “What Baz Luhrmann Asked Me About The Great Gatsby,” by James L. W. West III, professor of English and general editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who consulted on Gatsby, suggests that Luhrmann was extremely interested in getting the details right, while still modernizing the story. Luhrmann’s approach seems appropriate to me. Besides, frenetic is his thing. The source material is still relevant. If Luhrmann wants to lure some teenagers in with current music artists and 3-D…isn’t that his right? Who knows, they might learn something. I can’t guarantee it’s any good, but all I ask is, see it before you trash it.
"The party has begun..." GATSBY (2013): Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton
“The party has begun…” GATSBY (2013): Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton
I’d be derelict in my duty if I didn’t mention the film’s design and marketing. Not only are the poster and the web site stunning, but on the site you can learn about the context and the making of the film in quite a bit of detail, and you can make your own wallpaper and stationery from your own Gatsby-fied monogram.
I could not resist this.
I could not resist this.
This won’t rescue a lousy movie of course, but it is kind of cool. They also have some interesting cross-promotions going on. The “JG” monogram you see on everything was designed by Tiffany and Co. with Luhrmann’s company Bazmark, and they’ve got some Gatsby merch, the Ziegfield Collection, a collaboration with costume designer and art director Catherine Martin.
The most authentic brand partner to me is Brooks Brothers, the brand F. Scott Fitzgerald wore and wrote about.

There are also deals with Fogal, Moet & Chandon, and the Plaza Hotel. Even if Luhrmann needed these long-established luxury brands to finance the film, they certainly were well-chosen. Most are referenced in the novel or linked with Fitzgerald himself. The close association serves to reinforce the fidelity to the period and also, perhaps unintentionally, strengthens one of the messages — that conspicuous consumption, in which Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Fitzgerald, and just about everyone else indulges, is an eternal part of human nature.

You didn't seriously think I'd do a GATSBY post without a pic of Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald...did you?
You didn’t seriously think I’d do a GATSBY post without a pic of Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald…did you?

PS: Jazz and its “lifestyle” had just as many detractors then as hip-hop does now. Anybody who doesn’t believe it might want to check out Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz.

19 thoughts on “Give Baz a chance

  1. Fantastic post Paula and you’ve succeeded in getting me to FINALLY order The Great Gatsby on my Kindle. I have downloaded the free previous nearly a year ago but never got around to reading it (shame on me!) but those are such beautiful words, I have to experience them for myself now.

    Having seen the film, well the parties are more than appropriately wild, it’s the craziest, most lavish things I’ve ever seen and Baz certainly won’t have it any other way. Curious to hear what you think Paula, I’ll be writing my review this weekend.

    1. Oh cool, That makes me so happy. I love love love the book. I’m re-reading it before I see the movie. I can’t wait to hear what you thought…I really am kind of psyched for it. Maybe I will review it, I don’t know 🙂

  2. Now I have that John Lennon song stuck in my head. “All we are saaaaaaayiiiiiing… is give Baz a chance.”

    I loved the book but I really do not like Baz Luhrmann at all so it’s going to be tough for me to get around to this.

    1. I was wondering if anyone would see that 😉 I know Baz’s style isn’t for everyone, but there’s a difference between saying “I don’t like his style” and “This movie sucks. I haven’t seen it but it sucks.” You know what I mean?

  3. Great post. I haven’t read The Great Gatsby yet and since it looks like the copy I ordered isn’t going to arrive tomorrow, I’ll have to wait and read it after I’ve seen the movie. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I don’t know about the movie, but I don’t think you’ll regret reading the book 🙂

  4. Fascinating article, Paula! I actually just finished reading the book last night. And thanks for featuring Tom Hiddleston. I always think of him whenever I hear Fitzgerald. DYING to see Gatsby. It’s my most anticipated of the year.

    1. Thanks and you’re welcome, Fernando. Hiddleston is Fitzgerald to me now 🙂 I actually love it, I hope you will too.

  5. Great post Paula. I am all about seeing this film; I am super fascinated by the musical selections and will have an opp (hopefully) to talk with someone involved in the music side of things for the film. Stay tuned …

    The art deco design is to die for.

    And shame on you for distracting me with the Hiddleston still.

    1. Hiddleston
      It’s awful, isn’t it? Maybe I should put one in every post 😉

      Seriously, that’s great news Iba! Do you mean like, Jay-Z? I loved the music for it, I thought overall it really worked well with what was going on so I am looking forward to whatever you’ve got cooking.

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