Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Great Gatsby - a tale impossible for cinema?

Original image property of Warner Bros Pictures.
Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby has been one of the year's most anticipated releases. It has been placed on a pedestal  with many hoping it will diminish the failures of the adaptations before it. The last time Hollywood tackled the novel was for the 1974 version starring Robert Redford. With a screenplay written by Francis Ford Copolla and a male lead who seemed perfect for the role, the film failed to capture the hedonistic time of the Roaring 20's, and felt somewhat hollow instead. There was also an 1926 silent adaptation that is still lost to this day.


It is simple to see Luhrmann's goal. A modernized adaptation for younger audiences in a market saturated with viewers conditioned to accept  superhero franchises and alcohol themed trilogies as cinematic genius. No offence to such films, as Joss Whedon's The Avengers was one of my favourite releases from last year, and I really do love Iron Man. The point being, Fitzgerald's subtle tale of notoriety and the vapid nature of the American dream may be lost on audiences adapted to a new superhero movie every Summer. However, it seems the star power that has surged through the promotion of the movie, and the general lavish approach towards the production seems to have isolated the established audience and Fitzgerald fans. It has also been criticised for it's use of a soundtrack produced by Jay-Z and has been claimed to be musically inaccurate. As someone who owns the soundtrack, and owns several versions of the novel, I disagree. The haunting sounds of Lana Del Rey and Florence Welch compliment the narrative of Gatsby in perfect harmony. After opening to mixed reviews, it is easy to see why international audiences may now feel sceptical towards the release.

The main hostility towards the new adaptation comes from the excess of cinematography and the glorified indulgence. As an auteur, Luhrmann approaches his projects as grandiose visual spectacles. Many still comment that Moulin Rouge! was over produced and praised too highly. The world portrayed in Gatsby is opulent  and inhabited by foolish and superficial beings consumed by their own affluent lifestyle and the aspiration of wealth. But it is also a world where a man who aspires to build a beautiful, yet obviously artificial life, does so in order to win the one thing that is not purchasable.

The overall story may feel strangled by the production of the movie, yet isn't that a perfect juxtaposition? The vivacious world of wealth and tragedy with Luhrmann's trademark razzle dazzle leaving the audience feeling dampened and disheartened. You're meant to feel fragmented, and torn between two very different worlds.  Does it need to be in 3D? Not particularly, but in what other form would you want to view such an exhibition of decadence?

The over indulgence of the experience may leave you feeling empty, but that may be the exact intention. There's no tragedy in Fitzgerald's tale if you feel intact by the end of Gatsby. If you don't feel betrayed by the glamour, the Mo√ęt, and the excessive parties then there is no point to be made. Audiences and readers alike will continue to be torn by Gatsby, a novel so short yet so telling. An adaptation has yet to be made that has conquered both readers and critics alike. Storytellers, authors and directors exist to give you a story, whether you enjoy the end result or not. Wash down the effect with a glimmering glass of champagne - its how they would have done it in the 1920's, even if they didn't have 3D.

The Great Gatsby opens in the UK on May 16th.

Side note: I adore The Great Gatsby, and I'll make my own judgement upon seeing the film next week. I'll let you know if it's the cat's pyjamas. Like Fitzgerald said in his novel, “Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.”