|The exquisite Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan|
The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald (Originally published 1922)
The Great Gatsby has proven a formidable book to try and represent on film … and woe to those who have tried and failed as the critics' knives will be out forthwith. Announcements that Baz Luhrmann, considered a cinematic showman and, some might say, an impresario of excess, was to tackle the book met with both frenzied excitement and derision. If you loved Luhrmann's William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001) you were optimistic and giddy in anticipation. If you hated those films (and Luhrmann haters are legion) you were dismayed at the idea of Luhrmann tackling one of the best loved American classics of all times.
Gatsby, despite his great wealth, is extremely vulnerable and insecure. The sudden amassing of his great wealth through illicit means demonstrates how desperately he wants to prove his worth to Daisy. And extremely naive. Money, that great American idol and symbol of success, is not enough to capture this golden girl. As Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, so brutally points out, Gatsby lacks the unattainable prestige of inherited wealth and status ("We were born different. It's in our blood"), symbolized, for Gatsby, by the green light at the end of the Buchanans' dock on which he is fixated as he languishes in his Long Island mansion.
|Oheka Castle ... said to be an inspiration for Gatsby's mansion|
I felt at times as if Luhrmann did not trust the source material and that he felt he had to heighten the comedy or drama of certain scenes ... no need to make the attendees at the little impromptu party at Myrtle and Tom's hideaway on 158th Street more ridiculous, or sad, than they already are. The characters are sad and seedy but the designer clothes them in ridiculously bright colours and strange clothing with clown like makeup for the women (Myrtle, her sister Catherine and a neighbour named Mrs. McKee) and absurd little physical quirks for the lone man (Mr. McKee, an aspiring, foppish photographer). Or take the organist Klipspringer's character, who is depicted as a sort of mad, bizarre looking musical genius rather than an intriguing secondary character who haunts Gatsby's mansion and parties.
The filmed scenes of the parties are riotous and frenzied ... was every party goer compelled to behave like a frat boy at his first party with alcohol? The action is too frenetic, too forced. Every inch of the screen is crammed with undulating, squirming partyers. Again, Luhrmann doesn't trust us to understand the excesses of the age as depicted by Fitzgerald on the page.
But in the film, as if to atone for this deficit and Luhrmann's heavy reliance on the talent of black artists on the excellent soundtrack, the black characters are essentially very pretty, shiny ornaments in the background - the entertainers and dancers at Gatsby’s parties and at a speakeasy that Gatsby takes Nick to with the gangster Meyer Wolfsheim – dressed in sumptuous, revealing costumes or as smartly dressed but indistinctly defined musicians who dutifully entertain the masses of white revelers. This is accentuated by their perfect, flawless skin and fully toned bodies.