What’s Going On December 10th?

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One of the very first posts I wrote for this blog was dedicated to the beautiful costumes in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, a post in which I got very carried away by my love of all things 1920s, and wrote an awful lot about how to make the Gatsby look relevant today, almost one hundred years after Fitzgerald’s masterpiece was first published. Since I wrote that post (which you can read here), my little blog has grown far more than I thought it would, whilst Luhrmann’s film has smashed into box offices and wrapped the world in Gatsby Fever; I saw it twice myself. Now, six months on, the DVD has been released (just in time for Christmas), and despite mixed reviews, the film has definitely been one of the biggest and most influential of the year; but did it live up to my expectations? Was the film as beautiful as Miuccia Prada’s gorgeous gowns?

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Well, in a word, yes; in fact, if Jay Gatsby himself was to make a film as glitteringly grand (and as decadently tacky) as one of his parties, this would probably be it. Leonardo Di Caprio, no longer the fresh-faced youth of his last collaboration with Luhrmann, Romeo and Juliet, is perfectly cast as the mysterious Gatsby, and Carey Mulligan gives his love, Daisy Buchanan, an air of melancholic vagueness which feels perfect for the 1920s socialite. Indeed, everything is beautiful and everything glitters, but I do not think that Luhrmann’s film allows us to forget Fitzgerald’s point that this world, and all those within it, are ultimately doomed; something he achieves, I think, through the flashforwards of what such a world has done to Nick Carraway.

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The narrative of Carraway, portrayed by Tony Maguire, frames the Gatsby story itself in a slight step away from Fitzgerald’s original, as it makes a direct statement about Carraway’s deteriorated mental health, showing him in a dark, cold institution far removed from the New York summer. This choice has been criticised by some, and it is perhaps a little heavy handed; however, I think the juxtaposition in setting is needed to prevent this film from simply becoming a celebration of outrageous decadence.

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The film’s soundtrack, left in the capable hands of Jay-Z, has been cited as a completely new character in its own right, its presence within the film both seamlessly interwoven into the story, and impossible to ignore. Although Jay-Z’s soundtrack has been criticised by some, I personally feel that that the combination of Beyonce, Lana del Rey, Andre 3000, Florence and the Machine and Bryan Ferry (just to name a few) is a veritable dream come true; the green light, should I say, of the music world. Luhrmann himself said, and rightly so, in my opinion, that he “wanted the film to feel like how it would have felt to read the novel in 1925. Fitzgerald put music front and center in his novel. He took African-American street music called jazz and he put it right as a star in the book.”

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The film lacks the surrealism of Luhrmann’s spectacular musical, Moulin Rouge, which employed a similarly modern soundtrack, but the spectacle of the earlier film has certainly survived into Luhrmann’s latest masterpiece; indeed, The Great Gatsby feels almost hyper-real with its sharp focus and vibrant colour palette, which adds even more impossible sparkle to Gatsby’s inconceivable parties.

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The only real criticism I would make of the film is not quite a criticism at all, but more of a suggestion. In my humble opinion, Luhrmann’s film (or, indeed, any cinematic adaptation of such a popular and culturally significant novel) does not quite capture the tenderness and beauty of Fitzgerald’s writing. Mulligan’s interpretation of Daisy fits the authors touchingly vapid portrayal of her as little more than male fantasy, and the relationship between Di Caprio as Gatsby and Maguire as Carraway is emotionally compelling; but nothing will ever be the same as reading Fitzgerald’s original words on paper for the first time, and discovering the characters and their world for yourself through the images you paint in your own mind. For this reason, I would say that (if you haven’t already) read the book before you see the film. Yes, you run the risk of constantly comparing the two, but go with it; trust me, you won’t regret it. There is something about the subtlety and beauty of the language which I am unconvinced will ever quite come alive on the big screen.

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So, if you’re stuck for something to read (or watch!) this season, or if you’re still looking for a present for someone, look no further; give the gift of Gatsby.

Happy December 10th!

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