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May 24th 2013

A 2-D Extravaganza was Enough… (A Review of The Great Gatsby)

Half an hour before the showing of the film at the Metropol Cinema on Friday evening, May 24, Heinz Payr gave us a really useful and instructive introduction to the novel, the author – F. Scott Fitzgerald – and the 1920s background: ‘the lost generation’, the ‘Jazz Age’, the figures in the novels who live extravagant lifestyles, but are emotionally wounded and spiritually bankrupt. The social Zeitgeist involved recklessness with money, illegal liquor, opportunistic women and fast cars. Racy stuff, this.
In the original novel the enigmatic Gatsby is obsessed with the elusive and spoiled Daisy Buchanan, now married. Together they form an ill-fated couple. But hope springs eternal: Gatsby’s boundless optimism makes him reach out. Ultimately, the ‘American Dream’ turns sour. Even garage-owner Wilson’s wish to go west ends up as a tragic nightmare.
This is the 6th film made of the novel. The first dates from 1926, but it is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 version, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, that sets the benchmark. Here, in this 2013 version, Baz Luhrman (cf. Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet) tackles the 150 pages of the novel in 143 minutes. The story here is also told, as in the novel, by Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire), but here he is an alchoholic, psychotic case, drying out in a clinic. He is recommended to write out his experience as part of his recovery therapy. A characteristic Hollywood enframing device.
Luhrman has tried, it seems, to win over a new, younger generation who hardly read novels, or – if they actually do so – find it hard. So what do we get? A grotesque extravaganza of the first order: vulgar optical over-kill, perfected to pure kitsch. We have a Sleeping Beauty, neo-Gothic, Disneyland castle-mansion. The chic glamour of Neo-Art-Deco costumes. A thumping hip-hop-cum-R’nB soundtrack, produced in collaboration with Jay-Z, with Beyonce songs to carry us through the orgiastic binge-parties. At crass variance with the occasional Charleston and the inserted Gershwin. Ugh.
The subtle, implicit, allusive aspects of the original nuanced novel are gone, overrun by overtly explicit, over-the-top presentation. This film verges on caricature through forced comic aspects, triggered by the still boyish, spoilt brat di Caprio – witness the scene where he is nervously awaiting Daisy at Nick’s. Yuck.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the original narrative text and dialogue of the novel are largely kept, but the meaning is spelt out for illiterates. Sadly, Wilson’s psychological motivation for killing Gatsby is hardly explored at all. In short, this film version loses focus. A pity.
Mind you, this loss of focus was not helped by the fact that we were not offered the 3-D specs at the very start! Were these blurred images there to suggest Nick’s alcoholic haze? Or present Gatsby’s shadowy background? Or reflect an inconsistent narrative perspective? No. The 3-D specs were there for us to fully experience the visual orgy. I’m happy to have missed out on the full experience.
After the film we carried out a post-mortem over dri nks. An alcoholic haze was preferable.

Andrew Milne-Skinner

REVIEW OF REVIEWS (The Guardian, May 18 2013)

“It’s a flashy Gatsby, a sighing Gatsby, an angry Gatsby, a celeb Gatsby. Not a great Gatsby.”
(The Guardian)

“Best to accept that this is not a literary adaptation, but a 3-D blockbuster.”
(The Times)

“The cruciial moments of drama are often drably handled.”
(The Daily Telegraph)

“It is meant to be ravishing, but tends to look merely fussy and overdesigned.”
(The Independent)

“An almost inevitable triumph of style over substance.”

“Seems like some kind of ghastly illuminati prank with Leo fighting against it and losing, decimated.”

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