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I saw this film a few weeks ago with glitzfrau and biascut, when I went to Manchester to give a talk at the JACT AGM. I also read the book four years ago, and and thought it was pretty good.

Much of the media conversation at the time this film came out seemed to run along the lines of "Oh, The Great Gatsby is one of the great unfilmable novels! Has Luhrmann succeeded where others have failed?" etc. But to be honest, I don't actually see what is supposedly so unfilmable about it anyway. The fact that it's written in the first person? The fact that Jay Gatsby's character is revealed piecemeal and that we have to work our way through a lot of distorted images before we get near to the real man? Plenty of other novels present the same problems, and plenty of other film-makers have dealt with them quite adeptly.

This film seemed to capture the feel of the novel perfectly adequately, handling the first-person narrative via a 'book-end' scenario of Nick Carraway relating his experiences to a psychiatrist and a few voice-overs, and the slow revealing of Jay Gatsby via - shock horror! - presenting him at a remove in the early scenes, and having several characters talk about him before he himself enters the narrative. But I never really expected anything other than that this novel would make a good subject for a film. Maybe if I'd seen some of the other film versions which have been made of it, I'd be clearer about the potential problems.

Anyway, going beyond the 'filming the great unfilmable novel' narrative, I certainly enjoyed this film visually. Lavish party scenes are Baz Luhrmann's big thing, and he did them well - although given how much I like 1920s jazz music, I rather wish he'd just used it, rather than being oh-so-terribly-clever by using equivalent modern music instead. The Valley of Ashes looked almost exactly as I had imagined it when I read the book, which was nice, and I particularly enjoyed the rich little vignettes of New York city life which we see through a series of windows as Nick Carraway is looking out from the balcony of the apartment where Tom and Myrtle conduct their secret affair. We saw the film in 2D, which was perfectly good, but I could very much see how a lot of it had been set up to be really pretty mind-blowing when seen in 3D.

The performances were generally good too, including Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. I'd had my doubts about that beforehand, but to be honest I haven't really seem him in anything much since Titanic (to the extent that I barely recognised him physically as the same man in this film), and he seems to have grown into an actor capable of carrying off this type of role better than I would previously have given him credit for. But somehow the film as a whole came across as competent and solid, rather than memorable and exciting. The only identifiable reason I can give for feeling disappointed with it is the pacing - particularly the fact that Gatsby emerged as a clear and distinct character rather faster than he does in the novel, and hence lost his mystique rather too quickly. That doesn't seem quite enough reason to have come away feeling so meh-ish about it, but it's all I got.

I was looking out for Roman references of course, given the link between the original novel and Petronius' Satyricon - though as I've said before, I didn't find it a very profound link when I read it. In any case, Luhrmann chose not to do very much with this at all, which is obviously a pity from my point of view. I did spot the bust of a Roman empire in Jay Gatsby's house, but it wasn't quite on screen for long enough for me to tell whether it was Augustus or Trajan, making it a little difficult to comment on what it might add to the story (though there are certainly potential resonances between Gatsby and either of those emperors). But other than that, nothing.

What was fun, though, was seeing this film so shortly after having been to New York myself, and especially after spending most of my time there with my nose buried in archives dating from the late 1930s. OK, so that's some 15 years after The Great Gatsby is set, and the other side of the Great Depression, but from where we're sitting now it is not a huge difference. There is one particular character from my archives, an Italian ex-pat calling himself Conte Luigi Criscuolo (heaven knows how legitimate the title was), who had set himself up as a financial adviser on Wall Street and was clearly living a life of considerable luxury in the late 1930s involving an out-of-town house, a private secretary etc. What would really make him fit right into the world of The Great Gatsby, though, was his self-obsession, arrogant flaunting of high social connections and tendency to take great offence at anyone who disagreed with or overlooked him in any way. There are some fantastic letters from him in the archives of the American Numismatic Society and Metropolitan Museum of Art which combine pomposity, affront and pointed politeness in a way that would have seemed entirely at home amongst the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel. It's a pity the film itself didn't crackle with quite the same sense of character.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 15th, 2013 08:56 pm (UTC)
I haven't read the book, so didn't have that to compare it to, but my impressions were much the same as yours - spectacular (and I saw it in 3D, it was pretty amazing), with great party scenes and solid performances (though I'm not a fan of Tobey Maguire), but it left me rather unmoved.
Jun. 16th, 2013 10:19 am (UTC)
I'm a bit sad that we missed it in 3D (which was just down to what showing was available at the time we wanted to see it), but it wasn't exciting enough to go back just for that. Glad I'm not the only one who felt that way!
Jun. 16th, 2013 12:27 am (UTC)
I don't see why Gatsby was supposed to be unfilmable either. In fact the Redford version is also a perfectly competent adaptation and I liked it more I think. Unfilmable seems to be the current word for "intriguing" cf Life of Pi which was also perfectl,y possible to film with a bit of CGI,

Edited at 2013-06-16 12:27 am (UTC)
Jun. 16th, 2013 10:24 am (UTC)
Hmm, maybe I'll look out the Robert Redford version, then. It would be interesting now to compare this version with another take on the novel.
Jun. 16th, 2013 01:09 pm (UTC)
I think mainly I just liked the casting better. Leo does well with the part but just isn't beautiful enough nowadays. And Carey Mulligan who I normally like just lacked chemistry with Leo.
Jun. 17th, 2013 08:10 am (UTC)
We're doing this for WI Bookclub - I haven't read it yet or seen any adaptations and I don't fancy the Luhrmann one just because of the soundtrack as I suspect that would really really get on my nerves - pity as it looks beautiful in the clips.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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