Sunday, June 9, 2013

Film - The Great Gatsby (2013)

There have been three film adaptations of The Great Gatsby that I know about: The 1949 film starring Alan Ladd, The 1974 film with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and the most recent incarnation with Leonardo DiCaprio directed by Baz Luhrmann.  None of them have worked.  I can't remember why that was my impression of the earlier versions, but the new 3-D blockbuster is mostly a disaster. There are some nice touches melding 1920s and contemporary choreography and music into an interesting hybrid.  And I loved the billboard advertisement for spectacles that gazed down on the fictional wasteland between glitzy Long Island and New York City, but it seems as though Baz Luhrmann has forgotten he's no longer making Moulin Rouge.  The film is all surface with no insides.  It's as though Luhrmann were Nick at the film's beginning - completely dazzled.  It's a shame considering that the whole story is that Nick grows up and becomes disillusioned by superficiality.  Luhrmann used the text of the novel as narration rather than having Nick inhabit the action of the film. That may have worked had he chosen someone other than Tobey Maguire.  Unfortunately Maguire can't play text and has no gravitas. Nick grows old beyond his years and tries to teach Gatsby not to live in the past, Maguire still seems to be trying to act the ingenue, even though he's almost 40.  Had he felt his age, it might have been interesting.  Luhrmann's idea of justifying the narration by having Nick talk to a psychiatrist was a misguided anachronism and having lines of type fly across the screen had no point other than to telegraph how self-conscious Luhrmann was about adapting a great novel.  I loved Luhrmann's work when he had no money to waste.  Strictly Ballroom and his wonderful La Boheme were all heart. I hope he finds some creative moxie again instead of hiding behind production values that communicate nothing but sheer hysteria.


Sheila O'Malley said...

No filmmaker yet has been able to solve the problem of Daisy. Daisy needs to be a "dream girl" - almost literally. You have to wonder if she even existed. She is the girl of Gatsby's imagination - but he remembers her wrong. He is chasing a phantom. To see her in flesh and blood somehow detracts from that literary conceit - the conceit of the book - I'm not sure what the solution is, but I do know that casting Carey Mulligan who has zero presence does not solve the Problem of Daisy. She's not a bad actress but she's certainly not a Creature of Fantasy. At least Mia Farrow, who was the Muse for more than one director, did have that almost otherworldly aspect.

Ted said...

S - That's a really good point. It's hard to portray the narrative pov about her because the whole thrust of the narrative is his disillusionment. Do you remember if the 1974 version also used voice- over? It's seems an obvious solution, but I wonder it is the best one? I wonder too if the opposite casting choice is also possible for Daisy - making her obviously unimpressive from the start?

Sheila O'Malley said...

I think yes, it did use voiceover - I think Sam Waterson had a better "vibe" as Nick - although I'm not so sure he's the "Nick" that Fitzgerald wrote. It is hard for me to believe that Sam Waterston was ever "innocent". You know? He always seems slightly crabbed, a practical presence.

But in re: Daisy: that would be an interesting choice - to show from the start that the Daisy Gatsby sees is not the "real" Daisy - This is what Love is all about, often. You idealize the other person - sometimes to the point of utter fantasy. There's that chilling section near the end:

“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now — isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once — but I loved you too.”

Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.

“You loved me too?” he repeated.

In that one line: "Gatsby's eyes opened and closed" - his entire dream dies. How do you make that cinematic?? How on earth do you do that? The actor can play it - but somehow making it visual loses the real Tragedy of the entire situation. No one has figured it out yet - which is why I imagine directors keep taking a shot at it.

The problem in making Daisy totally normal and unremarkable would be that Gatsby would start to seem totally delusional - but maybe that's the point?

Sheila O'Malley said...

// Unfortunately Maguire can't play text and has no gravitas. //

Excellent point!

I do think Leo is a great Gatsby - although Alan Ladd is fantastic - he's maybe my favorite Gatsby. Redford seemed too hazy ... filmed through soft filter. In many ways, he would be a perfect Gatsby - but it would have had to be in a different film, with a darker edge.

Leo has that glitter and gleam, and the potential to seem totally delusional. Because of his looks, he gets away with murder. People perhaps do not realize how broken he is. I'm just talking about his "essence" as an actor. Like in The Aviator ... His boyishness is a smokescreen, leaving people willing to take him for granted, under-estimate him ... all perfect stuff for Gatsby, who is isolated in his own privilege.

But Alan Ladd was great, too - perfect for the role. He had the same boyish good looks - which could be quite scary (like in This Gun for Hire - he plays a perfect sociopath) - or totally endearing. He was beautiful, rather than handsome. An unsettling kind of looks, if that makes sense.

Ted said...

That's a great discription of Waterston. He's like the accountant of actors.

I liked Leo too. He shined, but I felt he was hampered by the production which asked him to be mechanical. I understand that choice from a storytelling perspective, but I found it wooden.

The modern off-broadway production could have two Daisies - one through Gatsby's eyes and one through everyone else's. And then Nick, the voiceover, would simply say "Gatsby's eyes opened and closed" and you'd replace one Daisy with the other. OK. When do we start rehearsals?

Sheila O'Malley said...

Ha - yes! People's minds would be totally blown!! Now we have to cast the two Daisys.