The reviews are coming in thick and fast and the response is mixed but Baz Luhrmann’s latest epic, his re-imagining of The Great Gatsby is hauling in the loot and that’s what matters. It may have cost $125 million but it’s first weekend made $51 Million, so that’s not a rubbish start and and judging by the amount of reaction it will only enhance Luhrmann’s reputation as one of our more eccentric and inspired movie makers of out time. Besides the critics have always been divided about films of Gatsby and about Luhrmann, so why the surprise about the range of response now.
Australians will remember the delightful Strictly Ballroom that launched his career. Then there was the wonderfully extravagant Moulin Rouge and the utterly inspired Romeo and Juliet, with DiCaprio at his youthful exuberant best. Perhaps Australia, Luhrmann’s take on the Aussie classic, Capricornia, was a bit much for some. Certainly his Darwin (my beloved home for many years) bore no resemblance to my Darwin. But in the end it was quite an enjoyable film (thank you, Hugh Jackman), if a bit long.
Now, after all the hype, the on-going delays and expectations, we have The Great Gatsby. It seems, like Romeo and Juliet, it is Luhrmann’s version of the story, not exactly faithful to the original. This shouldn’t matter really: the film of the novel/story/play does not have to be a faithful representation. (But you must tell the students otherwise they will refer to the film and not the book – Of Mice and Men is classic in this department.)
The Great Gatsby is one of the classic texts taught across the world to senior English students, so a new version will sit on the top of English teachers’ lists of films to see and DVD’s to buy. Just as he did with Romeo and Juliet, a thousand classrooms across the world are saved from out-dated 70s film versions of literary classics. So, well done, Baz, that will be helpful. Perhaps you could do something outrageous with Macbeth – that would be good.
But this is the thing – there can be only One. And usually it is the One you saw or read first. So for me, the One is the 1974 version of the film with Robert Redford in that beautiful pink suit, on that verdant green lawn, in that fantasia of a house, yearning for the superficial, luminous Mia Farrow as Daisy. I can’t get past Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan, or Tom Waterston as Nick.
In fact the main reason I won’t be going off to the movies to watch Luhrmann’s latest lavish extravaganza is about the actors. I guess I am showing my age, and being resistant to modernization of one of my favourite novels. In fact, I think it IS my favourite novel. Perhaps that’s why I won’t go too, I don’t want my version – true with Mr Redford as Gatsby – messed around by Luhrmann’s take on Fitzgerald’s work.
I don’t want my favourite book bastardised by some lurid remake that renders the book impossible for me to read again for a number of years as all my images and feelings will be obliterated by Luhrmann. The Great Gatsby is defined by a lightness of touch, of writing that is exquisite, that inspires the writer in me. It’s the best put together 50,000 words in the English language. I don’t want Luhrmann’s focus on excess and garishness to over-take that. It was the same years ago with The English Patient, another of my favourite books, also exquisitely written. I could not watch the film until quite some time had elapsed and I could accept the film version alongside the story in my head, such that one version did not destroy the other.
Just as Gatsby is Robert Redford, and not Jack Nicholson, who reportedly was considered for the role, bringing out the darker, less romantic side of Jay the bootlegger and man of dubious origins, so DiCaprio is forever Romeo. I can’t watch DiCaprio trying to be Gatsby. I know he is a wonderful actor and I have enjoyed his skills in many other films, but I want him to remain that gorgeous youth, not that gorgeous man. It’s perverse, I’m sure but I want Gatsby to be Redford forever, and not mussed about by being DiCaprio.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I saw the 1974 film with someone I loved immensely, in all the idiocy of teenage passion, and when I watch Redford and Farrow I remember how I felt all those years ago. And you know, I don’t want to have that taken away from me. (Images are film stills taken from Google Images)