Ah the roaring 20s! Années folles! The jazz age, flapper dancer, pearls, smoke and cigars, art deco, silent movies! Dripping with opulence and decadence. Adapted the 1925 magnum opus novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald about the life of the rich and prosper of the 1922. This is a cautionary tale of an American Dream.
(Pardon the excessively image heavy post, TL;DR rambling ahead!)
“The parties were bigger… the pace was faster… the shows was broader, the buildings were higher, the moral was looser, and the liquor was cheaper”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, My Lost City
Told from the view of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he recount the chain of events from the summer of 1922 to his Doctor in a sanitorium, we were brought into the world of early 20s New York and met the notoriously illusive, mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby, the easily charming and charismatic persona, who live right in a lavish mansion adjacent to his humble house in the West Egg. He visited his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who were married his college acquintance, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) in their house in the East Egg, right across the bay from his house. Tom invites Nick to accompany him to to the valley of ashes, where he stopped at a garage owned by George Wilson (Jason Clarke) and met Myrtle (Isla Fisher), the woman of Tom’s secret love affair.
One day, Nick got a formal invitation to attend one of the parties at the Gatsby mansion, drawn him into the world of the mysterious Gatsby and the man himself. Nick found out from Jordan (Elizabeth Debicki) that Gatsby was involved with Daisy in the past and trying to rekindle their long-lost romance. But their romantic tryst had put the chain of events into motion, changing the course of the summer into unexpected twist and tragic ending.
The Great Gatsby novel was poorly received when it was released back in the 20s, but after the death of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 40s, the book become notoriously known in underground circles and become a great influence in the works of future writers. It is now considered as a classic, becoming a contender of the ‘Great American Novel’ and ranked among the greatest works of American Literature of all time. Obviously with such a great impact, The Great Gatsby become such a legacy that inspired various forms of adaptation as theater, musical, opera, films, television, etc.
This 2013 film adaptation of the famous novel is actually the fifth movie adaptation, the previous ones were released in 1926, 1949, 1974, and 2000. All was not fare well in the eyes of the critics. The better one, which was released in 1974 featuring Mia Farrow and Red Radford was said to be beautiful, but dull. Ouch. But yours truly firmly believe that in the hand of Luhrmann it must be beautiful but never dull, the critics can shove it up their behind if they don’t like what they see…
Luhrmann’s previous work show his tendency of theatricality and Gatsby is no different. Arresting visuals in decor and costume made the movie truly an arresting visual presentation. With the 3D format shooting style, everything become more and more pronounced. That being said, it borders on distracting and overwhelmed me from enjoying the movie plot itself. Luhrmann did made specific changes to the movie storyline, but it does not distract from the original message, if anything it stresses some of the theme instead. One of the major changes was the fact that Nick went into the sanitarium after the tragic ending of the movie. These artistic changes might not be well recieved by the prior book readers, but i found it enjoyable nevertheless.
There are several scene i really love from the movie, that made the movie very much enjoyable for me. One of them is the moments before Nick actually met Jay Gatsby at the party. The slow reveal made me anticipate the moments with the same heart-pounding, breath taking excitement as what Nick Carraway must’ve felt. The moments of climatic tragedy was poetic and made my heart break. I can feel every tendrils of despair and melancholy of the moment. *sigh*
I must give a specific mention to the selection of soundtrack and score for the movie. It was nothing you’d expect from a 20s theme film, but something perfectly made sense when it comes to the work of Luhrmann. Like the film, the soundtrack selection are a contemporary attempt to modernize and made the film more accessible. It’s bold, diverse, and pleasantly surprising. Yet it works well with the movie. Jay-Z produces the music and worked together with Luhrmann to achieve music repertoire that translates the rebeliousness of Jazz in the 20s into a paralel that speaks to today’s generation, creating a pop cultural significance that are more accessible. It’s a mash-up of today’s contemporary and vintage sounds. Jay-Z assemble a smörgåsbord of sounds from various musician, varied from contemporary hip-hop to alternative rock. Beyoncé, Andre 3000, will.i.am, Florence and the Machine, Gotye, Sia, Jack White and of course Jay-Z himself are among the names of the primary artist from the soundtrack, releasing both cover and original songs. Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful was written from the perspective of Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful and haunting lyrics reflecting the vulnerability of the character.
This might sound like a shameless pimping, but seriously the album is worth buying! Go get the CD or download it from iTunes!
Gatsby, oh Gatsby. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfectly cast as the illusive omniscient eponymous man of the movie. When he was on screen i tend to forget everything else, absorbed in the drawl of his voice, the articulate gestures, and the unparalleled charm in his eyes. Clever, enigmatic, mysterious. Gatsby is a multilayer character, and as the film progressed we kept on guessing who this man really is. Leo played each of Gatsby emotion to an almost perfection, from the adorably smitten to the vulnerable and lonely, flawed and tragic, his red-eyed enraged a bit overdone to my taste. But i was engrossed in every little transformation of Gatsby unfolding on screen. Leonardo DiCaprio trully gave an iconic performance here.
Nick Carraway who was taken by Gatsby and become fast friend, is played by Tobey Maguire, embodying wide-eyed amusement and awe-inspired attachment towards Gatsby. Since he were the narrator and the story’s POV, viewer’s would found themselves easily in Nick’s shoes, and hopefully like me, will understand why his bond with Gatsby was so unique.
Carey Mulligan demure Daisy’s is too adorable for words. I wished there are a little slyness to this Daisy though. Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan is powerful and arrogant, i was mesmerized by his role and how perfect he is as the character. The scene stealer was new comer Elizabeth Debicki as the spoiled yet jaded Jordan Baker and shameless temptress Isla Fisher as Myrtle, both are a delight to watch.
Just like in his previous works, Baz Luhrmann put his touch in every single thing in the movie. Through the collaboration with his production and costume designer Catherine Martin, a.k.a Mrs. Luhrmann, he re-creates a contemporary approach towards the gilded opulence of the 20s. We saw her handiwork in several Luhrmann’s movies before, including in Romeo+Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge (2001). For the actors, Martin collaborate with an excelled American brand in men clothing since 1818, the Brooks Brothers. The designs are adapted from their archive of the era. Crisp shirts, three-piece suits, and the signature boater hats were made specially for the film. Brooks Brothers launch a special Gatsby inspired collection for the fans and aficionado alike, allowing them to own a piece of Gatsby in their closet: loafers and wing-tip shoes, outerwear and shirts (including the pretty green cardigan Tobey Maguire is wearing), blazers and suits (including the #realmenwearpink ones Leo wore), vest and braces, ties and bow-ties, boater hats, and even cufflinks and handkerchiefs.
Martin sought the help from Miuccia Prada, digging through the designer’s archive to come out with significant 20s inspired yours befitting the glamour intended for the actresses in the movie. Pieces pulled from different collection, different year, amazingly made it through the story board (such as the dropped waist, straight cut, orange scaled dress from the Fall 2011 Collection). One of her chandelier dress from her Spring 2010 Collection can be seen on Carey Mulligan when Daisy attend one of Gatsby’s Party. Selected pieces of the costumes of the film was displayed in an exhibition called Catherine Martin and Miuccia Prada Dress Gatsby in New York, prior to the release of the movie. This exhibition will travel to Tokyo and Shanghai in the following months.
Significant tie-in promotions with Tiffany & co. with whom Martin collaborate the in the jewelry designs and came up with a special collection with the movie. You can see the result in the Savoy headdress and the pearl-and-diamond bracelette and ring, some of the designs were inspired by Tiffany archives. Not only Brooks Brothers and Tiffany also did promotional window display, Harrods department Store goes all out and creat a visual feast that borrows Gatsby glamour on their windows and re-create the jazz age ambiance in their Gatsby Pop-up Bar as a tie in promotion of the movie!
Beside the costume design, Martin also in charge of the set design of the movie. She created 42 individual sets: built, painted, and decorated each set to fit the opulence and wealth of Gatsby. Taking inspiration from iconic landmarks, such as The Beacon Towers and Oheka Castle, as well as incorporating Art Deco style to each set, both on location and sound stages. The already magnificent Gatsby mansion become a kaleidoscopic carnival, to quote Fitzgerald himself, during the party scene: chandeliers, fairy lights, gold ornaments, and fireworks, bursting visualization of the 20s splendour. My favorite set probably the ballroom with gold-gilded, arched ceilings, with serpentine staircase, which house the humongous church organ. Martin created lavish set, a visual decor significant to the movie, and have become a signature of Luhrmann’s movie, making it a spectacle, truly a sight to behold.
Luhrmann shot The Great Gatsby using the 3D format, and i believe this meant that the movie are supposed to be seen in that format, much like Scorsese’s Hugo (2011). Which made watching it the 2D format become a pain in the arse with camera angle that sweeps, zooms, tilts, and spans throughout the movie that would be more amusing and beneficial if seen in 3D format. When i watched it the movie theatre only screened regular 2D, their 3D studios are still screening Star Trek: Into Darkness and Iron Man 3, i think. So if you decided to watch it i do hope you give it a chance to see it in 3D.
I think to some extent this adaptation has read its goal in delivering Gatsby in a relatable manner by modernizing it and still retaining some of its original pizazz. After watching the movie i manage to get the tie-in edition of the book and give it a read. I began to appreciate the creative decision Luhrmann made to the movie and saw how faithful it is to the essence book despite all the changes he did. Yes, it’s hard to make a great book into a great movie, because written words does not always translate to screen, especially in Gatsby case where the multilayered motifs, themes, cautionary tale of American Dream that are difficult to duplicate. More often than not, people tend to have their own interpretation to the book, so what we saw in the movie is of course Luhrmann’s interpretation and views of the book, he edits it to suit his vision, and i like what he has to say through it. I believe it deserve more than a little nod of approval.
From The Great Gatsby we witnessed Luhrmann’s signature aesthetic and contemporary visions. Being a fan of Luhrmann, of course i enjoyed the movie, i love the version of the Gatsby from his point of view. Through this movie, i was introduced to the classic literary tale with in a very relatable and accessible manner. Yes this might not be a great piece of cinema, but no, it’s nowhere near dull.
“He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Read my thoughts about the book on bibliothēchē.
Check out this video, showing the pre and post VFX processing, brought to you from supervisor himself, Chris Godfrey.