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Baz Luhrmann's GATSBY - See The Green Light

Above: The Green Light trailer, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

I cannot WAIT to see Baz Luhrmann's film of F Scott Fitzgerald's unforgettably heartbreaking novel, The Great Gatsby (originally published on April 10, 1925) - and the mixed reviews it is so far receiving mean nothing to me at all.

I love the trailers, I love the music, I love the artists involved (not least the wondrous Lana Del Rey, who seems perfectly suited to this), I love the cast (Tobey Maguire's reflective angst suggests the perfect Nick; Leo DiCaprio's beauty and impenetrability are equally well-suited to Gatsby), I love the idea of capturing what it feels like to "be" in the 1920s, rather than watch a movie about the decade - and I love Baz Luhrmann's work.

Personally, I think Gatsby is probably unfilmable, whatever that means. The book is so iconic, so much "The Great American Novel" - but more importantly so subtle and complex and wistful and romantic (in all the truest senses of the word) - that you cannot capture the delicacy of reading it: the moments of pause as you turn a page; the astonishment at echoes (as with the waste land surrounding the eyes of Dr T J Eckleburg) of truly radical literature of the period, such as T S Eliot's form-bending poetry; the highly accomplished plotting that disappears behind the glitz of the parties and of the mystery of Gatsby himself (I believe Gatsby is the first work of literature to involve a death by automobile, but I may be wrong); the sheer, breathtaking power of the prose (and its social commentary and criticism), as evidenced in this description of Tom and Daisy, which has stayed with me since I first read the book, aged 17, in England, long before I ever visited America (but the book made me want to):

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

(I would trade a lot just to have written the phrase, "vast carelessness," in that context.)

Above: The Jack White/U2 Love Is Blindness trailer.

Judging by the trailers, Baz Luhrmann has made a spectacular, exciting, anachronistic (in terms of its music score) 3D mashup of Gatsby, which is precisely what I want. I saw the 1974 Robert Redford-Mia Farrow Gatsby, adapted by Francis Ford Coppola (I even visited Pinewood Studios in England while it was shooting, and got to meet the lovely Ms Farrow), and found it a rather soulless affair. I'm ready for GATSBY - THE GRAPHIC NOVEL.

Even trying to choose a favorite between the many trailers is a challenge: Jack White's rendering of U2's song Love Is Blindness (originally written for Nina Simone, but kept instead for U2's album, Achtung Baby) is so powerful - but the Green Light trailer, with both the I Can See The Green Light song and the totally iconic image from the book, wins out in terms of capturing the essence of what Gatsby is about.

I love the dream, the decadence is par for the course (it masks a pretty hard-nosed, ingenious yet at the same time pulpy narrative), but what I love most about the novel - and maybe the film, if it has anything of the hip-hop heart of Romeo + Juliet - is simply the fact that it exists: that since I was 17 years old and first read it, it has shaped so many ideas in my heart and mind - of the transience of all things (perhaps it's partly why I became a Buddhist); of the power and ultimate emptiness of desire; of the cruelty that money can create; of the power of dreams and illusions to forge our life's narrative; of the blank, beautiful, chaotic truth that lies beneath us all.

The original cover art for the novel by Francis Cugat.

If you want to know more about the fascinating history of the novel, Wikipedia's excellent entry includes details of the cover art by Francis Cugat - completed before the novel, and so powerful that Fitzgerald wrote elements of it into the book (although the eyes in the artwork also draw on some of the novel's most powerful imagery) - and of the indecision Fitzgerald had over the book's title, vacillating between possibilities such as Trimalchio in West Egg and Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires.

If you want true sensory overload before you see Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby in 3D, just open up a few tabs in your browser, pick out a few different trailers to Luhrmann's Gatsby - and play them all at once, with the volume turned WAY UP!


  1. Well now I'm really looking forward to it too. I hadn't really wanted to see it until I read your piece and watched the trailers. The Redford version was very 70s and felt too much of that period - too Biba-styled - too post-60s ennui - and I'd always felt the book to be, as you say, a minimalist, poetic piece of imagining - much more TS Eliot and 'unfilmable' to ever be a Hollywood movie.
    Now it seems that Luhrmann's film might be an entirely appropriate Studio 54/Bonfire of The Vanities/Some Girls take on "they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness" - and perhaps a take on our New Depression post 2006 economic crisis.
    What one doesn't get from the trailers is how Nick's observer role plays in this adaptation (and the Redford film seemed to have that distanced feel to evoke the Nick storyteller pov) - the energy of the trailers suggests that Luhrmann might even have written out his point of view - as though to say, well, the book is the way Nick saw events in reflection but what I'm going to show you is what I think Nick was observing, and then you go back to the book and see if you agree. Which to me is a very exciting approach to the adaptation of the book - or indeed any book. Almost, (and maybe stretching a point) but referring back to a movie adaptation you and I have discussed before, as Altman did with The Long Goodbye.
    Whatever, but thank you for "turning me on" to this upcoming movie, and one I'm now really looking forward to.

  2. As if to emphasize my point, I see today that ...


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