I remember the first time I saw Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (or Romeo + Juliet as it was billed). I hated it. Actually, I think that’s understating my reaction. I loathed it. I was studying acting at the time, and I thought I knew a thing or two about a thing or two, and I saw it as the most contrived, inauthentic piece of garbage that had ever been filmed.
I saw it again recently and realized that my feelings had completely changed. I feel like I finally got what he was doing. And it's for that reason that I CAN’T WAIT to see Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, based solely on the preview.
I have already fielded the choruses of complaints from my nay saying friends: “Hip hop in a preview for a movie that takes place in the 1920’s!?” “That doesn’t look like the 1920’s to me, with all those lights!” “It’s so stylized, it’s going to miss the point of the novel!”
First of all, this is a movie. It isn’t the book. It shouldn’t try to be the book. If it did, it would miss the point of being a movie. A movie is a forum for visual storytelling. It’s the chance for the storyteller (the director) to express the story they are trying to tell through images, big and small. And Gatsby is all about big images.
Also, Gatsby isn’t a story about the 1920’s. It’s a story about a man who loves a woman he can’t have. This man then inserts himself into a bigger than life world where he doesn’t fit in just to get what he wants. And, from what I’ve seen, Luhrmann is giving us a bigger than life world.
And as for the hip hop, I say hell yes! Watch the Throne, indeed! When I read The Great Gatsby in school, I wasn’t listening to 1920’s jazz. I had heard it and I appreciated it, but the music that I reacted to emotionally was more contemporary. And Luhrmann is making a contemporary movie. Kanye West and Jay-Z distill the essence of that fight to establish and maintain status that Jay Gatsby grapples with throughout the novel in many of their songs.
The visuals are dizzying and heady. Just like the 1920’s. It looks like a bleary eyed, fantastical recollection of the 1920’s, rather than an actual, photographic reproduction of them. And that’s exactly how I took the novel when I read it. It was all about the excess and the consequences afterward, and no one does excess quite like Luhrmann.
I am definitely a purist on many things, and I certainly don’t like all of Baz Luhrmann’s work (Australia anyone?) but I think that this version of The Great Gatsby will be… well, great! I believe it will capture the energy of the novel in a way that isn’t possible by staying inside the box. I only wish more directors had the willingness to be as adventurous.
Do you think this version of Gatsby will rock or stink?