“They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth more than the whole damn bunch put together!” Said by Nick Carraway, the man who did nothing but stand idly by as the friends he used for selfish gain “retreated into their money and vast carelessness” and then eventually self-destructed.
People ask me what inspires me to write and almost every time I want to laugh because my answer hardly ever has much depth. This week for example, is because the 2013 remake of The Great Gatsby happened to be on TV the other night and although it was the very first hour of the morning, I couldn’t resist staying up with the people of East Egg and West Egg. The movie isn’t new and neither is the book but time is irrelevant with a story like this. In fact, the story may be more pertinent to the current culture than it was in the past. There’s no one reason why I have a thing for the roaring twenties, the style, the celebrations, the way women used to be. Such beautiful sophistication that seems extinct in the today’s time. Things were still sinful of course, but the deceit was buried under a mountain of grandeur. So just as Jay let himself go with his one true love, I let myself fall into the world of countless flappers, intoxicating Jazz and all those men ‘dressed to the nines’ ever involved with some important business.
The film The Great Gatsby (2013) is an absolute masterpiece, just like the revolutionary literary work it’s based on. It’s so accurate to what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that they probably could’ve gotten away with saying ‘the true story of’ rather than ‘based on.’ This film takes no shortcuts, no outlandish creative liberties, and it stays expertly true to the book itself from beginning to end. What’s more is that it’s visually stunning. Every scene excites just about every sense a person possesses. Gatsby’s world of ‘flash and dazzle’ is one to happily drown in. They say the book is always better than the movie but a movie like this may cause whoever they are to rethink that.
It’s as if director Baz Luhrmann took Fitzgerald’s flawless writings and interpreted them in pointillism: a big picture that when examined closely is made up entirely of dots. Exhaustive research was done on the building blocks of the prohibition era, not a single item was glossed over. Instead, accuracies in everything from language to landscapes were examined with a fine-tooth comb. The costumes were modeled after the 1920’s Vanity Fair runway sketches. The setting in the novel, New York (East Egg, West Egg, the Valley of Ashes) was mapped out entirely so when they filmed on a set, (Nick’s cottage) a green screen (Jay driving Nick to lunch) or in Australia (also Nick’s cottage) it was just like New York would have been. “I’ve never worked on a film that has such scale, but also such intricate detail in the design of it.”-Carey Mulligan (Daisy)
Given that the director was so keen on making the film authentic to the times, it’s a wonder why Jay Z and other rap artists are featured on the soundtrack. Modernizing a classic is a huge risk in itself, modernizing a classic literary marvel goes beyond risk to insanity. Even so, Baz trusted his visionary instincts and made the bold move to include modern tracks of music with the best jazz composers out there. Without The Jazz Age (a term coined by Fitzgerald) the music of today, the music on The Great Gatsby Soundtrack (Jay Z, Fergie, Lana Del Rey, Emeli Sandé etc.) would’ve never existed. The 1920’s are what shaped the modern world. Baz explains the modernization of the African Street Music Fitzgerald wrote about.
Still think it’s too much? It is. It’s all ‘flash and dazzle’ that was Gatsby, that’s who they all were-piles and piles of money. Nothing boasts quite like rap artists, so using ‘overboard’ tracks was a great method of illustration for the opulent lifestyle of the characters. The Jazz compositions in the film were just as vibrant. Luhrmann didn’t cut corners when it came to finding composers like The Bryan Ferry Orchestra who knew the 1920’s better than any other decade. Florence and the Machine is a modern artist featured on both the soundtrack and on screen. She’s the woman lying on top of the piano after one of Gatsby’s New Year’s Eve sized parties, singing morosely about her lost love. So many details in this film it’s incredible. A ten year process that exceeded expectations. Lana Del Rey’s hit Young and Beautiful is heard in many variations throughout the film, each one displaying it’s own message to the events playing out. Song composition and selection was just as important as the riveting cinematography. As a result, the soundtrack is its very own work of art.
Of course writers Craig Pearce and Baz Luhrmann are mad geniuses for making what was already a spectacle even more spectacular, but it would be wrong not to mention the immensely talented cast. As far as range and depth acting doesn’t get much better than Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby) he and everyone else brought their A-game. Carey Mulligan brought Daisy, the ‘beautiful little fool’ to life. Jordan Baker played by Elizabeth Debicki, was gorgeously frightening. Protagonist and narrator, Nick Carraway was played in a pleasantly convincing manner by Tobey Maguire. Perhaps the most impressive was Joel Edgerton’s portrayal of Tom Buchanan. Brute body language and that Hitler-esqué mustache made him the villain that was so fun to hate. Even Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher who played George and Myrtle Wilson were wonderful. The 12,000 extras were entertaining to watch too.
One of the most captivating scenes is the confrontation in the Plaza, which was filmed in the actual Plaza that is no longer a hotel but condominiums. They were more than happy to be the stage for which the cast brought it to a whole other level-a Gatsby kind of level. The outside of the building is modeled exactly as it was in the 1920’s, the interior design was altered a bit, the paneling was darker color than it would have been at that time, small changes like that were made to fit the mood of rising action. The scene starts with an abrupt close up of an aggressive icepick and pulls at each character’s emotional thread until even Gatsby himself is unraveled. They filmed over the course of several days with cameras only looking in from the exterior. The vibe was exactly as it would have been in the summer of 1922.The actors were simply able to be their characters, surrounded by Fitzgerald’s words that Luhrmann brought to life.
“He (F. Scott Fitzgerald) was able to put into words what the essence of New York and he speaks about New York like a lover…he’s intoxicated by New York in a mad, wild, love relationship and yet somehow, that lover destroys him.”-Director, Baz Luhrmann.
What’s the moral of the story? The moral of this story is that there are no morals. The Great Gatsby is an enchanting example that “the love of money is the root of all evil…”-1 Timothy 6:10 They say experience is the best teacher, they never said it has to be your own experience from which you learn.