Daily Archives: Wednesday, May 22, 2013

  • The Great Gatsby Baz Luhrmann (USA 2013

    The Great Gatsby Baz Luhrmann (USA
    2013) Leonado Di Caprio; Carry Mulligan; Tobey Maguire

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 20 May 13;
    ticket price £10.25 (£1:75 3D supplement)
    Drowning in the shallows

    Before going to see Baz Luhrman’s
    current Hollywood offering, The Great Gatsby, I did something a
    little naughty, I reread the book. I wanted check it out again,
    this after all, is one of the great American novels.

    Of course few films actually deliver
    the impact of their literary credentials (excepted in my view are the
    David Lean adaptations of Dickens); most book / film transpositions
    end up either as insubstantial homage or mis-shapen unhappy
    compromises characterised by inept direction .
    The Great Gatsby is a wonderfully
    observed novel written, from the first person perspective by the
    persona of Nick Carraway (a literary stand-in for Fitzgerald
    himself). It is a tragedy that tells of the fall of House of Gatsby.
    Essentially it’s a chamber piece for four players: Gatsby, Nick
    himself and Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Its setting against the broad
    canvas of the Jazz Age, gives relevance and poignancy to the human
    relations. It has an almost Chekhovian level of intensity, as the
    narrator strives to understand the forces of desire that are
    channeled in and lived out through his characters,

    So how would the Great Gatsby as film
    stack up? Baz Luhrmann as director / script writer of Gatsby was
    not a good omen. From the little I had seen of his work, Moulin
    Rouge, he looked like a man best at home at the circus, filming the
    wonders of the carnival: scantily dressed girls, trapeze artists and
    clowns. And to boot, Gatsby was shot for 3D and I was going to see
    the 3D version.

    The answer is that in the best
    American/Hollywood tradition, technology replaces ideas. Luhrmann’s
    Gatsby a tech fix. He opts to film a roaring 20’s mega party, goes
    for the wow factor; never mind human relations- sex up the image –
    it’s a 3D fest.

    This is a Gatsby defined by and
    dedicated to spectacle and delivered in 3D if you want to wear the
    glasses. It’s difficult to see how to justify delivering a chamber
    piece like Gatsby in 3D unless you want it to look like an endless
    parade of competing images. The problem is that Gatsby is so wrapped
    up in the spectacle of itself that it struggles to unwrap its own
    story. Instead of depth of character, personal motivation and the
    vigour of relations, this Gatsby is filmed using shots that comprise
    multi plane depth of field. My feelings were that 3D gives a
    spurious depth to the Great Gatsby that not only fails to engage with
    the theme but actually works against Fitzgerald’s ideas.
    In the traditional method of filming
    interaction between two characters, directors take the shot using a
    shallow depth of field, so that backgrounds are blurred and offer
    nothing to distract the eye’s attention from the characters. In 3D
    the shots comprise a number of discrete visual planes, all in focus,
    each of which makes a demand for our attention. Our eyes are
    enchanted by multiple distractions, and the intensity of our
    involvement with dialogue and interaction is thereby diluted and
    diminished. And Gatsby suffers consequently in this respect from a
    lack of engagement and involvement with its characters.
    In the large set piece party sequences,
    which dominate the first half of the film, Gatsby’s displays of
    ostentation and conspicuous consumption exist simply for their own
    sake. Seen in 3 D this emphasis on spectacle undermines and works
    against the narrative, because the main characters are not part of
    the spectacle. Gatsby is written in the first person; from the
    point of view of Nick, the outsider. The point is that he observes.
    He isn’t a full participant, he witnesses. But the way Gatsby’s
    week-end parties are shot is intended to provide an immersive
    experience for the audience, undercutting Nick’s point of view rather
    than supporting it, alienating the audience from the tidal ebb of
    his narrative. It looks sexy; its a riotous pop promo; but it
    doesn’t work.

    Even Baz Luhrman’s film structure is
    tired: he uses the old hackneyed formulaic stand by of the
    psychiatric interview to frame Nick’s telling of the story. And the
    manner in which he introduces the flashbacks to Gatsby’s youth are
    clumsy and crudely worked into the flow of the movie, with the effect
    that they slow the film down making it feel overlong and tedious.
    The actors, doomed to compete with technology, struggle to maintain
    the tensions implicit in the plots psychic and social interweaving.
    In the end poor souls, their fate is to become coat hangers; walking
    talking wire frames draped with a pleasing succession of period

    The one element in this Gatsby that had
    value was Luhrman’s development of Fitzgerald’s idea

    that Gatsby was not just a victim of a
    failed obsessional illusion but that he was running out of road. The
    pursuit of Gatsby by the forces that are the source of his wealth is
    suggested by Fitzgerald. There is deep inner corruption of Gatsby.
    And this feeling of the encroachment of evil into the core of the
    plot’s relations is something film can accomplish economically and
    powerfully; but whilst Baz Luhrman develops this theme a little, he
    left me with the feeling that more was possible, but mostly left

    I left the cinema wondering why
    Hollywood makes films like this. What did Baz Luhrman imagine he was
    doing? Are such films a symptom of a film culture where there is
    nothing really left to say, where the only goal is to attract a new
    generation of audiences into the cinema with 3D and keep the industry
    and its workers ticking over on borrowed time? Was it Godard who
    said “Cinema has nothing left to do other than to reproduce
    Anyway I was glad to have had a reason
    to re-read the book.

    Adrin Neatrour