jay gatbsy

3

requested by anon

The parties he threw were to find his precious Daisy, they were never for anything else, but the night that you decided to come was the night that everything changed. 

He thought that his heart belonged to Daisy truly and completely but… he wasn’t so sure after he saw you. Your smile, your eyes, the way you laughed… Jay couldn’t help it. He fell for you and he knew that he had to talk to you.

I FINALLY got my answer to this tweet (which was from 2014). Darren said he wished he could take time and make it heartfelt and mean something but as we were at the stage door he couldn’t. he said he wanted characters hat were really good drinkers so: fezziwig from a christmas carol, jay gatbsy and the cat in the hat. he then goes, “actually that would be a terrible idea, the cat in the hat would fuck shit all up.”

…perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…
—  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
In Defense of Baz Luhrmann. Film Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

I haven’t done a film review in some time (about a year and a half, if I’m not mistaken), so I find it only fitting that I pick up the gauntlet again with what has possibly become the most anticipated film in recent history: Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

First and foremost, it is pertinent to call to attention my unnecessary affection for Gatsby; frequent readers of this website will know, undoubtedly, that the novel ranks as my absolute favorite and has since I first read it in October of 2011.  It completely enraptured me with its ideals of the decay of the American Dream and the complete and utter heroism I found in the character of Jay Gatsby.  Herein lied a character who achieved every facet of success and opulence in an era defined by the spirit of both, yet never really grasped success simply because he never was able to fully win the heart of his obsession.  I connected with little struggle to James Gatz and his determination to become better than his birth allowed, and therein I saw a challenge: to bring Gatsby’s idea of success to fruition in my own line of work by simply not becoming distracted by love.  Gatsby became my God and Fitzgerald became a prophet of his word, a religiosity I adopted and still carry the mantle of.  A quick search for the tags “#gatsby” on this blog will bring forth a multitude of musings and essays dealing with this obsession.  It is with this knowledge that I impart (as well as the note of my having read the novel [now] 9 times), that I ask you to imagine my anticipation for this film for now close to two years.

It also with this knowledge that I ask you to imagine my dismay at the film’s dismal reviews over the past week — leading to a steadily declining aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes which bottomed out at 30% two days ago before rebounding back to a 50%, finally killing my initiative to even see the film.  Sure, the 1974 adaption starring Robert Redford was boring, but Lurhmann’s appeared not even be worth my time.  And in fact, Lurhmann is the problem — being so polarizing ensures that every film he puts out will be polarizing fare.  Some absolutely love his style of hyper-realistic, LSD-infused, cacophony, while others hate it.  Typically (i.e. Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom), I’ve fallen into the former. And, after seeing Gatsby full of anxiety at the imminent failure of it, I’m proud to say that I still fall into the former.  

This was a masterpiece.  Not perfect by any means, but a masterpiece nonetheless.  To my chagrin, I had to watch the flick with an unbiased eye so, to give credit where it’s due, I’ll start off with what’s wrong with the film.  

  • As most reviewers have pointed out, the book almost completely deviates from the metaphoric emphasis of the text.  Not necessarily a huge fumble given the visual medium of the piece, but it still needs to be addressed.  Yes, the idea of the death of the American Dream pervades each and every frame, but the symbolism of the eyes of Dr./God is so paper thin on screen that it is literally not even hinted at: it is simply stated Eckelburg outright by the film’s much-overlooked George Wilson, demoted here from a lead role to a plot point. 
  • That’s another problem — the near ignorance of the entire subplot of Tom Buchannan’s affair with Myrtle unless it is relevant at the moment of mention.  While never forgotten by the viewer, the entire idea of Tom seeing Myrtle is usually sidelined to make more room for the overstated romance between Daisy and Jay.  Meanwhile, Myrtle’s relationship with her husband is ignored altogether, meaning that the impact of her death (SPOILER) upon George doesn’t really weigh as heavily on the audience as it could have.
  • I’m going to be the 1% here.  The parties could have been bigger.  Every review has made a large deal of how impressive and elaborate Luhrmann’s parties are in this film (some even calling them the only redeeming quality of it), and yet I was underwhelmed by the sheer spectacle of it all.  It could have been simply that the volume of my theater’s sound wasn’t quite loud enough for me to be swept away in the moment of it all but I just felt that the party scenes lacked the bombast that they were promised to carry.  There were hints of it, but the implied decadence and reckless abandon of the scenes never once fully emerged through the forced-ness of their presentation.
  • The removal of Gatsby’s funeral completely undoes all of the emotional buildup surrounding it.  The released pictures of the scene’s filming show that it could have finally nailed in the story’s message of the shallow nature of success — a huge, richly decorated funeral with only three attendants (especially in Lurhmann’s expansive 3D)?  Cold chills.  Instead, we’re simply left with the message loosely tied up.  

Now, with the criticism out of the way, let’s sort through what’s good about the film.

  • The casting could not have been more appropriate.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s entire career has been a rehearsal for his performance in this film.  While initially I didn’t really see what all the hype was about that surrounded his participation, I was won over after about 30 minutes of screen time.  As every layer of Jay’s personality is pulled back, DiCaprio becomes more raw and visceral and finally gives a performance that may win him that long-elusive Oscar.  Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, and Joel  Edgerton are near perfect in their respective roles, though none capture the same fire onscreen that Leornardo’s Gatsby does.
  • The camera work and editing — which, yes, is very characteristic of the rest of Lurhmann’s filmography — works to the film’s advantage.  Many critics seem to be put off by the schizophrenia and ecstatic cuts prevalent in the film’s first half, but in Baz’s defense, it seems to have been deliberate.  The film’s editing does wonder to accurately communicate the feeling of the moment.  In the beginning, as Nick Carraway is swept up in the speed and glamour of New York and the party-centric lifestyle of its inhabitants, the film is fast-paced and definitely colorful before calming down in the more emotional third act with longer tracking shots and less extreme close-ups.  The tension of the climax at the Plaza Hotel is almost tangible in the tight cuts and the solid color scheme.  To those who are suffocated by the film’s stylistic camera work, I offer only one quip: the film is seen at all times through the eyes of Mr. Carraway — a Midwesterner completely unaccustomed to the excess of Gatsby’s world who is dragged into it with no warning and is, by all accounts, suffocated by the glitz and glamour.  The hyper-reality of the film and the suffocation of the first and second acts are nigh-essential to experience the story through Nick’s narration.
  • The sets are breathtaking.  
  • The 1920’s are communicated brilliantly through Luhrmann’s use of color and music.  True, subtlety may not really be one of his strong-points, but the man sure as hell understands how to convey atmosphere.  The seamless of blend of modern music [that’s been touted as a selling point for modern audiences lately] and period-appropriate Gershwin pieces and fox trots never lets the viewer feel an inappropriate emotion at any given moment.  The music really does serve it’s only purpose that Luhrmann set out for it to serve: to give the viewer the same sense of excitement that one would’ve gotten from the Jazz music of the film’s period.  The soundtrack is outstanding, though standouts include Lana Del Rey’s breathtaking “Young and Beautiful” (the way it’s utilized in the film far surpasses the song itself), almost all of Jay-Z’s contributions to the film (“No Church in the Wild” comes to mind as the most well-placed of the bunch, though “100$ Bills” plays its cards well enough), The xx’s haunting “Together”, Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody”, and Emeli Sandé’s rollicking remake of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”.
  • The two scenes that are absolutely essential in the film’s emotional development are executed flawlessly by everyone involved.  You’ll know them when you see them.

Certainly the film has mediocre elements (any of Maguire’s emoting beyond his character’s required emotional detachment….), but, overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better film adaption of Gatsby.  The leads hit all the right marks, the editing is used effectively, the modern score never hinders the film, the emotional connections that should be made are made far better than many other reviews wold suggest, the acting is reminiscent of the 20’s themselves while always remaining within the realm of modernity, and (most importantly) the story is still just as powerful and impacting visually even without the subtlety that made the novel so beautiful.  When seeing this, one must remember who exactly it’s dealing with in the director’s chair: a man who transposed Romeo & Juliet overtop of 1990’s Miami beach, gave every character a gun, and kept the original Elizabethan dialogue.  A man who placed Nicole Kidman as a famed courtesan in 1901 bohemian Paris singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” while her male spectators sang “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  And, almost more importantly, a man who made Australia (something he completely redeems himself for with The Great Gatsby).  I’d personally recommend imagining that Gatsby is simply set in the same universe as Moulin Rouge! — with all the colors, schizophrenic camera-work, and emotional power still intact — just across the Atlantic and a mere 21 years later.  

Are there issues?  Of course there are.  No book has yet to truly accurately translate from the page to the screen, but dammit Baz Luhrmann comes close.  Even if it’s not perfect, it’s the best thing out at the cinema right now and is much more worth your ticket fee than Oblivion, Peeple’s, Scary Movie 5 (I mean really?), GI Joe: Retaliation, Olympus Has Fallen, The Big Wedding, or Pain and Gain, I assure you.  Come to think of it, this is one of the better films 2013 has offered us yet.  

Every bit as polarizing as one would expect, I’ll place my bet that this particular adaption of The Great American Novel will halt another from being made for quite some time and will be the source of passioned debate in living rooms and cinema studies classes for even longer.  

Becoming Gatsby

The fact that my high school is sponsoring a Great Gatsby-themed prom is sickening to me, though not for reasons that are as starkly logical as I’d like to believe. 

Upon reading Gatsby last year in my Honors English class like every high school junior in the country, I became mystified by the persona of James Gatz and his perilous persistence and dedication to a character he molded in his bedroom growing up as a farmer’s boy in Minnesota.  Here was a soul so inspired to recreate himself out of the nothingness of providence to become the defining character of the 1920’s – real or fictional.  I studied Gatsby like a test subject, modeling much of my own life activities after him because, by god, even though Gatsby didn’t succeed in his quest for the American Dream I would succeed in his stead.  Self-absorbent?  Very much so, though I’m not ashamed of it as it relates to Gatsby.  The observation I encountered as my English class discussions became more heated last year was that, while everyone else in my grade level seemed to be enraptured by Gatsby because of the opulence and decadence of the characters and the irony of their blatant vapidity as it leads to their demises while I was enraptured by Gatsby and his own story.  My classmates concerned themselves with matters of the senses; I concerned myself with those of the soul. 

Earlier in this school year as I prepared myself to apply for colleges (which I never ended up doing due to the serendipitous interruption of career), I focused my essays on the correlation between myself and Jay Gatsby – our ruthless, Machiavellian work ethic, our emotional instability, our desire to achieve better than that of our progenitors, and the like.  I’ve striven since early childhood to be a success and to make a name for myself; I’ve sacrificed what any other individual would consider a “normal” adolescence brimmed with friendships, video games, debauchery, and puppy love for an adolescence spent in recording studios and playing shows to any audience that will have me.  Instead of sitting in KUNA and competing on Academic Team, I’ve sat in business meetings with moguls responsible for signing the artists that have created the soundtrack to your lives.  I began learning piano at age eight; I began writing music at ten; I began playing in bars with rock cover bands when I was eleven; recorded my first EP in a run-down garage in Indianapoliswhen I was twelve; I started playing open mic nights in Nashville with a wide assortment of colorful characters pulled directly from a Lewis Carrol story when I was thirteen.  I recorded my first full-length record at fifteen; I began working with a vocal coach who once had her own career as a country superstar in the 80’s that same year; at sixteen I began working with a business partner who was responsible for signing Genesis and Heart to their respective record labels; finally, within the previous year and a half, I’ve worked with 4 Grammy-winning producers and writers to create a perfect record, and began hustling it on my own dime under my own LLC to major labels.  I have spent the majority of my life working towards a dream that I, much like Gatsby, refuse to see die, and I take pride in the fact that a literary character as dashing and as polarizing as Gatsby has been able to really affect my life so personally.  The day I move out on my own in the coming summer I intend to buy a tattoo across my right forearm that simply reads “GASTBY”.  If anything, I’ve become known as my school’s resident Fitzgerald aficionado.  It is for this reason, mainly, that the obsession permeating my campus with Fitzgerald’s work annoys me.

Don’t misread me, I am not a hipster; I simply don’t like an entire generation reading such a brilliant book at such a skin deep level that, to them, Gatsby is just about white suits and ragtime and parties and extravagance.  I don’t like than entire conglomerate of students decided to swing the theme of a high school prom to coincide with a film that will undoubtedly popularize and inflate a novel most of them didn’t really “get” until well through half of it had transpired – never re-reading the preceding to admire at the textual subtleties or the brilliant, succinct character development within, but simply moving forward to ingest the more soap-opera-esque elements of the plot that obviously appeal to high schoolers in relatable romantic entanglements.  I don’t like that, despite all of the shallow capitalization in my school upon a novel written 90 years hence, the student council still expects to reel me into going to prom by pleading “but it’s Great Gatsby-themed!  You love Gatsby!”.  No, I don’t love Gatsby.  I live Gatsby everyday without requirement of an excuse to do so.  If I really wanted to dress up in a white suit coat and an oxford sweater and dance, I can do so in my own house alone. 

Again, don’t misread me, the reason I’m avoiding prom is not simply because of the vapidity that pervades my senior class’s nigh obsession with Gatsby; I’ve never at any point in my life intended on going.  I avoid every chance to spend time alone with the bacterial troglodytes in my grade level at any chance to get, and therefore I refuse to fester with them in a rhythmic Petri dish.  I’m aware that I’m ‘missing out’ on a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to be with my ‘friends’ one final time.  Forgive me, but I’d like to forget all four years of my high school experience while I’m off becoming Gatsby.