The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann – A film that seems as deliriously intoxicated with artifice as the struggling glamour of the eponymous man himself. The camera cuts with giddy frequency, zooming and swerving with unnecessary energy and theatrical relish, CGI is employed when actual locations could just have easily been used and a grating anachronistic soundtrack saunters throughout, like a boldly inappropriate jukebox. These are not, however, criticisms. Despite many feeling deeply disappointed by the film, its decisions, its look and characterisation, I have to say I enjoyed it massively, in all its opulent glory. For me, the excessively extravagant cinematography (feeling close to music video dynamics) and the unconvincing CGI were all brilliantly in tune with the fictionalised charade of Gatsby’s social myth. He is a man who adopts a carnival of persuasion, in its decadent unreality; all in tragic service of chasing what is already a fabricated (in his fantasies) figment of infatuation…another poisonous creation.
The film had the same hollowed and flawed need for approval that haunts Gatsby and stalks the social circles he aspired to inhabit. The soundtrack, mainly comprised of very contemporary pop/hip hop, had the strange effect of making the viewer all the more aware of time – how quickly this ‘hip’ soundtrack will age. Gatsby’s insistence that the past can be relived, in his mad pursuit to actualize a memory, feels as though it has its warped reflection in the music. Music that refuses to try and recapture the past of the period, and yet in striving so explicitly for the current, seems immediately and fatally doomed to age. Therefore the choice to have a club-like, strainingly youthful soundtrack somehow feels just as portentous as Gatsby’s own attempts to hold on, to go back, and to preserve.
Then there is Leonardo Dicaprio…I mean, surely – what a dynamite choice! We have the perfect echoes of Lurhman’s Romeo+Juliet, a memory of the younger Dicaprio and the canonicised greatest romance of all time (the play…not his film!) becomes an intertextual memory comparable to his pathological inability to forget the love he had for Daisy. Also, in having Dicaprio, looking (as somebody, cant said remember who...) for the first time, like a more mature man, has a fantastic resonance with the story’s pre-occupation with time. His performance, with its unavoidable echoes of Rome+Juliet, also helps open up the film to an interesting critique of ageing in Hollywood. The scene in which Gatsby has been shot – falling into the pool, is shot from beneath, in a way which recalls the opening scene of Sunset Boulevard…a film all about faded glamour, of not being able to live the past. The connotations of a Hollywood allegory, extends the tragic Gatsby to become a frighteningly confected dream figure for an America that is at once entirely mythical and unreal, while being inescapably and destructively present.
There were of course moments I wouldn’t feverishly applaud: the writing appearing on the screen, in fragments of Fitzgerald’s text just seems a tad too hammy…bordering on PowerPoint animation; Toby Maguire, if one was kind could perhaps offer an interesting addition to the Hollywood/fame/career context…but he does look distractingly like someone who has been told, just before a shot, two conflicting emotions with which to deliver his lines…either that, or someone has just whispered a mildly entertaining but quite confusing joke into his ear before the take…leading his performance to feel always slightly detached and undecided, as if he is constantly on the verge of a sneeze or about to break character. That aside, I thought the film was a hugely enjoyable and unfairly under-appreciated beast. 8/10