Wednesday, 23 May 2012

SPEAKING OF F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

I've just seen the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby, and while it's wrong to judge a book by its cover or a film by its trailer, this is movie May at IT, and I have to say my immediate reaction was: I can wait. You can link to the trailer here.

It's one of the greatest of all American novels, and some of the things that make it great are precisely those that mitigate against its being turned into a great movie; films inevitably reduce it to a love story, an excuse for glorious sets and costumes, and celebration, rather than Fitzgerald's layered and nuanced analysis of class, success, and the American Dream (contained in a love story and a celebration of glorious sets and costumes).

But watching the trailer, and going back only as far as the last Great Gatsby film, Robert Redford > Leonardo DiCaprio, Sam Waterston > Toby Maguire, and although Mia Farrow probably is not > Carey Mulligan, Mulligan seems to have been cast more as Mia than Daisy. But who's going to match Bruce Dern, Karen Black, Scott Wilson, Lois Chiles, or Roberts Blossom, each perfectly cast in that 1974 film?

 Robert Evans had bought the rights (it had last been filmed in 1949, with Alan Ladd, who was the DiCaprio of his era. I haven't seen the 2000 TV movie with Toby Stephens and Mia Sorvino, and frankly, I have no plans to) so his girlfriend Ali MacGraw could play Daisy--and she would have been more interesting. But after she ditched Evans for Steve McQueen, various actresses were considered, including Chiles, who wound up playing Jordan Baker. Candice Bergen might have been better, or Katharine Ross; Cybil Shepherd would have been interesting because she might have captured some of the Zelda southern belle.

Jack Clayton's film was criticised in 1974 for being too glossy and for spawning a whole retro style campaign--but in retrospect it holds up pretty well; Redford's reserve being perhaps its biggest flaw. He seems to be trying to capture a Gatsby struggling to be what he isn't because he thinks he has to in order to win Daisy, which is part of it. But Francis Ford Coppola's screenplay is truer to Fitzgerald than anyone thought, right down to the eyes of Dr TJ Eckleburg, who's no longer with us, watching everything in Nick Carraway's Valley of |Ashes anyway.

And perhaps Redford's seeming if anything too mature and worldly for the role might contrast well with DiCaprio's rarely seeming mature enough, as he also failed to convince in Revolutionary Road, The Aviator, or J Edgar. And if you doubt the Alan Ladd comparison, here' a shot of Ladd as Gatsby to ponder, along with Leonardo. Eerie, isn't it?

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