Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Great Gatsby was GREAT!!!

The Great Gatsby is one of my three favorite books of all time.

--Cider House Rules
--Lord of the Rings

I know, it's a weird mix. But Gatsby is RIGHT THERE with the best books of my life!

I read it as a junior in high school, and I thought I was going to hate it. Really. I just thought it was going to be boring and hard to wade through and all of those horrible things that students assume. But what I found was so rich and well written and screwy and an intriguing portrait of one of my fave time periods in American history. And it's about the dark side of the American dream -- especially when you're a kid and you've been stuffed full of the light, chirpy, everyone-can-pull-themselves-up-with-boot-straps version of the American dream. It was dark but amazing. It was a turning point in my reading life.

And I've re-read it five times. Going on six. I started it again after I saw the film this weekend.

And the long-awaited, snarkily-anticipated, bated breath film. I LOVED IT!!!

Ok, so here's some backstory. I've been in love with Baz Luhrmann since Romeo and Juliet. I loved that he took what was a tragedy on paper and blew it up to gargantuan proportions so that every viewer could feel the gut-wrenching sadness in that book. Anyone who watched R+J felt the pain in that story. My freshman students at that time didn't feel the pain on paper. The majority struggled through the reading.  But they could watch that film, which very closely followed the text, and feel the tragedy of it in a new way that they would have completely missed before.

Gatsby is a dark story. It's about a time in history full of intrigue and illicit behavior and sweeping change; a novel full of opulence and uncertainty, selfishness and self-destructiveness. What Luhrman has done is take Fitzgerald's excellent story and blown it up to spectacular proportions. And I appreciate him magnifying the tale into a visual, musical, nuanced extravaganza. It's what I love about him as an auteur.

From the New York Times today:
Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” is lurid, shallow, glamorous, trashy, tasteless, seductive, sentimental, aloof, and artificial. It’s an excellent adaptation, in other words, of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s melodramatic American classic. Luhrmann, as expected, has turned “Gatsby” into a theme-park ride. But he’s done it in exactly the right way. 
While I had concerns about DiCaprio as Gatsby, it all worked great. I loved Mulligan as Daisy, and Joe Edgerton, as Tom Buchanan, really brought that character to life for me.

There were moments that it was overacted (the scene where Daisy and Gatsby reunite at Nick's place), but overall it fell in line with the rest of the production. And there were moments that I found much more emotionally touching in the film that I did in the text (Gatsby explaining his need repeat the past to Nick and tearing up).

Symbolism? I couldn't forget it. The eyes of T.J. Eckleburg were just as haunting as in the book. Yellow as a symbol for wealth and ultimately death. Time, time, time. All there. All gorgeous.

One of the big issues of contention from the moment the trailer started running seems to be in some of the soundtrack choices. The very first trailer featured Jay Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" and people went nuts. I actually bought the soundtrack over the weekend, and I could not be more smitten with it. I love the mixture of hip hop  rap, pop, sweeping ballads, and full-on drama. It really expresses the pounding, frenetic pace of the film and the amplification of the action.

What? I'm gushing? Yeah, I kinda am. I can't wait to watch it again.

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