Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013) or On film adaptations

An unhappy child creates illusions of grandeur to escape his misery. A man who achieves realisation of his illusions of grandeur, content at last. Is he? Shouldn't he be? But, isn't  it part of the human nature to be unsatisfied? Is there not a tiny evasive detail that will unforgivably stain forever the tableaux vivant of our perfect lives?

Jay Gatsby became more than he ever wanted; a handsome young man surrounded by a myth, owning abundant riches and having accomplished brave wartime deeds. Still, if ever the genie appeared, Gatsby did have a wish to be fulfilled; a single one: we wanted to have, to own, to marry a blonde girl from his past. That single blonde girl, and no other, and she was taken (Why do I use verbs of ownership when it comes to thinking human beings, you're gonna ask. Well, they just taught me this way, as they might have done to you, too). 

The Great Gatsby is not a book of glamour or glitz, even if that's the necessary backdrop. It's a book of a silly boy hooked on a dream (silly meant as a sweet remark, really). But, certain things in life do not depend on us the tiniest bit. We ought to have this quality called "adaptability", as somebody unwillingly urged me this morning. Otherwise we are doomed to drown in a large pool of sapphire water, the one we keep for our day-dreaming trances.

I like The Great Gatsby, the book, much more I could ever like its film adaptation. Scott F. Fitzgerald probably knows how to put the right words on paper as well as hens know how to lay eggs. His themes permeate time; that's what makes a classic. On the other hand, efforts to "adapt" Fitzgerald's work may be sincere, based on good will, or admiration for the writer and his heroes or not. They may also be meant as an actor's or director's vehicle, or  as a way to hit a golden vein. Each one of these efforts may find us giving thumbs up or the opposite. Nevertheless, one thing is true: no film stands a chance to be what the author himself meant his book to be. Visual intensity builds up and can possibly hush the words that sound so good on the pages of a cheap paperback.

This is a plain fact and it rings true for all film adaptations, even the ones that have the writer himself tackling the script. He is invited to do so, occasionally, but it's a gesture of honour, from which a different story will evolve in the end; bits and pieces are omitted, new cinematic moments are made up for better or worse. The story is seen from a different point of view. Both being sustained by the same narrative, cinema has so much more to it than writing (the "so much more" is not to be read as a qualitative description);  it needs to breath fresh air, according to the epoch and audiences it responds to.

Having said that, Baz Luhrmann's extravaganza was highly enjoyable, even if I could not agree more with Telegraph's Tim Stanley who notes that "Scott Fitzgerald intended his decadence to be a moral indictment of the vacuous jazz age", but Baz felt free to do otherwise. Opposed to others, I enjoyed 100% moment after moment all that frivolous dancing, drinking, speeding up in sports cars as proof that "right here right now is all we got" -which is another plain fact each of us can give his personal interpretation to. The film's soundtrack is also entertaining, even if you may have doubts on sophistication grounds. Lana del Ray has done nothing wrong, except for giving too much attention to her image, but she's young, so you might as well forgive her (she seems smart enough, to compensate); her Young and Beautiful is a nice song, as well as all the songs of this blazing compilation. Special mention to Your heart's a mess by Gotye (yes, I personally knew the song long ago) and Hit and Run by Sia.

But, then again, you see, isn't it a paradox to start talking about songs when The Great Gatsby (2013) is around? This film doesn't do much justice to the actual content, and each one of us prefers to evoke his own images when reading the book, I guess; and, talking for myself, those images had nothing to do with lavish parties and the jet-set, but there were sort of desperate, sad, lonely, topped up with hope, to render them bearable.

Let me make some points here, related to previous versions: I missed the oh-so-touching "rich girls don't marry poor boys" moment with Mia Farrow's blue watery eyes sinking in sorrow; that's from the   1974 Jack Clayton remake, starring Robert Redford -good for everything else, but not to portray Gatsby convincingly. I also missed a bit the natural scent that Mira Sorvino had in the 2000 Canadian TV series directed by a certain Robert Markowitz, although I didn't miss that arrogant shark smile of that Gatsby, Toby Stevens

Which brings me to the Gatsbiest Gatsby ever, Mr Leonardo Di Caprio himself. I was never a big fan, but  this time I was carried away. Gatsby is supposed to be sensitive deep inside, a romantic soul, a Peter Pan. A man who confronted life with his bare chest but stayed a child. Leonardo saw behind the narcissism and the pose and he gave a lovingly fragile character we will remember for a long time. I could even share the aussie opinion that proclaims "Di Caprio puts the Great into Gatsby". He did a wonderful job, joggling his strong convictions together with shades of insecurity, his daring character together with his soft spot for an ethereal girl that once overwhelmed him in a seemingly irreplaceable way. 

There were majestic costumes and sets and some great acting involved, as well, but still that wouldn't matter without Di Caprio. The orchestration of flamboyant scenes was also great; only Moulin Rouge's director could do that. The only totally unnecessary thing was the 3D animation. Oh my, probably Fitzgerald is not feeling very comfortable in his grave lately.

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