Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Great Gatsby Double Bill

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
 F. Scott Fitzgerald

It is no easy task to fill a novel with an entire cast of unlikable characters and still grip the reader yet that’s what the Great Gatsby manages to pull off flawlessly.
Each character is introduced to us as a glamorous aspirational character but these layers are quickly and bluntly peeled away revealing the black hearts and moral ineptitude of the characters true self.
Tom constantly cheats on his wife Daisy, Daisy herself is selfish and materialistic going so far as to treat her own child as a possession, Jordan too is selfish and then, there’s Gatsby.
Gatsby, the richest and seemingly most perfect man who has ever walked the earth is revealed as a criminal and an obsessive.
The only character with any real positive traits is nick Caraway, out narrator, but even Nick grates on the reader as he is so small a personality, so willing to be used, taken advantage of that you just want to grab him by the shoulders and lead him away from these vile people.
The moment when the group are arguing over Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship and Nick suddenly realises it’s his birthday is simultaneously one of the most heart breaking and infuriating passages I’ve ever read. He does nothing for himself, pouring every minute of his time into providing for the wants and needs of these people. He constantly gives, and they do nothing but take.

The main focus of the novel is of course Gatsby, the image obsessed and Daisy obsessed. He is desperate to think of himself and Daisy as star crossed lovers when in fact he knows nothing about the woman. She is little more than a status symbol, an object. The bauble at the top of his tower. The final part of his climb from poverty to majesty.

The disgust Fitzgerald feels for these people is evident in every delicately written paragraph. The wealthy lounge around all day, the most important decision of their day whether to take drinks on the veranda or go to a five star hotel in town. Meanwhile, the dirt stained poor of New York are forced to drag out their days in Valley of Ashes, the slag heap that bridges the divide between the City and the Egg. Watched constantly by the ever present eyes of Dr Eckleburg.

The Great Gatsby is a wonderful novel, exposing the corrupt heart of a post war America, lavishing in excess and selfishness. The prose is steeped in symbolism and is a delight to read. The characters well realised and perfectly presented. I struggle to find anything to say about this novel that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. It’s a must read. 

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby 
Dir: Baz Luhrmann

I had trepidations entering this film. The Great Gatsby has a history of being a very difficult novel to adapt. Characters are miscast, signs misinterpreted, points missed. Add that to my general dislike of Baz Luhrmann’s previous films and….well I was worried.
I was pleasantly surprised however. The film turned out to be very good, the glitz and glamour of the East egg and the pomp and ceremony of the West were captured perfectly but the point of the novel was not missed and the selfish corrupt heart of the egg and its inhabitants is equally on show.

Amitabh Bachchan, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio
The whole cast is great, Leonardo DiCaprio steals the show as the eponymous party host and manages to brilliantly convey completely separate emotions with his dialogue and facial expressions. Tobey Maguire is loveable as Nick Caraway and brings a touch of humour to the role. Carey Mulligan is great as Daisy, managing to give her hints of likeability while not taking away from the character as a bauble. The whole cast feel realistic, there are not simply horrible people, each one has at least some shred of like ability, however small.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see Amitabh Bachchan in the role of Wolfsheim. His appearance may be lost on the majority of western filmgoers unaware with Bollywood stardom. But those who understand how insanely well known he is, will understand how wonderfully appropriate it is that Gatsby would be on first name terms with arguably the most famous man in the world.

The film was far from flawless of course, I’m not a Gatsby obsessive and I’m sure the obsessives will find fault in the plot itself. For me though, the majority of the faults lay much more on the surface. The film, like all of Luhrmann’s films, keeps moving constantly. At times it’s as if the entire 20’s is locked in a seizure. Nothing anstay still for a moment and, while this is fairly appropriate for Gatsby’s parties, when played out on a fifteen foot screen, the whole film becomes almost unwatchable.
Then, there’s the horrible glossiness of it all. The whole film looks photoshopped beyond belief. For a while, I sort of liked it. The unbearably fake style of the film reflecting the shallow nature of the wealthy Egg. But then, the valley of ashes and New York City, two places ground in reality and poverty, are both smudged with this filter too. It would have been much better had these locations been grittier, truer to life instead of looking as if they’d been captured for a cosmo photo shoot.
And then there’s Jay-Z. His involvement was by far the most annoying thing about the film, the rap music and jazz era covers of modern pop songs were, I suppose, intended to lend the film a sense of timelessness, but instead, were cheesy and made certain scenes laughable. It’s hard to take the tenseness of Tom attending Gatsby’s party seriously when you’re forced to listen to Beyonce singing Back to Black.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby
Faults aside, I still found the film very enjoyable and a decent adaptation of the novel. I would of course, encourage you to read the novel before you see it if you’ve never read it but once you’ve read the book you should find the film very enjoyable.

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