All that Jazz

The-Great-GatsbyDavid Denby, New Yorker

Where’s Gatsby gone? Australian director, Baz Luhrmann whips Fitzgerald’s sordid 1920s debauch into a Roman saturnalia — garish and violent, with tangled blasts of music, not all of it redolent of the Jazz Age in which it is set. So much so that this 21st century rendering may be more akin to Fitzgerlad’s original literary source – Petronius’s 1st century AD Satyricon, and the character Trimalchio’s infamous banqueting reputation. (In fact, Fitzgerald’s working title right up to the time of publication was Trimalchio in West Egg.)

Luhrmann turns Gatsby’s big parties into a writhing mass of flesh, feathers, dropped waists, cloche hats, swinging pearls, flying tuxedos, fireworks, and breaking glass. There are so many hurtling, ecstatic bodies and objects that you can’t see much of anything in particular. When the characters roar into the city, Times Square at night is just a sparkle of digitized colors. Luhrmann presumably wants to crystallise the giddy side of 1920s wealth and glamour, but he confuses tumult with style and often has trouble getting the simple things right.

Will young audiences go for this movie, with its few good scenes and its discordant messiness? Luhrmann may have miscalculated. The millions of kids who have read the book may not be eager for a flimsy phantasmagoria. They may even think, like many of their elders, that “The Great Gatsby” should be left in peace. The book is too intricate, too subtle, too tender for the movies. Fitzgerald’s illusions were not very different from Gatsby’s, but his illusionless book resists destruction even from the most aggressive and powerful despoilers.

Read Denby’s less than favourable review in full at the New Yorker

See different perspective in Shimmying Off the Literary Mantle at New York Times …