Some Feelings on Luhrman and Gatsby

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May 3rd the director who “decoded” gaslight melodrama and Shakespeare with uber-modern over-the-top-ness, will perplex and delight with his revisionist play on Fitzgerald. I can’t wait. Ironically, it’s not a subject I love. I don’t have special affections for the book or for director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet), it’s just a perfect storm of form and function, old and new, and every body likes a perfect storm.

Luhrman loves the gaudy, basically all the time, but pairing him with a subject defined by its excess makes an ideal marriage. Why the nation’s fans aren’t voicing their thrill like they did when Burton was contracted for Alice in Wonderland or Fincher was clinched for Dragon Tattoo is striking—however, it says something about the inability of Lurhmann’s adaptations to follow through predictably. Will Fincher’s adaptation be cold and gothy? Will Burton’s Alice be full of plays with perspective and Johnny Depp? Yes! Those predictions seem easy… but both those adaptations were phenomenally hollow-hearted. All I feel I can expect of the man who set the Belle Epoque to disco and tween-inspired decor—is Gatsby will be great (in size).

Luhrmann’s exuberance lies in his relenting to the visual. His heart’s in there somewhere but his eyes are 10x bigger and spectacle is his leash and his liberator at once. His excess defies history and revisionism, it purifies ideas with its totally committed overproduction. Love it or lump it, this is equal opportunity excess, which is what protects it from the dismissals doled out to other revisionist histories like Marie Antoinette (too hipster) or A Knight’s Tale (just for teens). Gatsby promises to dance around self-seriousness and laugh at its conceit at the same time it revels in it. There’s something juvenile about the way Luhrmann insists on modern music (and therefore, a modern ethos), but it's just one of many mechanisms. His films joke, laugh and cry at themselves, and they have to be enormous to do all that. His work is big—grandiose, uber alice—and objects that size often contribute broad ideas, not intimate ones. But, then again, what good is it to make predictions?

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