Baz Luhrmann’s “Gatsby”

There are few who do spectacle like Baz Luhrmann; from his explosion on the scene in 1996 with “Romeo and Juliet” to 2001’s Oscar-winning “Moulin Rouge” to the film which I’ll discuss here, Luhrmann is on par with only two directors/producers that come to mind who overwhelm the viewer so deftly. Those two being Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer — the difference being that Luhrmann’s spectacles are good.

“The Great Gatsby” is perhaps the quintessential American novel; yes, it strikes all the notes that qualify as “American,” according to the official national mythology. But along with “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Jungle,” “Infinite Jest,” “The Things They Carried” captures the essence of a period of time more accurately and poignantly than the vast majority of American literature. In reading it, one encounters the profligate excess of an era perched on the very edge of a vast chasm soon to engulf it. The human tragedy of the Depression, the Dust Bowl, the Holocaust, World War II were looming, apparent to anyone willing to assess the world with a detached and rational eye. Nineteen-twenty-two (Gatsby’s setting) was a Tiffany glass used as a football; the question only was which player would shatter it.

Luhrmann, to much critical consternation (here and elsewhere), used hip-hop extensively as a back-drop for his often over-the-top presentation of Gatsby. This critic does not share that perspective. I found the hip-hop and dubstep reinvention of “Jazz Age” New York both refreshing and accurate; Fitzgerald’s intent, I believe, was not only to show his United States as it was during the 1920s, but more importantly to paint the portrait of lost individuals. Not the “Lost Generation” of Hemingway and his cohort, but a group lost in a different way, one that has only become more salient in our second Gilded Age. Hip-hop was the perfect and appropriate medium to depict the dire costs of obsession with fame, wealth, status — that was Fitzgerald’s point.

What Luhrmann has done with this film is make that point. Yes, it’s excessive, it’s over-the-top, often overwhelming. But that’s the entire point! The best way to criticize excess is to emulate it by degrees of great magnitude. Show it for the absurdity it is. Luhrmann does that and better in this edition of Gatsby; Maguire and DiCaprio turn in excellent performances as well.

~ by Benji on September 6, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: