GREAT GATSBY, THE - WHOSE GATSBY IS IT?
Australia’s Baz Luhrmann has made a film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, screening as the Opening Night film at Cannes 2013. Almost two generations ago in 1974, it was an Englishman, Jack Clayton, filming F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, set in 1922 on Long Island, New York. But who can claim either film as theirs – or indeed either of two other adaptations? By Andrew L. Urban.
Is the 1974 film Jack Clayton’s? Or is it Francis Ford Coppola’s – who wrote the screenplay? The Oscars went to Theoni V. Aldredge for costume design (she also won the BAFTA) and Nelson Riddle for the score. Douglas Slocombe won major awards for his cinematography, and it was left to the Golden Globes to hand out the one acting award, to Karen Black as Myrtle Wilson - and nominations for Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan and Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway. Is the film theirs, perhaps? Or is it Fitzgerald’s - still and always?
Why, some have asked, would an Australian re-make a movie of The Great Gatsby, and one that was so successful. It’s an American novel, set in 1922 and exploring American society with which Australians have virtually no connection. Well, you could have asked the same question about Baz tackling William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996), arguably the most inspired of his films and the most exciting interpretation – he didn’t re-work the text, he gave us a spectacular visual translation instead. Or rather, he and his wife Catherine Martin did; CM as she’s known, won two Oscars for her designs in Moulin Rouge (2001), and has two nominations – one for Australia, and one for Romeo + Juliet. And it was CM who won an AFI Award for her design for Strictly Ballroom, Baz’s feature debut.
"Is it chutzpah, hubris, inspiration or part of his dream"
Is it chutzpah, hubris, inspiration or part of his dream to make films that look beautiful even if they deal with not so pretty aspects of human nature. Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, his ‘red curtain’ series with theatrical connections, all deliver striking, signature design elements that CM brings to her work. So did Australia.
The 1974 production of The Great Gatsby had luminaries like Coppola at the script and stars of the calibre of Robert Redford (Gatsby) and Mia Farrow (Daisy), both at their peak; but the big accolades went to those who created the film’s look & feel. Perhaps it is ‘their’ film in the creative sense; and perhaps it will be ‘CM’s The Great Gatsby’ as much as Baz Luhrmann’s.
And as much as Fitzgerald’s … and ours. Lietrature can be re-visited with new perspect9ves, just as most art can. What we see in The Great Gatsby today may differ from what its original readers saw. We see every film through the prism of our own life experiences – and we all have unique life experiences.
Published May 16, 2013