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The Great Gatsby:the secret of thestorys appealnewport international group blogarticles
Baz Luhrmann is the sixth film-maker to attempt to translate The GreatGatsby from page to screen. But what is it about thi...
Again the hype machines are in overdrive. By now half the worldknows that the film is in 3-D, and has a lavish Art Deco lo...
In the East End of London earlier this year, Wilton’s music hall hostedan “immersive” theatrical adaptation of The Great G...
So how can we account for this apparently bottomless fascination withThe Great Gatsby? It’s a relatively short novel (fewe...
It sounds so glamorous and alluring – not just the clothes, but theforbidden cocktails, the wild parties, the jazz, with i...
To those who have read it more than once, the book feels differenteach time; it’s like turning a multifaceted diamond in t...
Still, it was marginally better than the adaptation starring Redford andFarrow. It looked promising: Redford was the world...
The Jazz Age began in earnest in 1922, the year in which Fitzgerald’snovel is set, with a steep growth in conspicuous cons...
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The Great Gatsby: the secret of the story's appeal

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Baz Luhrmann is the sixth film-maker to attempt to translate The Great Gatsby from page to screen. But what is it about this slim novel that makes it so endlessly fascinating, asks David Gritten.
In 1974, Time magazine ran a cover story titled “The Great Gatsby Supersell”, with a photo of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, the stars of that year’s film adapted from F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, gazing into each other’s eyes. The basis of the story was that the hype surrounding the movie was overwhelming.
Four decades on, those of us who recall the Redford-Farrow Gatsby may be feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu. Gatsby-mania is again running rampant, largely due to the imminent arrival of Baz Luhrmann’s eagerly awaited film adaptation of the novel.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic, self-made, wildly wealthy Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as the love of his life, callow, capricious Daisy Buchanan, it opens the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday. There’s a nice symmetry here: in the Twenties, Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda and their affluent, hedonistic friends established the French Riviera as a smart-set destination.
Again the hype machines are in overdrive. By now half the world knows that the film is in 3-D, and has a lavish Art Deco look. It’s hardly a secret that Brooks Brothers supplied Gatsby’s gorgeous clothes for DiCaprio, that Prada did the same for Mulligan, or that the contemporary soundtrack features Jay-Z, Beyoncé, will.i.am and Emeli Sandé.


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  1. 1. The Great Gatsby:the secret of thestorys appealnewport international group blogarticles
  2. 2. Baz Luhrmann is the sixth film-maker to attempt to translate The GreatGatsby from page to screen. But what is it about this slim novel thatmakes it so endlessly fascinating, asks David Gritten.In 1974, Time magazine ran a cover story titled “The Great GatsbySupersell”, with a photo of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, the stars ofthat year’s film adapted from F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, gazing intoeach other’s eyes. The basis of the story was that the hypesurrounding the movie was overwhelming.Four decades on, those of us who recall the Redford-Farrow Gatsbymay be feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu. Gatsby-mania is againrunning rampant, largely due to the imminent arrival of BazLuhrmann’s eagerly awaited film adaptation of the novel.Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic, self-made, wildly wealthyJay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as the love of his life, callow, capriciousDaisy Buchanan, it opens the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday.There’s a nice symmetry here: in the Twenties, Fitzgerald, his wifeZelda and their affluent, hedonistic friends established the FrenchRiviera as a smart-set destination.
  3. 3. Again the hype machines are in overdrive. By now half the worldknows that the film is in 3-D, and has a lavish Art Deco look. It’s hardlya secret that Brooks Brothers supplied Gatsby’s gorgeous clothes forDiCaprio, that Prada did the same for Mulligan, or that thecontemporary soundtrack features Jay-Z, Beyoncé, will.i.am and EmeliSandé.It also knows that the American critics have been decidedly mixed intheir response; while some have praised its vibrant spirit and energy,and many have admired DiCaprio’s central performance, David Denbyin The New Yorker deplored its “vulgarity designed to win over theyoung audience”. Scott Foundas in Variety suggested that “whatLuhrmann grasps even less than previous adapters of the tale is thatFitzgerald was... offering an eyewitness account of the decline of theAmerican empire, not an invitation to the ball.Whatever the European critics decide next week, they are unlikely topuncture the ongoing Gatsby-mania. There is considerably more to itthan a single movie can satisfy. In Britain, Northern Ballet is now ontour with a dance piece inspired by The Great Gatsby, featuring theseven main characters in Fitzgerald’s work; it arrives at Sadler’s Wellsthis coming Tuesday, and is almost sold out.
  4. 4. In the East End of London earlier this year, Wilton’s music hall hostedan “immersive” theatrical adaptation of The Great Gatsby, in whichaudiences were invited to arrive dressed in Twenties style and minglewith the actors at a lavish party, dancing to jazz tunes and drinkingcocktails in a decadent Prohibition-era setting. Wilton’s first staged thisevent last year, well before Luhrmann’s film was in a position to helpboost ticket sales.Last summer also brought the London transfer of an off-Broadwaytriumph called Gatz. Devised by the New York theatrical innovators,the Elevator Repair Company, this wildly imaginative take on The GreatGatsby, was set in a shabby New York office, lasted more than eighthours and incorporated a reading of the entire novel out loud. Aroundthe same time, another London theatre served up a musical version ofGatsby.This year sees several new books on Gatsby and its author, includingone by Sarah Churchwell called Careless People: Murder, Mayhem andthe Invention of the Great Gatsby which traces the genesis of a novelwhich she describes as “a universal tale of human aspiration.”
  5. 5. So how can we account for this apparently bottomless fascination withThe Great Gatsby? It’s a relatively short novel (fewer than 50,000words), with a title character who is described only sketchily and whospeaks largely in banalities.Yet Fitzgerald’s jewel-like prose relates a tale of doomed romanticism:Jimmy Gatz, a poor farm boy from the Midwest, meets Daisy when sheis just 17, falls in love, loses her and spends his life trying to win herback. Reinventing himself as stylish Jay Gatsby, he works tirelessly (andoutside the law) to become fabulously wealthy, and buys an opulentLong Island mansion across a stretch of water from where Daisy liveswith Tom, her rich, brutish husband. There he throws lavish partieswith an open-door policy, convinced they will pique Daisy’s interest:she will arrive, they will reunite. Meanwhile, at night, he gazeswistfully at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, a light thatcomes to symbolise all human dreaming.In this way, there is a strong case to be made that it is the book’smetaphorical power rather than its poignant story that has ensured itsplace on the lists of greatest novels written in English. But it is alsotrue that its broader appeal lies in its glittering surface – Fitzgerald’sperfect evocation of the Jazz Age.
  6. 6. It sounds so glamorous and alluring – not just the clothes, but theforbidden cocktails, the wild parties, the jazz, with its implicit promiseof sex – and the sense that people had cast off the shackles of a grimprevious decade, overshadowed by the First World War, and decidedto seek pleasures and freedoms for their own sake, no matter whatthe cost. In his later years, Fitzgerald, no stranger to hedonism andexcess himself, said of the time he described so vividly: “America wasgoing on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history.”There are those who argue that the actual plot of The Great Gatsby isalmost incidental to its popularity. David Nixon, the artistic director ofNorthern Ballet, who directed, choreographed and designed thecostumes for the company’s Gatsby ballet, observes: “I don’t think it’sthe tale, I think it’s the time period. People just love that Twenties era– the glamour, the music, the clothes. It’s easily conjured in theirimaginations. They don’t struggle to picture it.”Nixon recently gave a talk to an audience after a performance: “I askedhow many people had read the book. Only about 10 per cent had. Butrather like Wuthering Heights, it’s a book people may feel they’ve readwhen they haven’t. ”
  7. 7. To those who have read it more than once, the book feels differenteach time; it’s like turning a multifaceted diamond in the palm of yourhand. At various life stages I’ve been struck in turn by the hedonism,carelessness, inequality or underlying sadness of the age it depicts.Given the novel’s evanescence, it’s easy to see the difficulty inadapting it into a film. The late Matthew Bruccoli, an academic andFitzgerald biographer, was blunt about this, saying of Gatsby: “He’smythical, he’s make-believe. He works fine on paper, but he doesn’twork on the screen.”Gore Vidal also addressed the problems of adapting Fitzgerald’s wordsfor cinema, particularly the difficulty of catching the novel’s narration.“It’s a tone of voice, and the tone of voice is that of the author,” hesaid. “And films have no authors … it’s a collaborative effort.”It’s unsurprising, then, that none of the previous cinematic versions ofGatsby ever finds its way on to lists of greatest-ever films. After anobscure silent film in 1926 – “Rotten,” wrote Zelda in a letter – AlanLadd starred in a dull, talky 1949 version, which cast Gatsby squarelyas a bootlegger, though an almost throwaway scene near the end ofthe novel suggests he made his fortune by dabbling in fake bonds.
  8. 8. Still, it was marginally better than the adaptation starring Redford andFarrow. It looked promising: Redford was the world’s biggest moviestar, and Francis Ford Coppola had written the script. But nothingabout handsome Wasp Redford suggested Tom Buchanan’s attack onGatsby in the book as a fraud: “An Oxford man! Like hell he is! Hewears a pink suit.”Redford looked born to wealth and when the British director JackClayton suggested he dyed his reddish-blond hair black to hint thatGatsby was a man with a sinister, even criminal past, he refused.Coppola’s script turned out to be a little too faithful to the novel’s plotlines and the film misfired.Two other versions have since sunk without trace: a television movie in2000, partly BBC-funded, with Toby Stephens and Mira Sorvino as theleads; and a hip-hop adaptation of the story, simply called G (2002).Getting Gatsby right has become cinema’s holy grail.It would be the right time for Luhrmann to pull it off. Those Gatsbyproductions across various media suggest there’s something in thezeitgeist. One need not look too hard for parallels between our timesand Gatsby’s.
  9. 9. The Jazz Age began in earnest in 1922, the year in which Fitzgerald’snovel is set, with a steep growth in conspicuous consumption,advertising and sales of cars; it ended abruptly seven years later withthe Wall Street crash. In the past decade we have also seen the end ofa prosperous era, with the economic meltdown that began in 2008.Our obsession with celebrity is also mirrored in the Jazz Age, withGatsby’s party guests gossiping about their host: “Somebody told methey thought he killed a man once.”Our rage about bankers’ bonuses, rich tax avoiders and foreignplutocrats buying up swathes of London while life gets harder for thepoor is mirrored in the inequality portrayed by Fitzgerald: an acutesocial critic, he dwells on “the valley of ashes”, a vile dumping groundbetween Manhattan and Long Island, where Tom Buchanan’s mistressMyrtle and her gloomy garage mechanic George live.There’s enough material in The Great Gatsby for Luhrmann to fashiona film that does justice to Fitzgerald and achieves resonance in ourlives today. Within a week, we’ll be able to see if he’s succeeded.

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