My 2013 Movies: The Great Gatsby (2013, on DVD via Redbox)
With just days left in 2013, I finally caught up with this over the weekend. It was never a must-see for me, primarily because I have little love for Baz Luhrmann’s crazed, Michael-Bay-with-pretensions shooting and editing style. Moulin Rouge gave me a long headache, but my wife and I had meant to see this over the summer and still were intrigued enough to watch it.
Here’s the thing: there are filmmakers who believe that every frame has to be a composition. The more visual information, the better. Every trick, metaphor, swirl and juxtaposition has to flash before your eyes, maybe multiple times.
And really, I’d rather each frame just deliver character and plot moments in them, artfully. With some subtlety. Not hammered.
In Gatsby when Nick narrates that distractions are beckoning to him, a woman literally beckons to him. When he tells us that he longed to be a writer, he picks up Ulysses and sadly puts it down. Does Gatsby seem to be reaching out for that green light? Nope, he’s actually reaching for it in such a way that no human, regardless of their level of commitment and longing, has ever really done. And when Nick imagines that Gatsby might be watching him, guess what? There’s Gatsby, actually and literally watching him.
(I just realized that just about all of those moments in the previous paragraph take place in roughly the movie’s first 40 minutes!)
And yes, I understand that these things are all in the book - but in print, their ability to be metaphor or actuality is left to your imagination. In Luhrmann’s hands, there’s virtually no imagination.
Does it look and sound spectacular? Does it feel vital and amazing and visually feasty? Sure. What it never feels like is deep or thoughtful or impactful. It’s all up there on the screen and gives you little to think about or reflect upon. The spectacle is the thing and the thing is the spectacle.