The Grandiloquent Gatsby

It's not that Gatsby can't be filmed. It's that it can't be filmed by this Hollywood.
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Here on the homefront, Chris Orr takes on Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby:

His colors are as bright as those in a detergent commercial; his musical choices as intrusive as the exit cues on an awards show. The camera ducks and swerves like O.J. Simpson on his way to a car rental, and the cast all share a slightly vibratory, methamphetamine sheen. Topping off such excesses of cinematic technique, this Gatsby is rendered in 3D, an innovation only moderately less absurd than presenting Moby Dick in Sensurround, or Cannery Row in Smell-O-Vision. In short, although Luhrmann's film mostly adheres to the letter of Fitzgerald's novel, it would be difficult to envision a work less in keeping with its wistful spirit...

Apart from the misappropriation of Fitzgerald's classic text, what is most frustrating about The Great Gatsby is that it offers yet further proof that Luhrmann has a skill-set tailor-made for comedy that he insists on squandering in ill-fated attempts at tragedy. Since his delightful 1992 debut, Strictly Ballroom--recently released on Blu-ray--Luhrmann has taken five straight stabs at the latter tradition, missing the mark every time: Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, an underwhelming Broadway production of La boheme, the epic folly Australia, and now Gatsby.

If only Luhrmann could be persuaded to put down his high-school syllabi and start leafing through some old song books instead. (Imagine what he could have done, to cite just one example, with the amateurishly under-directed Mamma Mia!.) But his tragic fixation seems incurable, no matter how many heartbroken narrators he cycles through. Just a few days ago, the director announced his hope to reunite with DiCaprio for an adaptation of, yes, Hamlet. And so the question is posed once again. I can only hope that this time the answer is "not to be."

They are who we thought they were. Everyone (including Chris) says that DiCaprio was quite good. The basic problem here is the same as it ever was. Maybe because of its title, and Fitzgerald's outsized persona, people think that The Great Gatsby has to be a big budget extravaganza. But the book actually reads like a French film or an American indie. It's not so much that Gatsby can't be filmed. It's that it can't be filmed by this Hollywood. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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