Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Great Gatsby

' Rich girls don't marry poor boys'

Daisy Buchanan to Jay Gatsby.

 Well after the train wreck on my senses that was Super 8 last week I decided to stay in and rent some DVD's rather than go the flicks this week and subject myself to The Green Lantern. The weapon of mass destruction of quality film making called CGI just held no appeal I'm afraid.

 I have read F.Scott Fitzgerald's novel and liked it. I have reviewed it on my other blog, An Intellectual Mediocrity,  if you are interested in my views of this most famous of American novels. There have been three adaptations of the novel since 1948 of which this is the 1974 attempt. I believe there is another one in the pipeline to be made in 3-D. Why I shall never know as it highlights mainstream Holywood's mania for re-makes and lack of original thinking. It is like 'hey we've made this three times already so lets do it again!!'

 This particular version was not well recieved by critics when released as they stated it lifeless and unsympathetic to the jazz age. All this even though it was acknowledged to be faithful to the novel. I agree about the second assessment as it is a very good adaptation of it and for that I was pleased. But unsympathtic to the jazz age? I think that was a critism too far as the novel may be based in that era but it isn't the heart and soul of the novel. I thought the score was excellent and the 'swing' dancing and party scenes superbly choreographed. The jazz feel perfectly replicates that of the novel scene for scene, so as an adaptation what more did the critics expect?

 The critism of it being 'lifeless' I can understand, but I can't call it exactly that as such. For me it felt too much like a 1970's film trying to portray the 1920's. I found the actresses make-up that of a 1970's woman and it glaringly showed. Sure they had the clothes and jewellery but the make-up didn't match. Lois Chiles was the most obvious. She was a genuinely beautiful woman in her day but her beauty is highlighted in the 1970's manner not the 1920's. This was extenuated by the fact that there are numerous close-ups of the actresses faces throughout the film and it just highlighted this error in the make-up. The women cast members look fantastic but they are made up out of era.

 The make-up is my only gripe visually as the film as whole won an Oscar for its costumes which are superb and add the 1920's 'air'. Only one goof leaped at me and that was when Gatsby was shot. If you look closely the pistol is unloded!! It is a revolver and quite clearly none of its six chambers has a bullet in it. It is a very minor detail but it made me laugh considering the lavish detail put into the dress, settings, and vehcles. So over-all the film works beautifully in bringing to life the novel. Again I don't think it is lifeless, it is more that it just doesn't quite shake of a patina of 1970's-ness. It is a visual thing rather than a scriptual one.

 The settings are wonderful and really bring to light what serious wealth and money can buy. The houses...oops...mansions, are huge and pretensious. I personally found them vulgar and couldn't live in them. The two mansion used were both in Rhode Island and yet the interior scenes for the Buchanan one were filmed at Pinewood Studios in England, along with several of the outdoor driving scenes.

 Francis Ford Coppola is accredited with the script but he later stated it wasn't used and the final product bears no resemblance to his. I believe Truman Capote was originally used but replaced by Coppola, and even Vladimir Nobokov of Lolita fame was called in to re-write some of the scenes. It may have had scriptural problems but the end result doesn't mirror them. The only thing that I didn't like was how Nick Carraway meets Gatsby. In the novel he just happens to be standing next to Gatsby and inadvertently finds out who is that way. In the film he is taken upstairs and meets him in a private room. It may be just to make the scene quieter than that with a party backdrop but it was somewhat diasappointing as it is one of my favorite scenes from the novel.

 The cast is very good. Robert Redford was praised for his performance of Jay Gatsby and rightly so. But for me Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway was the stand out as the narrator. He, like Redford, really captures his character and the two together really made the film. Bruce Dern wasn't bad asTom Buchanon but he just didn't quite have the sneering arrogance of the novel's Tom. He also wasn't quite big enough as Tom in the novel is an ex-football player who backed up his arrogance with physical size and intimidation. ( Interestingly Jack Nicholson, Steve McQueen, and Warren Beatty were intially considered for the role of Gatsby ).

 Mia Farrow ( who was pregnant during filming, hence the flowing clothes ), wasn't so much mis-cast as mis-directed I feel. As Daisy Farrow is more ditzy and air-headed than the bored, pampered, monied too soon in life, Daisy of the novel. She doesn't capture the inherent moral softness of Daisy and her virtual uselessness as a human being to do anything for herself. She certainly gave a performance of beauty and money, but just didn't have the 'air'. Just like Dern who lacked Tom's 'air' of arrogance, the pair just aren't quite convincing enough as the money corrupted Buchanans. ( Funnily enough Chiles was first considered as Daisy before being given the role of Jordan Baker. Cybil Shepard, Faye Dunaway, and Candice Bergen are among others considered for Daisy ). 

 I liked Lois Chiles though. Beautiful and morally corrupted by too much wealth she perfectly captured the snobbery and immorality of Jordan Baker. Sure she is beautiful but she is totally repugnant as a person. For me she was the standout female performer of the film. Karen Black is great as Tom's mistress but I couldn't escape the feeling that both Farrow and Black's characters were too similar in performance. Wilson is ditzy and well played, it is Farrow's Daisy that isn't quite right. All the same Black did manage to win a Golden Globe for her performance.

 As usual it is easy to find faults and nit-pick but overall for its poor reception this adaptation was well recieved by the public and made a profit three times that of its budget. Besides the 1970's make-up of the actresses, and the not quite on target portrayals of the Buchanans, I feel overall this isn't a bad film. I enjoyed it because it is a very faithful adaptation of an extremely famous and important piece of American literature. I dispute the claim of its supposed unsympathtic jazz era feel as that is only the story's backdrop not its centrality. The sets and costumes are perfect, and overall the performances are extremely good. Even though Dern and Farrow aren't quite 'there' as the Buchanans their performances are exceptionally good. But Robert Redford and Sam Waterston are the real standouts and get into their respective characters perfectly.

 At 137 minutes long I think as an adaptation this is a very good film. I liked it and think it is far better than it is credited with. Some adaptations stray too far from a novel to be totally unrecognisable except in name. I think the script writers are due high praise for the final product. It is beautifully filmed and I think the party scenes come off extremely well. The score is great and I felt my foot tapping along to it! Whilst not a masterpiece The Great Gatsby is an enjoyable, well made film, which I'm sure that lovers of the novel will say is a faithful adaptation and like in the process.

 Better than given credit for and well worth your time, especially if you have read the novel.

Click here for my review on this famous novel:

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:

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