Still struggling with the Great 2008 Depression, enduring economic inequality and Congressional intransigence, Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” looks as if it will become a major miscalculation–not only a box office disappointment, I expect, but a significance misjudgment of where the country is at.
As the reviews roll in from the first press screenings, it’s apparent that Luhrmann’s penchant for stylistic excess has drained any ounce of substantive blood from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original American tragedy.
In the age of Occupy and America’s enduring and rightful anger at the 1%, are American audiences even remotely in a place to sympathize with the plight of the corruptible upper-class, or relish in the fanfare of their exotic jazz-age opulence. We are not in the same place as we were in the 1930s, when Hollywood churned out glossy backstage musicals and audiences sought escape in these rich fantasy lives. We are far more cynical than that. (Though we will gladly see billionaire superheroes blow shit up.)
What would be more interesting to viewers these days, I suspect, is a subversive retelling of “Gatsby,” once that doesn’t “get seduced by
the seductions that the book itself is warning about,” as Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, told the NY Times’ Maureen Dowd.
“What most people don’t understand is that the adjective
‘Great’ in the title was meant laconically,” he said. “There’s nothing
genuinely great about Gatsby. He’s a poignant phony. Owing to the
money-addled society we live in, people have lost the irony of
Fitzgerald’s title. So the movies become complicit in the excessively
materialistic culture that the novel set out to criticize.”
A really great movie of the novel, he argues, would “show a dissenting
streak of austerity.” He thinks it’s time for a black Gatsby, noting
that Jay-Z might be an inspirational starting point — “a young man of
talents with an unsavory past consumed by status anxiety and ascending
unstoppably through tireless self-promotion and increasingly conspicuous
The problem with the “Gatsby” movies, he said, “is that they look like
they were made by Gatsby. The trick is to make a Gatsby movie that
couldn’t have been made by Gatsby — an unglossy portrait of gloss.”