Like him or not, there’s no denying that Baz Lurhmann is a talented showman who knows how to dazzle and get under our skin. With “The Great Gatsby,” he’s captured the poetic spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald like no other prior movie adaptation. And the secret is 3-D. Like “Avatar,” “Hugo,” and “Life of Pi,” “Gatsby” is a movie about 3-D, yet it pushes stereo further as dramatic spectacle.
Gliding through the glam artifice of Jazz Age conspicuous consumption is impressive enough, but the way the 3-D exposes the arrested development of Fitzgerald’s tragic characters is even more powerful. According to production and costume designer Catherine Martin, it was all about using 3-D to enhance the performances in conveying “Gatsby’s” crazy circus.
“Baz has always directed in 3-D, because he always thinks about all the planes of the picture: the foreground, mid-ground, and background,” explains Martin, the two-time Oscar winner for “Moulin Rouge!” “And one of the things that he wanted me to think about were all the cues you need to find the actor in space.”
Talk about a multi-plane mise en scene: When Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) awkwardly stumbles upon cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), they dynamically recreate the description in the book of curtains and dresses blowing around the room and how Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) disturbs that reverie.”It’s about the seven veils and Nick’s initiation into this sophisticated and rarefied world,” Martin adds.
As Nick observes, it’s like being “within and without” Gatsby’s world, and that’s the remarkable 3-D effect that Luhrmann achieves. However,
there’s an oppressive quality as well (photographed by Simon
Duggan using the Red Epic and 3eality stereoscopic rig), even during the
dizzying party that introduces us to Jay Gatsby, who’s portrayed by
Leonardo DiCaprio as though he’s channeling Orson Welles from “Citizen Kane,” a spiritual cinematic cousin. Martin admits they were never quite sure if the Welles influence was intentional or subliminal.
Not surprisingly, though, the key influence on “Gatsby” was “Dial M for Murder,” which
Martin’s father mentioned to Luhrmann as a 3-D movie he enjoyed, and the director
viewed the new digital remastering at Warner Bros. It proved a
revelation the way Hitchcock made the apartment come alive as a character. It was both theater and cinema.Like her husband, Luhrmann, Martin believes costumes are merely an extension of the sets. “When you think about 30% of a film being close-ups, it’s all about what’s going on around the actors, and so to me sets and costumes are indivisible: they create a synthesis which allows you to tell the story as effectively as you can. It’s like a wave that never seems to be coming until it’s almost on top of you and then it’s far too big for you to ride. Working for an ambitious visualist like Baz is high-stakes. It’s difficult but there are a lot of resources for the art department and costume department because Baz cares about what the actors need in terms of clothes and props and environment. He needs the environment as well to get into the feeling of the world.”
But Martin had difficulty getting into Daisy at first, bred to be a hothouse flower and a vivacious trophy wife. “You realize that Daisy is not a fool and understands that this life is completely empty. But there is nothing else. She’s a careless person because she has no other skills; she has not been prepared to live a life other than a gilded bird in a cage.”
For the designer, the nervous reunion between Gatsby and Daisy over tea at Nick’s cottage is her favorite moment but was also the most nerve wracking. That’s because it was the first scene they shot.”Are there too many flowers? Are there not enough? Is the set too small? Is this lavender dress going to work?”
It’s an uncomfortable romantic triangle and provides Gatsby’s most vulnerable moment when he reverts to being a scared child again. “I don’t think he ever grows up — he’s trapped in his childish hope,” Martin offers. “He’s never gone beyond who he was. Someone said something very intelligent the other day: ‘Gatsby is the result of his 17-year-old imagination.'”
But making the movie has made Martin see her own Gatsby-like qualities in the sense that she too believes in the green light. “That’s one of the things that draws me to the story and possibly Baz too,” she reveals.”Both of us are romantics in that late 18th century, early 19th century way, which is we love the adventure of the story, the ephemeral, insane idea becoming a reality in moviemaking or anything. And we do believe in optimism and hope and in celebrating the human condition. It’s the green light that keeps you going and keeps you moving forward because it’s an unattainable romantic goal.”
And therein lies the lasting appeal of “Gatsby.”