After a solid opening in wide release stateside, grossing over $50 million in over 3,500 theaters, Baz Luhrmann took his “The Great Gatsby” on the road to officially open the Cannes Film Festival. It is the first film in recent memory to open what is arguably the world’s most important film event after a theatrical roll out in the U.S., but judging by the rush of press for the morning screening here and the pile-up to get into the press conference afterwards, enthusiasm for the film has only grown.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Isla Fisher joined Luhrmann and writer Craig Pearce in Cannes’ first official press conference where the Australian filmmaker expressed some relief at last weekend’s U.S. box office numbers and revealed his early wrangling with Warner Bros. brass.
“I had a rough patch with Warner Bros and a dispute with [Warner president] Jeff Robinov,” said Luhrmann today in Cannes. “Warner is known for doing big action films and it’s in their DNA, but I told them that it’s [also] in their DNA to do films about mysterious men.”
Picking up the cue from a reporter in the room who had likened the film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Gatsby” to the 1942 classic “Casablanca,” Luhrmann said that he reminded the studio that stories such as “Gatsby” were also part of Warner Bros.’ history. He gave a shout-out to Robinov, who appeared to be sitting in the room, prompting the cast to give a spontaneous round of applause.
Though the two-hour and twenty-two minute feature has received mixed reviews in the U.S., so far audiences have voted with their wallets. Luhrmann pointed out that Fitzgerald himself received mixed reviews when the novel first appeared in 1925, and suffered a further insult from the public in the form of poor book sales. “Last week, [Fitzgerald] sold more copies of ‘The Great Gatsby’ than he did his entire life,” said Luhrmann. “I made ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and I never thought [“Gatsby”] would get great scores from critics. I just care that people are going out to see it — I really do.”One potential critic he apparently did win over was a granddaughter of Fitzgerald himself. Without revealing her name, Luhrmann said that a “regal woman” had come out of the crowd at the film’s U.S. premiere saying she had come from Vermont to “see what you’ve done with my grandfather’s book.” Luhrmann said he immediately “went cold,” but was quickly relieved. “I think Scott would be proud of this film,” Luhrmann quoted her as saying, using an accent that faintly resembled Katherine Hepburn. He also noted that she said she “loved the music.”
Rapper/hip hop artist Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter provided tracks for the film and served as an executive producer. If there was one particular point that Luhrmann wanted to get across today it was that he strongly feels Fitzgerald intended “The Great Gatsby” to be as modern and of the day as possible, including what at the time was the new jazz, which resulted in criticism at that time. “He wanted [the novel] to be right here, right now,” said Luhrmann. “So I wanted hip hop in [the film] because that’s right here, right now.”
Leonardo DiCaprio picked up on the relevance theme, saying Gatsby is a story that resonates nearly 90 years after its publication. “In the U.S., ‘The Great Gatsby’ is essential reading and I remember picking up the novel as a youth and being entertained, but not grabbing the existential power Fitzgerald had,” said DiCaprio. “It took on a great new meaning when I read it again years later. What’s great about ‘Gatsby’ is what’s edited out and left to interpretation, and that was incredibly important to us because you have to be much more specific in a movie.”
Luhrmann hailed DiCaprio, who plays the title character, as a “great detective” in finding the “hidden kernels of Jay Gatsby” and for bringing the character into the present day. “Gatsby is the American ‘Hamlet’. He’s always relevant at the right time.” Luhrmann appeared to acknowledge the film’s mixed reaction from critics and insiders here in Cannes, closing out the press conference expressing a collective sigh of relief. “It was a very nervous weekend for all of us and we’re just very grateful to the audience.”
Next up: Will Luhrmann outdo his unforgettable Cannes opening night bash for “Moulin Rouge”?