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Film Club: The Great Gatsby

Tuesday 7 May 2013, 12:59

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

Baz Luhrmann's new 3D version of The Great Gatsby is about to be released. What better time to revisit the highly underrated 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

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    Comment number 1.

    I wonder what a 2D version on 35mm would look like on the screen in Truro's Plaza? #nudgenudgewinkwink

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    Comment number 2.

    I love you Mark, but Clayton's film is dreadful. It obviously misses the point of the novel (including any indication that the story is really about Nick, not Gatsby), but more than that, it's slow, gauzy, stilted, tedious. I'd much rather watch the Alan Ladd version, as silly (and gangstery) as that version is.

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    Comment number 3.

    I don't think the new version will be winning any oscars for it's music/soundtrack, judging by the amateurish karaoke version of "Back to Black" by Andre 3000 and Beyonce.

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    Comment number 4.

    I actually re-watched this version at the weekend, having re-read the novel recently in preparation for the new film. I'm not a huge fan of the novel, although certainly enjoyed it more this time round. I read somewhere that Coppola complained that the final version of Clayton's film wasn't the script that he'd written.
    I agree that Dern and Waterston are absolutely magnificent, as is Redford, and I would agree to extent that Mia Farrow is the weak link. I look forward to Carey Mulligan's interpretation of Daisy.
    It's a pretty dismal affair as a whole though, and I don't think Luhrmann's version is going to be any better. Personally, I think the source material is to blame, I just don't get the appeal.

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    Comment number 5.

    The Clayton Gatsby is very watchable indeed. I came to it having read of its shortcomings and so - perhaps unfairly - spent no little effort working out where it went wrong, rather than where it went right.

    I think the one glaring mistake is in casting Bruce Dern, who tries but fails to carry off the part of Tom Buchanan. Despite his height, Dern is a slight man, crucially lacking in the charisma and the supreme arrogance integral to understanding Buchanan. Its not the performance, the casting just doesn't work.

    He's played a lot of great character roles but this one called for a king actor of the first water and nothing convinces me that that is what Dern is.

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    Comment number 6.

    Baz Lurhmann? Shouldn't he be running a drag club in Perth instead of screwing up works of literary genius and turning them into Ladybird primers for kids with OCD.

    Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby? IOW: Strictly 20s Flappers on ice with dialogue by Keith Lemon.

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    Comment number 7.

    Mia Farrow is my favourite thing about this movie. My number one worry for Luhrmann's Gatsby is that Mulligan is going to give us a 'poor sweet innocent little Daisy' performance. Farrow gives us a 'two-faced manipulative calculating I've-got-you-all-wrapped-around-my-little-finger-and-I-love-it Daisy' performance. When I read the novel I really got the impression that Daisy is as much the victim and the culprit as Gatsby and Tom. Her innocence in the novel, in my opinion, is just a façade and part of her manipulative nature. In this way, I guess that the lack of chemistry between Farrow and Redford is not wholly a bad thing.

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    Comment number 8.

    While the film is well made and shot to perfection, Clayton's over use of "What'll I do" and his general off the mark casting ruin the film. Mark, I hear your a champion of the casting in the film. Sadly only Jordan Baker, George Wilson and Gatsby himself are on point. Scott Wilson has never done a finer role (and he's a superb actor), Lois Chiles gets that slightly boyish, questionably abrupt Jordan perfectly and of course Redford is perfect as Gatsby (as DiCaprio will be no doubt)

    But Mia Farrow brings the entire affair down with her off point performance. The chemistry problem isn't because of Redford and his Watergate interest, it's because she swaps the childlike almost Paris Hilton-esq quality that Daisy has in the novel for an arrogant, whiney and all together more Megan Fox-like performance. I hope Mulligan goes back to an innocent girl portrayal.

    Clayton hasn't delivered the definitive version of The Great Gatsby to the screen, sadly. This isn't Ken Branagh's Hamlet, Franco Zafarelli's Romeo and Juliet, or even Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This is a fine but nothing more version of the book more akin to Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice and will forever remain a mish mash of good and bad.

    But then again, who are we to judge Clayton's version of Gatsby so close to Luhrmann's? After all, not all of the people in the world have had the advantages Baz has.

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    Comment number 9.

    Was never a fan, but "To each his own" as they say. Luhrmann's version looks over-stylized (A BazMark trait) with an inappropriate soundtrack as it's selling point. Of all the films to benefit from the tedium of 3-D: It sure ain't this one - I mean really! It looks like your prediction on this format is becoming a reality, Mr. Kermode: It seems ticket sales of 3-D coated movies have taken a nosedive in the US - heres hoping the infection is widespread.

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    Comment number 10.

    Due precisely to the timeliness of this film suggestion, I'd rather not have either version fresh in my mind when I see the other. I may however be tempted, not by the film club, but by my local Picturehouse which is putting on two showings of the Clayton ( Harbour Lights Sunday 12th and Thursday 16th May). I've never seen it on the big screen, it came out before I'd read any Fitzgerald, although I vaguely recall seeing it boringly butchered for network TV in the states , I better enjoyed the Mad magazine parody, possibly, sad to say for its caricatures of the stars.

    More than ever this year I've been going back to literary sources to read or re-- recent films. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was even more about infidelity on the page, but didn't answer questions I had hanging from both screen adaptations (example: just how does Smiley know that the guy who grabbed his lighter turns out to be Karla later on). I'm currently slogging enjoyably through Anna Karenina with Joe Wright's underrated version, it's witty Stoppard script and incredible casting saving my imagination some of the strain. Fitzgerald is amongst my favorite writers, his only downside was his obsession with wealth (typified in the legend I'd rather believe of his exchange with Hemingway: FSF: The rich are different... EH: They have more money -- http://www.quotecounterquote.com/2009/11/rich-are-different-famous-quote.html). Whatever my qualms about Luhrmann's version (we know it will look fantastic, but his full on style could either lift or smother the material), I'm pretty sure it will drive me back to a long overdue reread. And that of course is welcome.

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    Comment number 11.

    I love the novel, and so I was looking forward to seeing this movie with a mixture of anticipation and fear - would it be brilliant enough to live up to the source material, or would it be bad enough to ruin the book completely?

    As it turns out, I didn't feel it was great or terrible. You're right, I think, that it's most remembered for the production design and the costumes, which are stunning, and wonderfully evocative. Redford is the perfect Gatsby, and it seems as though he hardly has to act at all in the role. Bruce Dern and Lois Chiles are excellent, too.

    Yet the whole thing just sits there on the screen, pretty as a picture and about as mobile. It suffers, in spades, from the problem that Hollywood sometimes has in adapting Great Literature, that of being slavishly faithful to the source material, and altogether too respectful of it. The intrusive, clanging musical score doesn't help, blaring away so loudly in some scenes that you can barely hear the dialogue.

    The real problem, though, is Mia Farrow. Daisy is supposed to be a bit flighty, but Farrow plays her as a kittenish airhead, a pathetic, childish creature who could never inspire anyone's devotion, let alone that of Jay Gatsby. It's a long wrong note of a performance which finally drags the movie down with it.

    As for Luhrmann's version, well... he did direct the excellent Romeo + Juliet, a movie which adapted Great Literature but crucially, didn't do it in a Masterpiece Theater kind of way. On the other hand, he directed Australia, one of the worst films I've ever seen. I just hope he's got his Romeo vibe back for this one.

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    Comment number 12.

    Ray Harryhausen R.I.P.

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    Comment number 13.

    Good day, Dr K.

    Let me start by stating both that I am a Robert Redford admirer and that I've never read The Great Gatsby novel. I've decide to participate because you say that movies must, in the end, rise or fall on their own merits. I agree with that.
    The Big Gatsby of the '70s, in my opinion, fails as a film. Its rhythm is too slow and the length is too damn long.
    In combination with that, the story is about a group of stupidly rich people, who seem to lead uninteresting boring bohemian lives, that don't interest me in the least. The main character is presented has a manipulative very rich inhuman man, who uses wealth and war medals to impress the people around him in order to use them as chess pieces to achieve his goals, which seem to be utterly selfish (as romantic love usully is). He is a negative version of Bruce Wayne (in the mathematical sense) or a Count of Monte Cristo without any moral justification for he's actions or attitudes. I just can't relate to any of them...
    Therefore, the movie looses me very fast as I struggle to reach the end without falling asleep!

    Your friend from Portugal,

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    Comment number 14.

    I still think DiCaprio is a far better fit for a role like this - and I think in 2D we might have something like Romeo and Juliet

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    Comment number 15.

    Clayton's film is the ultimate version. Why? Because, like the novel, the film is a victim of style over substance. In fact I find the behind the scenes rumors far more fascinating then the film itself.

    Ali McGraw was supposed to play Daisy, but she was turned down due to the fact she was divorcing the infamous Robert Evans who was at the time the Head of Production at Paramount, the studio behind the film. Not to mention that, according to rumors, Lois Chiles only got the role of Jordan because she was dating Evans at the time, she would then dump Evans because she didn't get to play Daisy.

    Coppola himself has tried to distance himself from the film, stating that Clayton had jettisoned his adaptation. Now again this is a rumor, but the fact that Coppola very successfully semi-adapted Conrad's Heart of Darkness into Apocalypse Now does give food for thought.

    Redford and Farrow are the perfect Gatsby and Daisy, and Bruce Dern, one of the best supporting actors in post war Hollywood history, is fantastic also, like he pretty much always is. Waterson who would go on to star in the brilliant masterful turkey that is Heaven's Gate (I know you hate that film) is also good as Carraway.

    However the film itself is a compromise between three powerful egos (Clayton, Evans and Coppola) and is both a success and a dud.

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    Comment number 16.

    Nice to see your highlighting this movie, Mark. I too always found it to be really enjoyable and never understood why it seemed to be so badly received by critics. Great acting, great script, great art direction, great direction etc, but for me, over all, the film wins by somehow evoking a fantastic, wonderful atmosphere that I always felt captured something essential about Fitzgerald’s novel.

    Like you, Mark, I also love the book, and I think charisma is a key element of the story. Carraway becomes enchanted by Gatsby and seduced by his world of leisure just as Gatsby had become infatuated by Daisy, and for my money, any movie of the book, to be anywhere close to being considered an artistic success, has to capture something of that almost intangible, enigmatic charisma conveyed with such beautiful genius by Fitzgerald’s original writing. And I find the wonderful atmosphere of Clayton’s 1974 version achieves this elusive measure of success.

    As for drawing substantial material from the book – why not? It’s only some the greatest prose of the twentieth, or any other, century; why not use it? I think it’s just as valid to meld the artistic discipline of narrative fiction with the other artistic disciplines inherent in movie making as to expect an original narrative insight into the story. Just as valid, and in this instance, considering the author of the work, probably immeasurably more effective.

    Interesting to hear some background on Farrow and also the supposed inertia of the movie. Just out of interest, for me, I can see what is meant about the onscreen chemistry but I always took it that it was all part of the underlying tensions of the story, i.e. that Daisy was somehow unattainable in a conceited, self-absorbed, detached kind of way that Gatsby would never be able to overcome, and that Gatsby was always following a dream rather than a reality and so was never really engaging with Daisy on a real inter-personal level anyway. That was my reading of it, anyway, and the sense of dislocated distance between the characters seemed a perfectly natural depiction of this.

    And re. the ‘inertia’, again, I can understand why some might say this, but actually, again, I found it, rather than problematic, as being another of the film’s merits. I find the film has a dream-like quality, a sense of being suspended in time, like a briefly glimpsed golden glint in Gatsby’s smile before the rough and ready reality breaks through. And this ‘inertia’ I regard as a lingering, a not wanting to let go of the moment, and I think this reflects the central themes of the book very well. It is not essentially a dynamic story; it is the story of a lost moment, a flicker of youthful desire, an attempt to stamp the dream upon the reality.

    That’s my two penneth worth. Hope I haven’t gone on too long, but I share your affection for this movie, for me it holds up extremely well and works wonderfully.

    I wonder, is there an argument for the existence of ‘the definitive movie’ version of a story? After all, no-one could credibly question whether the story might benefit from being re-written in a better version by another writer; it is the work of art it is and it is unassailable in its artistic integrity. Why not with a movie? If a movie captures the novel so perfectly, can it be argued that that film is THE movie of the book, the definitive version. Perhaps Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’ and Stevens’ ‘Shane’ might fall into this category too.

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    Comment number 17.

    This is a really interesting Film Club choice.

    I'll watch Baz Luhremann's version, then watch the Redford one if I can get my hands on it, and then speed through re-reading the book again (ages since I read it). This club is becoming too serious! ;)

    I really hope the BL version can have BOTH style and substance.

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    Comment number 18.

    The problem with The Great Gatsby '74 is something I occasionally feel; or rather, don't feel. You know that feeling when your skin tightens, you feel a lump in your throat and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end? I never got it from The Great Gatsby.

    It's incredibly stylish - there's no doubting that. But it just for me lacks something. Maybe it is the chemistry between Mia Farrow and Robert Redford - or the lack of it. He is devastatingly strong and she is unimaginably gorgeous but there's no fire, no spark, no fizz. They put in great performances but the two never quite match up right, they never gel together into a harmonious whole. It lets it down a little. Redford is charming but too aloof. Farrow just seems... oddly absent at times.

    It would be disingenuous to call Clayton's version "Pretentious", but I'm not sure there's a better word for it. I think people hold it up as a shining example and it's... it's just not. I don't see it. I don't feel it. I want butterflies and electricity. That said, maybe I am entirely the wrong generation to appreciate this version. When the movie was released, I was but a twinkle in my fathers eye. I can see what others see in it; but it doesn't move me in the same way. I assume this is why every generation or two there's a new Great Gatsby, for a new audience and newer tastes.

    I can't decry the Oscars it won because the music is great and the costume design is top-notch. Totally worthy on both fronts. But as a movie experience? You know, I'm not sure at all. Perhaps it's just that - a visual and auditory ride, but just lacking something in its heart.

    Maybe you had to be there.

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    Comment number 19.

    Baz Luhrmann is talented? Yet another thing I completely disagree with you on. If anything, he's just another Michael Bay, the only difference being that Luhrmann makes films based on initially adult material...and that you respect him of course.

    To be honest, the '70s film adaptation was all we really needed. It's the most faithful depiction of the novel onscreen (especially its casting choices, which are perfect). I don't even particularly care for the book and I prefer it (probably because it makes the book cinematic, an experience the book didn't give me). Luhrmann's upcoming film will definitely undermine its source material, very much like the all too terrible Romeo + Juliet did. Just because it looks rebellious, doesn't mean that it works with the story's Roaring Twenties setting. The anachronistic modern soundtrack, which is too common of Luhrmann, completely contradicts the novel's important period setting. Additionally, the film's in 3D...*3D*. Yes, The Great Gatsby, a story that chronicles the feeling of the 1920s, when it was written, is being adapted into a film in 3D. I highly doubt this was done for artistic choices.

    More importantly, however, is that it originally had a release date of last December, but it was bumped up to this upcoming Friday, so that it would not have any competition from any of the summer blockbusters or holiday flicks. Am I alone in suspecting that the production company must not have been confident enough in their film to release it on the date they originally hoped for? And what does that say about the quality of the film itself?

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    Comment number 20.

    I liked the novel which I had read before seeing this. Thought the movie was dull in most parts and lacked the vibrancy the novel had induced. Mia Farrow's performance was unsuited to the role of Daisy Buchanan and lacked chemistry with Redford. The most stinging part for me was that awful ending with Wilson slowly walking up to Gatsby's house which lacked any sort of drama or surprise.
    I'm interested to see the new film but I get the feeling the focus will be shifted onto a different theme than the book.


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