“GATSBY” reads the typewritten cover page of Nick Carraway’s account of the events of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby 3D AND THEN SOME before he goes in with a pen to physically handwrite the words “The Great” above it. It’s the last scene in the movie, but it’s also, you know, every scene in the movie. Putting more stuff on top of stuff is the Baz Luhrmann way—he has never been a light touch, but I’m sure I don’t have to remind you who else wasn’t either.*
The Great Gatsby is a novel that a lot of people have proprietary feelings toward because it’s one of those books that makes teenagers feel as though at last they are reading (and understanding!) Literature**. F. Scott Fitzgerald is not a subtle writer, but he’s a deft one, and that’s mostly good enough, especially for a story that is so much a guilty pleasure morality play. I definitely identify with Fitzgerald’s ambivalence toward parties and expensive stuff. The marriage of hedonism and consumerism is shallow and hollow and evil, but it’s also obviously Really Cool.
Did that scene with the shirts remind anyone else of the Rick Ross profile in GQ a couple of years ago where he brings all the one dollar bills into the strip club and half-assedly makes it rain thousands of dollars because he literally has nothing better to do? Because these scenes of conspicuous consumption are so woven into THE FABRIC OF AMERICA that we are doomed to watch them repeat over and over. I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts either.***
Gatsby is an incredibly expensive and crass movie, even more so in 3D, which has the effect of making everything look, if possible, even more like Disneyland. The Gatsby Reveal is one of my favorite movie moments in recent memory, and it made me cackle out loud in the theater (as so many other things in this movie did). There’s something truly dazzling**** about the level of earnest showmanship in layering a garish pinky ring over a coupe of champagne over a DiCaprio smile over fireworks over an indoor swimming pool over Rhapsody in Blue.***** Shirts on shirts on shirts.
My greatest criticism of Gatsby is its lazy as hell****** framing device, but the words floating over Nick’s face as he writes are an effect that the one girl in my high school who had a half-decent grasp of editing software and ended up fixing everyone’s video presentations would have LOVED, so I can’t get too mad, you dig?
Luhrmann treats Jay Gatsby with the same uncritical affinity that Spielberg does with Jurassic Park’s John Hammond—leave it to a notoriously flashy director to pull punches when it comes to a fellow showman. I don’t think Gatsby is the movie Fitzgerald would have made, but I do think it is the movie Gatsby would have made, equal parts earnest and artificial.
*Fitzgerald. It’s Fitzgerald.
**Full disclosure: I have read The Great Gatsby like five times because I can never remember what happens in it. I can hang with the broad strokes and a couple of select details, but the plot? There is a Gatsby-shaped hole in my head that makes the novel singularly unmemorable for me.
***What was UP with the womenswear in this movie?? I was relieved at the absence of fringe but jeez louise, Catherine Martin, there must be a way to express Daisy’s flimsiness without all the handkerchief hems.
****Nicolas Cage’s description of Deborah Foreman in Valley Girl.
*****Spielberg’s GATSBY. Richard Dreyfuss as Nick Carraway saying he’s supposed to meet with Gatsby. Roy Scheider, happily surprised “Oh for goodness sakes, I’m Gatsby! I’m Gatsby!” Anyway, this is a thing I like to imagine in my head.
******Both on the part of Luhrmann, shamelessly self-cannibalizing Moulin Rouge, and on the part of Nick Carraway’s psychiatrist, who it seems is really lying down on the job.