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Boomerpdx Take On A Classic Turn Of A Classic



Not just Portland baby boomers, but boomers everywhere, read The Great Gatsby.

It was required reading in high school English classes around the nation.

Baz Luhrmann’s take on Gatsby ought to be required viewing.

By now you know the story. If you’re a little fuzzy around the edges pick up a new copy with Leonardo DiCaprio on the front. $15 at Powells.

Working class Ivy Leaguer moves into a cottage next to young rich guy. Hilarity ensues.

Luhrmann the director and Luhrmann the screenwriter didn’t borrow from Wuthering Heights as much as F. Scott Fitzgerald borrowed from Emily Bronte: Poor boy reinvents himself to make amends with his past.

Except for a missing scene of Jay Gatsby slapping faces with his dirty hands like Heathcliff, both characters stayed true to their mission.

Though Gatsby gets help with Nick Carraway’s voice-over, things might have turned out better with a Morgan Freeman voice-over.

He worked that magic in Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby. His voice is the voice-over of authority, but finding a fit in the 1920’s would have been tough with the racial climate.

With an audience so tuned into the book, the movie needed help avoiding the mistakes of earlier versions. Gatsby’s voice alternating between a cultured tone and a Christopher Walken accent helped.

So did the musical sets. Complaints about the dancing as distracting choreography haven’t seen a street fair of all ages jump into the Electric Slide where everyone knows the steps but you.

The Gatsby house showed echoes of another famous movie house, Citizen Kane’s Xanadu, built by a poor boy done good. If a theme keeps working, keep using it. Besides, Gatsby’s parties brought the place to life with the sort of splash you’d need a full staff of servants to clean up.

Even if the dances weren’t distracting to this viewer, Carey Mulligan as Daisy was. I kept seeing Michelle Williams. Brokeback Gatsby with Leo and Tobey Maguire?

New York City in the 1920’s shimmered in the distance like a diamond necklace laid flat. Getting there from West Egg required driving on a bad road through an incredible dump, maybe the greatest dump-site in cinematic history.

Even seeing it from a theater seat makes you reach for your bird-flu mask.

Movie reviewers who trash Gatsby ignore the conditions that drive the main character. As an obsessive stalker he was more about creating coincidence than kidnapping. He needed to soft-sell his wishes for success. There’s a big difference between the boot-legger’s approach and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.

Gatsby’s real problem slowly emerges, which is a testament to Baz Luhrmann.

Reflection on the WWI experience shows Gatsby suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

In the greatest feat of acting this side of astronaut training in The Right Stuff where men walked the hospital hallways with pained expressions and enema bags on rollers, Leo reacted to Tom Buchanan with explosive force. The veneer of mannered civility stripped away. You see a face as awful and tormented as the woman flipping the bird to Joakim Noah. No one will ever think Leo looked like a young Jodi Foster after that.

He ends up a much more complicated guy than you remember from high school.

The most important question left of The Great Gatsby is, “Should I see it in 3D?” The answer is, “Make your English teacher happy and go see it any way you want.”

You won’t be sorry, though the New Yorker thinks you might.

With his intentional, or unintentional, references to movies in this Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann may be introducing new cinema experiments with Great Books.

How long before Quentin Tarantino shoots Catcher In The Rye?



About David Gillaspie


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