Friday, July 5, 2013

Top 5 Most Ridiculous Bits from Baz's 'Gatsby'


You can almost see Baz thinking about turning this book into a movie: 

'Yeah, it's not a bad story. Love, drama, great clothes, cocaine. But if we're going to turn it into a film, we'll have to frame it properly. Like... the insipid character, Gatsby's mate, maybe he could be an alcoholic... and he's had a breakdown... and he's in hospital! Yeah! And he's telling the story to his shrink - I love this! - and maybe he's a failed novelist too. I mean, all failed artists go nuts if they don't have success like I've had, right? So he's writing a book as well! And that's the story we're watching! The Great Gatsby... IS HIS BOOK!!! Now... who mentioned cocaine?'

Which is to say; the idea of having Nick Carroway committed to a sanitarium and simultaneously telling Gatsby's story to his shrink and (and?) writing  a book about it has got to be one of the daftest and most ludicrously unnecessary plot devices in the history of cinema. It adds nothing whatever to the main thrust of the narrative, while padding the already generous running time by another twenty minutes. And this is without even mentioning the dialogue from these scenes, which distinguishes itself from the witty, urbane language that has been directly translated from the book by demonstrating neither of these qualities. The silliness on display is well summed up at the end, when Carroway has finished his book and you see him putting the cover page down onto the rest. 'Gatsby', he's called it. Then he pauses, sucks his thumb, daydreams... Aha! He then adds, 'The Great,' to the title. Bingo!

You would need a bowl of cocaine to enjoy dreck like this. A big one.

2. JACK 

Waddling about in the middle of the scenes that comprise item 1 on this list is Jack Thompson, venerable Australian actor and nice bloke, here doing some of the worst work of his career. To underline the fact that his part serves no useful purpose in what we're watching, Thompson serves up a shrill caricature, and sports an accent that may be kindly described as unidentifiable. Sample dialogue:

CARROWAY: And that's when I met him. 

THOMSPON: Argarb adj?

CARROWAY: Gatsby Doctor. Jay Gatbsy. 

THOMPSON: Hnk, grnngk granj?

CARROWAY: That's right doctor, the man from my novel. The man who changed everything.

This is probably not Thompson's fault entirely, given the sheer uselessness of his role, but his tired, silly performance doesn't help.


Baz directs 'Gatsby' at two speeds only; meandering and blitzkreig. One of the faults of the film is that the director has applied these speed limits the wrong way round, zipping over the important stuff and spending an eternity lingering over some pretty ephemera that you weary of in two minutes. Witness the never ending party scenes that make up the bulk of the first half of the film; dancers, musicians, champagne, noise, lights, chaos, fireworks, dancers, musicians, champagne, noise, lights, chaos, fireworks, dancers, musicians, champagne, noise, lights, chaos, fireworks... and on and on and on, until you start to feel a little sick from excess even though you're just sitting there in the dark. Then compare this to the treatment of the crucial moment where Gatbsy tells Carroway the truth about his past:

CARROWAY (voice over): Gatsby said he'd been born poor, on a farm in nowheresville... then he made friends with some rich guy in a boat... then he was, here.

And then the flashy stuff starts up again. It's obvious what parts of the novel attracted Baz to a film adaptation, and it wasn't the oft cited subtext that Gatsby represents 1920's malaise and the failings of the American Dream.


Since it's come up anyway, what about that missing subtext? 'The Great Gatsby' is held up as one of the great novels as the story works well as a tragic tale of doomed romance, while at the same time the characters serve as metaphors in a wider game of socio-political commentary. Gatsby is a handsome, lovestruck anti-hero, while his obsession with wealth and excess at the expense of values mirror these same qualities in American society. Carroway's calm, droll observer helps drive the story and gives us an objective viewpoint on events, while also commenting on America's isolationist mentaility and laissez faire economy. And so on. But Baz's Gatsby has none of this.

His metaphors are more like; Jay Gatsby is a handsome young man who likes a pretty girlie who doesn't really like him back. Then he dies suddenly. This is sad. Or, Nick Carroway is a handsome young man who can't find a girlie he likes and so goes crazy and ends up in a nuthouse. This is also sad. Handsome people are also sad, despite their nice clothes.You can't help  but feel that something has been lost here, or that Baz was just the wrong man to re-imagine the text.


Isla Fisher as a working class Noo Yawker who likes to party? Vince Colosimo as a bar tender in the sticks (admittedly my girlfriend's favourite moment)? Steve Bisley as a hardy old sea dog who says 'old sport' a lot? I guess Baz was trying to help out some of his mates in the industry, but the casting of these Aussies in an American period film was not a great idea. Although Bisley's one scene is so absurd that it is actually pretty funny, which was a welcome development by the time it came along.


Having listed the above points and neglected any number of other dud elements, it would be unfair not to note that some parts of the film work better than expected. The main cast all try hard and a good scene or two does emerge in the second half (possibly from when Baz was down the street, buying more Coke). And the clothes and set design are impressively rich (while never being much lingered on by Baz's hyperactive camera). My single favourite moment was probably the dramatic climax at the Plaza Hotel, where Gatsby and his nemesis Tom Buchanan finally tangle. Tom's rebuke: 'Don't call me old sport!!' made me chuckle when I read the book, exactly as it did in the movie, and exactly as it's supposed to in both. And so provided a solitary example of when all three of these elements lined up.

No comments:

Post a Comment