I turned 30 in January and I’m just now, this week, starting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which puts me anywhere from 12-15 years behind everyone else in my peer group. I wasn’t given the gift of having the book as required reading for the New York State Regents; for whatever reason, the school or the Board of Ed decided not to sneak it into my High School curriculum.
That’s probably for the best. With a handful of exceptions – most notably Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the works of Orwell and Steinbeck – I have a mental block that prevents me from enjoying a book when it’s compulsory. Gatsby is exactly the sort of thing I’d probably loathe if not skip reading altogether. I was good (too good) at faking it. I had at least two perfect scores on essays for one book I never read (Richard Wright’s Native Son) and another I never finished (Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth). I don’t know if it was out of laziness, rebellion, or a combination of both. Regardless, I’m sure I’ve missed out on great things, and I’d write an apology to the authors if they’d not been dead for decades.
Anyway, I’m enjoying Gatsby every bit as much as I’m dreading the film adaptation from Baz Luhrmann.
It’s appropriate that DiCaprio’s in the movie, because what I see here stinks a bit like that mess of an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (titled “Romeo + Juliet”) that stuck everything in a modern setting while preserving Shakespeare’s prose. I think the intentions of all involved in the project were noble, in so far as exposing Shakespeare to an audience that might not otherwise enjoy it. But Luhrmann’s execution put a focus on aesthetics and hipness to the detriment of the material. It tried to be daring, but instead ended up just looking kind of silly.
I get the feeling the same will be said of Gatsby. The CGI’ed cityscapes and vehicles look awful. There’s one shot of a CGI vehicle that made me laugh. They’d have been better off using Benny the Cab from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
I think it’s one thing to be artistically courageous, but if you’re not going to remain true to the spirit of the original work and/or make decisions that distract and detract from it, then why bother adapting it in the first place?
Moreover, it’s okay to not adapt some things. I’m not saying that a screen version of a novel can never achieve greatness, because that’s ludicrous. There are plenty of books that are practically screaming (in some cases intentionally) for a film adaptation. But there are also many, many books that simply don’t translate well to film, and some are outright unfilmable. Catcher in the Rye is the most obvious example of the latter while Gatsby, from what I’ve read thus far, seems to be in the company of the former, though I can’t say for certain having not seen the previous attempts to adapt it to film (although all reactions I’ve read and heard have been negative). It doesn’t have quite the same hurdles as Catcher in the Rye in that there’s much more of the story that can be shown, but it does have the same issue of interior perspective and reflection that makes a screen translation very difficult. I imagine that it will, or may have to, employ voiceover narration, which is just an awful thing to do to a film.
Anyway, I’m enjoying the book. But I think I’ll pass on Luhrmann’s film adaptation.
- Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…
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