The Great Gatsby
The AandE original movie “The Great Gatsby” premieres 1/14/01 at 8pm E/P. Considered one of the great American novels, the F. Scott Fitzgerald story, set in the Roaring Twenties’ Jazz Age, is about the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who is legendary for hosting fabulous parties at his huge Long Island mansion. As a young soldier, Gatsby falls in love with the beautiful socialite Daisy Buchanan, whose social status is far beyond his grasp. So, after the war, Gatsby is determined to rise to Daisy’s social level and acquires a fortune through bootlegging and crime. He buys the mansion and hosts the lavish parties all in an effort to meet Daisy once again. Daisy, now married to a dull, philandering, but very wealthy man, is bored and unhappy. She is easily won by the extravagant attentions of Gatsby.
“The Great Gatsby” is a tangled, tragic story of wealth and entitlement, love and longing. It’s told through the eyes of Daisy’s cousin Nick Buchanan, a quiet, thoughtful and insightful observer. The era’s incredible wealth and privilege is contrasted with the stark, mirthless lives of the working class.
Often screenwriters have difficulty transposing the intangible greatness of a respected book to the motion picture or TV screen. The details the author layers upon his story and characters give his creation depth and meaning. These details are generally condensed, abridged, or simply left out of the film version altogether. To a certain degree, this production suffers from the transfer. The magic of Fitzgerald is his capability to produce in the reader empathy for his people even when they seem despicable. And like Hemingway, Fitzgerald’s significance lay in his ability to communicate between the lines he wrote. Gatsby is filled with garish, adulterous hedonists for the most part, yet we are drawn into their world and we do not hate them. Upon close examination, we may even find aspects of these individuals that we relate to.
AandE’s version successfully captures the look, and perhaps the essence of the novel, but lacks its vitality. Here, everything is suggested rather than truly felt. The 1974 big screen version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow suffered the same fate. Although Redford displayed the exact toothy grin we pictured Gatsby as having, and with an inbred ability to say, “Old sport,” as I’m sure the author intended, still there was little chemistry between the film’s stars. Rather than nourishing the mystique of Daisy, Mia Farrow simply flopped around as if stoned on flower power. But while that theatrical version was a bit of a stinker at the box office, it was visually opulent, it introduced film goers to the wonderful Sam Waterston as Nick, and it contained a finger-snapping musical score by Nelson Riddle reminiscent of the Jazz Age. But the film lacked desire. Not only is that true of this new adaptation, but the look, feel and performances of the AandE presentation all suffer the same quality – blandness. Although this Gatsby is engaging enough, mostly it serves to remind us of the effectiveness of the written word.