Sunday, 11 August 2013

Baz Is Not Bad

It's hard not to notice that F Scott Fitzgerald's greatest novel, Tender is the Night, is full of the shock and horror of a world recovering from the First World War. This observation from Dick Diver makes it explicit:

"See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it--a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation."

Until I saw Baz Lurhmann's film The Great Gatsby, I hadn't recognised that the same might also be true of the book from which the film is derived. And yet, looking back at the text now, I see that right from the beginning Carraway signals that it is precisely from that perspective that the story will be told:

I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe--so I decided to go east and learn the bond business.  

No cinematic images will beat, for me, the lush perfection of Fitzgerald's descriptive skill - here are two examples taken completely at random:

He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.

He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths 

Nevertheless, Luhrmann, with his own fondness for lush, overblown imagery, is probably the ideal person to translate Fitzgerald to the cinema. Here's what I think of the job he did on The Great Gatsby

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