Great Gatsby to get the Moulin Rouge treatment

Luhrmann to make 21st-century film version of Fitzgerald's classic

It was a novel that captured the champagne-fuelled follies of the frivolously wealthy, moments before America's "boom time" bubble burst and Wall Street came crashing down to expose the spiritual vacuum of the times.

F Scott Fitzgerald's seminal novel The Great Gatsby may have been describing the iniquities of the Jazz Age just before the country slid into the Great Depression but the award-winning Australian director, Baz Luhrmann, yesterday said Fitzgerald's story resonated with the economic excesses of today.

So much so, that he is set to make a modern version of the novel, which will allude to the present financial crisis that has brought to a grinding halt the bling-laden consumer culture that was spawned in the 1980s and 1990s.

The director, who has bought the rights to Fitzgerald's novel, suggested his version would contain an undercurrent of social commentary, as was the case with his latest film, Australia, and its treatment of the issue of the stolen generations.

The novel was completed in 1926 and at the time it was seen as the most unflinching study of American excess during the prohibition era in Roaring Twenties. It told the story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his lavish parties on Long Island at a time when, as The New York Times remarked, "Gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession". Luhrmann said his film version would serve as a historic study of "Where we are, and where we've been", referring to the recession that is advancing across America.

He told The Hollywood Reporter: "If you wanted to show a mirror to people that says, 'You've been drunk on money', they're not going to want to see it. But if you reflected that mirror on another time they'd be willing to. People will need an explanation of where we are and where we've been, and The Great Gatsby can provide that explanation." But Dan Jolin, features editor of Empire film magazine, suggested that Luhrmann, who has made just four feature films since 1992, would have to move uncharacteristically swiftly if he wanted the film to be released while it still held some relevance.

"I always think it's a little dodgy to talk about relevance of the story behind a film because films take a long time to make, especially when there's a credit crunch," he said. "They don't get made overnight and while it might be right for our times now, how many years will it take to make, and how many years were there between Luhrmann's last film, and the present one? He is not the fastest worker and even if it comes out in two years at the quickest, what will the economy being doing in two years? We have a film coming out now about banks buying up debt but the drama in some ways has been overtaken by real events, so in some ways, is less relevant."

Luhrmann, who has referred to Australia, starring Nicole Kidman, as the first in a trilogy of epics, suggested audiences may not have to wait long to see the next one. He said: "I'm going to move faster than I have before. I'd be surprised if it's another seven years." He was referring to the time lapse between his musical, Moulin Rouge, and Australia.

Since the American classic was written, many versions of the story have been made for film and theatre, including a Broadway play and a 1974 Hollywood movie scripted by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

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