Like countless others who read The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann fell in love with F Scott Fitzgerald's greatest novel. He was, apparently, on the Trans-Siberian railway at the time, listening to the audiobook, and was so swept up by the prose that he vowed to make a film about it.
Luhrmann is a genius at creating masterpieces of vivid colour and music – Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge were both spectacular. So why does my heart sink at the idea of his Great Gatsby, the full gaudiness of the Jazz Age digitally enhanced by 3D?
I became enchanted by the novel while studying it for A-level. The Great Gatsby broke through the structured, chapter-by-chapter deconstruction in lessons – which I found often killed a book – and I read it in my bedroom in one go. It remains my favourite novel – no other book has come close, or made such a lasting impression.
Fitzgerald's prose was so rich I could almost taste the mint juleps made by Daisy Buchanan and hear the laughter and music rising from the "blue gardens" at one of Gatsby's parties. I am sure this was what Luhrmann felt too, headphones on, as his train raced through the night to Ulan Bator, so it is understandable that he would want to recreate that sense of wonder with a film for a wide audience. But my problem with a 3D film is that The Great Gatsby is a book already in 3D. Fitzgerald's words are worth a thousand motion pictures.
OK, I have not seen the film, and perhaps I should give it a chance. But the trailers make me want to look away. In my mind, Jay Gatsby and his mansion were painted in ice-cream pastels, but in Luhrmann's version they are gilded with bling. Yes, I know this is his style, just as is overlaying modern music on to a traditional script (see Romeo + Juliet).
There is an argument that Luhrmann's use of 21st-century artists – Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey – will open up the novel to younger audiences, which is fair. But I am sure that once teenagers read the book themselves, they will discover they did not really need to be patronised by a soundtrack featuring Florence + the Machine. I can handle Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, a combination of beauty and harshness, and Carey Mulligan looks as though she's captured Daisy's fragility. But ironically, with a 3D film, everything must remain vivid: so the passages of the book that are achromatic – the description of the Valley of Ashes, where Tom Buchanan's lover, Myrtle Wilson, lives a mundane life devoid of joy until she is swept off to Manhattan – are too bold when converted on to the big screen. There is no dimming of the bright gleam; it is just blacks and greys looking resplendent.
Just as the love affair between Gatsby and Daisy is destroyed when they try to rekindle the past, so I fear my own love of The Great Gatsby will be killed if I watch Luhrmann's film. As Nick Carraway, the narrator, says, you can't repeat the past. Or, in Luhrmann's case, you can't repeat the wonder. I might watch the film, but only if I pretend it is as unreal as Jay Gatsby himself.Reuse content