The Great Gatsby – Not Great!

Beacon Towers. Patte Barham Collection

Beacon Towers.
Patte Barham Collection

Everyone has surely read or seen film adaptations from what is considered to be one of our great American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. His vision began in 1923 and was completed and published in 1925 as a literary portrait of America’s Jazz Age. Often referred to as his greatest work, Fitzgerald’s novel sweeps us into a world that is convincing and not far fetched from the world during the 1920s. Unfortunately Fitzgerald died, believing his finest novel a failure. Great genius as in the world of artists goes generally un-recognized as the masterpiece it is until well after the artist has experienced failure and defeat and has long departed the world of the immortals. The rose on the thorn is that in reality, the artist in the end is indeed immortalized.

However, Baz Luhrmann’s latest attempt at recreating a new film version of the classic novel will likely end up rapidly on DVD release, much as did his short-lived film, Australia.

The party scenes are ludicrous and unrealistic, bordering on cartoonish. In one scene partygoers entering Gatsby’s over-the-top LSD version of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, wall to wall and front to back are packed in like sardines. I think I even saw Cher in the crowd dressed in her black poultry costume from her Academy Award win for Moonstruck.

The main interior of Jay Gatsby’s Castle looks like an enormous gold gilt cathedral complete with a sweeping white marble staircase winding its way up to heaven’s loft resplendent with a mighty golden pipe organ ensconced with a crazed, stoned, freakish character that apparently came to one of the parties and never left. You wind him up and the organ roars until he winds down; one more cartoon character that belongs in Roger Rabbit.

The exterior shots of the Gatsby estate are almost identical to “Beacon Towers,” which was located in Port Washington on the North Shore of Long Island at Sands Point. I know and have visited this home only because it was once owned by William Randolph Hearst from 1927 to 1942 and unfortunately demolished by a developer in 1945. Sadly today, only a sandy overgrown stretch of beach front strewn with discarded folding beach chairs is all that remains. It has long been speculated that Fitzgerald used Beacon Towers as his inspiration for his novel and the exterior was definitely Baz Luhrmann’s inspiration as well, however the digitally recreated castle looks just that and not real.

While the principle characters appear to have no direction, every speakeasy and party sequence received the director’s full attention. From beginning to end, your senses are overflowingly slammed to the point one feels the need for an oxygen mask, especially during the ending swimming pool scene, a direct steal from Sunset Boulevard.

Jay-Z takes full advantage of his producer share by filling the musical score with his brand of hip-hop rap, guaranteeing he’ll come out ahead on the soundtrack release at the expense of the 100 million dollar film.

Curiosity won’t stop you from seeing this film. On seeing the film a second time, it became much clearer on impact as opposed to our first screening in 3D.

Do yourself a huge favor and rent David Merrick’s 1974 production starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. An exquisitely directed film by Jay Clayton along with an all star quality cast! There simply is no finer film adaptation that does F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby justice.

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