Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Okay Gatsby

After attending an advance screening of Baz Luhrmann's new movie version of "The Great Gatsby" last night at Phillip's Place, I didn't make eye contact with the cheerful movie studio staff who were hanging around the exits asking everyone what they thought about the film. I didn't want to burst anyone's champagne bubble with my personal take on the film, which opens later this week.

What I really wanted to say to the perky volunteers is that I could relate to the fickle and careless main character Daisy Buchanan because Baz Luhrmann and his team had spent years and millions of dollars creating the film and presented it to me, and as the credits rolled I shrugged and was ready to move on to the next thing. It wasn't great. But it wasn't horrible. It's more "The Okay Gatsby."

There are parts I enjoyed, mainly because I'm fascinated by the era of the Roaring '20s. But I couldn't muster any emotion for the characters. It might be because I'm such a fan of the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version from 1974. There were subtleties in that film that immediately gave you a reference for the true nature of the characters and what motivated them. I also think the 1974 version did a better job at showing the destructive madness of both the wild mass parties at Gatsby's estate and the smaller hotel parties where alcohol and anger merged into chaos.

I feel like the pretty little fool that Daisy Buchanan hopes her daughter will grow up to be because I have never asked to be invited to a screening before, but I had bought into the hype about the film and I was convinced that it was going to be a big influence on fashion and entertaining. I just don't see that happening in an organic way. I see the studio who made the film trying to make that happen.

I do hope it creates a a resurgence of interest in the era, which is a good thing because I think it helps us put our own changing times into perspective. I have a fondness for the 1920s because I grew up on the campus of the exclusive women's school Converse College where my father was head of fundraising. He loved his job and his Converse "girls" as he called them, even if they were in their 70s or 80s. My favorites were the women  I would visit with him who were in college during the booming part of the 1920s. Through their stories, I gained a personal understanding of just how scandalous that era was based on past generations, and how we really haven't seen a cultural and social revolution that big since then. The hippies were amateurs compared to party people in the '20s, and they didn't dress as well.

When I went through my punk rock stage, always in the back of my mind was knowing that whatever I could come up with wouldn't have been as shocking as going from long dresses to exposing your knees in short flapper dresses. Of going from having long hair that to bobbing your hair. Of  women drinking and smoking in public. Of an era when cars and phones and plane travel and skyscrapers reshaped the world.  It was wild, and excessive and the ladies who lived through it were so much fun. They knew how to have a good time and were dismayed at how boring young people had become. My streak of blue hair and a safety pin worn as an earring would not have raised an eyebrow with that group of wonderful ladies.

I was hoping that with the modern soundtrack to the film, which I really liked, that the wild party scenes would have a flair that would show just how the times had changed. Instead I got fireworks and confetti at Gatsby's parties and a pillow fight in a pivotal hotel party scene as the big "wow" moments. There was no sense of danger or self-destruction or of being in a bubble that was about to burst.

There was one unexpected moment in the movie that I did find incredibly inspiring, courtesy of actress Elizabeth Debicki, who played Daisy's friend Jordan Baker. She's a stunning vision when she walks across the veranda at one of Gatsby's parties in a gorgeous embellished black dress with a black veil. That amazing costume would be enough on its own, but what made it memorable was the way she confidently walked  in it and the sultry look on her face. It was a flashback to the glamour and seduction of actresses in the old films I love so much. It was probably my favorite five seconds of the film and I would watch it again just to see an actress who could own a slice of the screen they way she did in that moment.

I have been obsessing over the pearl and diamond ring-to-bracelet that actress Carey Mulligan, who plays Daisy, wears on the movie poster and on the cover of the May issue of Vogue magazine. Luhrmann's wife, Catherine Martin, designed the costumes and worked with Tiffany & Co. on a collection of fine jewelry based on the film.  I went to www.tiffany.com this morning to see how much they cost. They are $75,000 each. If you can afford one, you should really go ahead and buy two because it makes the look. Because I'm not married to a bootlegger, I'll be hoping I can find a less expensive knock off of that look. The collection is absolutely stunning and if I could afford it I would be at the store at SouthPark mall right now ordering my favorite pieces.

One of the most fabulous and stylish people I know is having a Great Gatsby themed  party in a few weeks. The movie did get me even more excited about attending the party. So for that, Baz Luhrmann, and for at least trying to bring some sophistication back to the cinema, I do say, "Thanks, old sport."

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Smartyf said...

She lost me the moment she said she was a fan of the '74 film. Clearly she has never read Gatsby or was in high school when she did. I have not seen the new movie and perhaps it is mediocre and untrue to the story as the Redford/Farrow version was. Truth be told I liked the '74 film before I read the book and realized Jay was a charlatan trying remake himself to return to some false illusion past: a gangster who sought to be a romantic visionary by living a lie. And Daisy was a spoiled rich girl who cheated on her husband while he cheated on her. The '74 film showed Gatsby as a cool and noble character a person the narrator portrayed him as even though his every action proved the narrator wrong