Monday, June 10

The Film Fatales in A Tale of Two Gatsbys

The Film Fatales travel back in time to Roaring 20s Long Island and mingle with the upper crust of East and West Egg in A Tale of Two Gatsbys... Won't you join us, old sport?

 The Great Gatsby. 2013. PG-13. 142 minutes. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. 

The Great Gatsby. 1974. Rated PG. 144 minutes. Starring Robert Redford, Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow. Directed by Jack Clayton.

A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor (imdb). Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Nicole: There are, to date, six film versions of The Great Gatsby—but we’re focusing on just two (because this is a blog, not a friggin’ dissertation). When it comes to adapting novels into film, creative decisions never fail to amaze me. One team’s interpretation can either elevate the written work or insult it: In both the 2013 and the 1974 Gatsbys, it’s thankfully the former.

elizabeth: I have to say that this was a genius idea on my part for us to compare these two versions of The Great Gatsby. Oh, it was your idea. Never mind.  I discovered the internet. With Al Gore by my side, fanning me.

Nicole: Hmm, I suppose you're also responsible for sliced bread... Stylistically, the two films could not be more different. Some may argue that’s because modern filmmaking has the benefit of digital tricks. But I think most of the differences between the two films lay in pacing, acting, and plot choices. Clayton’s ’74 adaptation is a slow-moving, thoughtful and careful interpretation with very little wavering from the source material. Loyal though it may be, I think it failed to capture the novel’s fever-pitched scenes or depth of character. Redford’s was a quiet, cool Gatsby. Farrow’s was an over-the-top, hysterical Daisy Buchanan. Waterston was a passive, if convincing, Nick Carraway. Lois Chiles was an under-developed, yawning Jordan Baker. And, Bruce Dern was a nonchalant Tom Buchanan.

elizabeth: I agree that technology has taken us to places that would never exist years ago. But does that make for a better film? Does it shortchange our imagination when they put it all out there? I liked the slower pace of the 1974 version because I felt Redford’s Gatsby was a man of quiet intelligence and mystery and he looked hot in that one-piece bathing suit. Not every man could pull that off.  But can someone explain his over the top love for Mia Farrow’s Daisy Buchanan?

Okay, if not for Redford and Waterson’s relationship in this movie, which I thought was touching and well developed, I am quite comfortable in saying this version sucked and the townspeople should run Farrow’s Daisy out of town. I think Farrow ruined the movie with her hysterics.  I think the wrong character got shot.

Nicole: Tell us how you really feel, cassidy. Look, I worship at Redford’s feet: He is Gatsby personified in many ways, but DiCaprio nails it. Finally, the dark, disturbed, obsessed Gatsby emerges. He plays the role with equal parts forceful nature, manic obsession and deluded anguish. It’s a heartbreaking performance made all the more wrenching by his sad demise. And I think DiCaprio filled out his one-piece suit quite nicely. I swear, scout's honor (try and prove I wasn't one), that I've never found DiCaprio the least bit attractive...until this film. 

elizabeth:  Got to disagree with you big time. I felt Luhrmann photographed DiCaprio beautifully at the beginning and I was really looking forward to seeing this version unfold. But as Gatsby’s life got a little messier, DiCaprio’s Gatsby looked like he was a tad constipated and that distracted me from the storyline. I wanted to see those eyes dance across the screen again and I will acknowledge that he gave a good performance, but facial expressions are so important. Go with more than one.

Now as far as Redford goes – he can just sit there and no nothing. I would be quite content.

Nicole: Constipated? Hmm, I think your letting your Redford-lust blur your film-reviewing vision. The problem with Redford's performance is his quietness. Gatsby is supposed to be filled with rumbling turmoil that's disguised by a cool exterior, which at times bursts forth to reveal his deep obsession. Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan is head and shoulders above Farrow’s. But, we mustn’t forget that Luhrmann and company portray this Daisy (intentionally) as far more sympathetic, so that does have some bearing on her choices. I’ll leave it at that: Devotees of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work will certainly have pick with this plot diversion.

elizabeth: I agree. Alert the media. But I will take Mulligan’s portrayal of Daisy over Farrow’s any day. Have I mentioned that I hated Mia’s performance?

Nicole: You've mentioned it, yes, but it bears repeating. She.was.awful. McGuire’s Nick Carraway, like Daisy, is changed up a tad. He’s a bit less passive than Waterston’s and takes to actively judging rather than remaining a silent witness. Again, purists will find his storyline a bit contrived with regard to the narration technique. I feel it was an unnecessary choice, but not detrimental.

elizabeth: All this agreeing is making me constipated.

Nicole: Some extra fiber in your diet might do the trick. Elizabeth Debicki’s Jordan Baker is, alas, as underdeveloped as Chiles’—though played far better, with a snobbish, pervading coolness. Joel Edgarton’s Tom Buchanan is hands down much preferred to Dern’s lacking portrayal.

elizabeth: You just go on and on, don’t you?

Nicole: Ignoring you. Normally, I shy away from Luhrmann’s movies (I generally find them an assault on all senses). They’re all too much for me—a dizzying swirl of excess. But his choices and obvious devotion to the era and Fitzgerald’s work show through. You could pause this film at any frame and display it as a work of art. Absolutely magnificent—from cinematography and set direction to costuming and special effects. He knew precisely the right moments to feverishly present a scene and exactly when to slow it down—like a rollercoaster—evoking the desired reaction from the audience. Whereas the ’74 version remained a dull dive, that never quite captured the hedonistic vibe of the roaring 20s—except through set direction and costuming. The pace was too even-keeled and lulled the audience into a near catatonic state.

elizabeth: The Art Deco era was well represented in this film and you could tell that Luhrmann was having a love affair with the 1920s, but I wonder if F. Scott Fitzgerald would have told Luhrmann to tone it down.

Nicole: Ultimately, modernity wins over in my book. Despite the obvious plot divergences, the 2013 Gatsby rises well above the ’74 version in every possible way.

elizabeth: I am sticking with the 1974 version. It has Robert Redford in it. Before he went out in the sun without and sun protection.

Nicole: You know what I just realized? This our first Film Fatales split-decision. Frankly, I'm relieved. Agreeing as much as we have been has been giving me the creeps.