I finally got round to watching The Great Gatsby recently and you know what? I really enjoyed it. I can see why people would take issue with it, but then, if you’ve ever seen a Baz Luhrmann film before, I don’t really understand how you could have expected anything different. It’s so typical of his style, of his approach to storytelling – with rapid cuts, overwhelming colour and interesting musical choices. And for those saying that there’s little substance to the film…well, I think that’s kind of the point. There’s little substance to the novel either – the characters are one-dimensional, vapid and vacuous as they are, but that’s exactly what the story is trying to illuminate. It’s symptomatic of the careless nature of that time, wasteful, overindulgent and devoid of any greater meaning.
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
I really loved the novel, and I really love Fitzgerald. Not necessarily for the stories he tells, but the way in which he does it. I’m so caught up in the way he writes, the way he creates worlds, it’s mind-boggling how beautifully done it is. His sentence structure, his word choices, it’s enough to make you want to never write again. And I feel that, particularly with The Great Gatsby, this works incredibly well because the story lacks substance but the writing is so gloriously done…it’s just like the characters, they’re one-dimensional but they live their lives in this glittering splendour. No other writer could have made that story work. No one else has the flair.
In a way, the same can be said for Luhrmann. I realised after watching Gatsby that I’ve loved all of his films. His style is so over the top, but I think the risks he takes, particularly with modernising things, is so compelling that it overrides any objections I may normally have regarding style-over-substance. He’s style is kind of quirky and often a bit disorientating, but I think it lends itself well to his particular brand of drama. And it’s all there in Strictly Ballroom; he had such a clear, definitive style from the very start. Of course why it might put some people off, it definitely falls on the histrionic side of the style line, but personally I think it works so well with the kinds of stories he tells. Which, granted, are mostly love stories. Love and the pathos of life.
My favourite thing about Lurhmann films, though, is the soundtracks. To me, his musical choices are always spot-on. Romeo + Juliet is pure genius. No two ways about it. The ‘When doves cry’ cover by Quindon Tarver is inspired, and come on, it features Radiohead. Strictly Ballroom single-handedly rejuvenated John Paul Young’s career…which may not necessarily be a good thing, but I think it proves how significant music is in Luhrmann’s films. And Moulin Rouge has more clever medleys than you can shake a stick at. It was sold on this as well…the end of the trailer proudly rattled off “New music by…” The Great Gatsby can now join my Baz Luhrmann Soundtrack Appreciation Club almost entirely on the back of the Beyonce/Andre 3000 cover of ‘Back to Black’, and the Jack White cover of ‘Love is Blindness’. Then there’s ‘Together’ by the XX and ‘Young and Beautiful’ by Lana Del Rey…point is, this film has some good songs in it.
The only film that doesn’t have a soundtrack I instantly recall is Australia (a film I absolutely adore, I don’t care what anyone says.) The only music I remember from that is ‘Over the rainbow’ cause that was a major part of the narrative arc…but nothing else. I think maybe the focus usually given to music was actually given to landscape and environment, and that sort of took up all the evocative space. Maybe? Interesting thought though.
So, yes, Baz Luhrmann. Certainly a divisive director, but I think at the very least always an interesting one.