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It seems something of a shame how maligned the extravagant 1974 movie
version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary masterwork was when it was
originally released. So much media hype surrounded the production,
including a Scarlett O'Hara-level search for the right actress to play
Daisy Buchanan, that it was bound to disappoint, and it did critically
and financially. It's simply not that bad. Interestingly, looking at
the film over thirty years later, I am taken by how faithful the movie
is to the original book both in text and period atmosphere. The central
problem, however, is that Jack Clayton's overly deliberate direction
and Francis Ford Coppola's literate screenplay are really too faithful
to the book to the point where the spirit of Fitzgerald's story becomes
flattened and plot developments are paced too slowly. The result is an
evocative but overlong 144-minute epic movie based on a novel that is
really quite intimate in scope.
The focus of the plot is still the interrupted love story between Jay Gatsby and his object of desire, Daisy. Narrating the events is Nick Carraway, Gatsby's modest Long Island neighbor who becomes his most trusted confidante. Nick is responsible for reuniting the lovers who both have come to different points in their lives five years after their aborted romance. Now a solitary figure in his luxurious mansion, Gatsby is a newly wealthy man who accumulated his fortunes through dubious means. Daisy, on the other hand, has always led a life of privilege and could not let love stand in the way of her comfortable existence. She married Tom Buchanan for that sole purpose. With Gatsby's ambition spurred by his love for Daisy, he rekindles his romance with Daisy, as Tom carries on carelessly with Myrtle Wilson, an auto mechanic's grasping wife. Nick himself gets caught up in the jet set trappings and has a relationship with Jordan Baker, a young golf pro. The characters head for a collision, figuratively and literally, that exposes the hypocrisy of the rich, the falsity of a love undeserving and the transience of individuals on this earth.
Casting is crucial, and surprisingly, most of the actors fulfill the characters well. Robert Redford, at the height of his box office appeal, plays Gatsby with the right enigmatic quality. As Daisy, Mia Farrow captures the romanticism and shallowness of a character that ultimately does not deserve the love she receives. Even if she appears overly breathy and pretentious, her frequently trying performance still fits Fitzgerald's image of the character. Bruce Dern makes an appropriately despicable Tom Buchanan, while Karen Black has scant screen time as the trashy Myrtle. A very young Sam Waterson makes the ideal Nick with his genuine manner and touching naiveté, and Lois Chiles is all throaty posturing as Jordan. As expected, all the exterior touches are luxuriant and feel period-authentic - Theoni V. Aldredge's costumes, John Box's production design, Douglas Slocombe's elegant cinematography, and the pervasive use of 1920's hits, in particular, Irving Berlin's wistful "What'll I Do?" as the recurring love theme. The film is worth a look if you have not seen it and a second one if you haven't seen it in a while. It's actually better if you've already read the book. The 2003 DVD has a nice print transfer but sadly no extras.
This lavish Hollywood treatment of the Classic F. Scott Fitzgerald
novel is a visual and acoustic delight. Nelson Riddle's spellbinding
score and the many brilliant camera shots capturing the splendor of an
age of excesses and indulgences make for engaging entertainment. Still,
the dark story will leave the viewer numb at the eventual (bitter) end.
A young Mia Farrow and Robert Redford in the leads, along with
excellent performances by Scott Wilson and Bruce Dern, as well as the
70s "femme fatal" staple Karen Black round out the top, with what seems
to be hundreds of colorful "flapper" and servant extras in the cast.
Everyone fortunate enough to be born or married or mistressed into
money is living the "life", not caring about anyone and anything other
than fun, fun, fun.
A series of indiscretions (by just about everyone) culminates in the "just desserts", and several deaths. The fact that life of the high and mighty seems to go on without skipping a beat, regardless of anyone's recklessness or involvement, is the tough lesson the author seems to aim for. Without conscience, what have we? All the money will not replace human emotions, though the cash seems to easily take their place. But didn't we have fun....
This version tries to stay very true to the roots of the story. It's
greatest detriment is its lavish budget, made evident from scenery and
costuming. Coppola does an admirable job with his script, but it is
impossible to fail to realize that he borrowed heavily from the source
material, often citing it verbatim. In this sense, the plot is very
faithful to the novel. The film fails to recapture the feel, mood, and
spirit of the novel and of the twenties. Fitzgerald made Gatsby a very
personal character. For him, there was always something unattainable;
and for Gatsby, it was Daisy, the lost love of his life, forever
symbolized by a flashing green light at her dock.
When it doesn't try, the film captures the mood of the twenties. This is especially true during Gatsby's first party, showing people being themselves. The majority the cast, particularly Mia Farrow, and with the exception of Bruce Dern (Tom Buchanan) play their parts as if they were silent actors. Even the flickering quality of silent film seems to haunt this film stock. It goes without saying the acting was overdone for the most part. This is true of the essence of the characters and of the times, although in the film, it is overkill. The set decoration was visually pleasing and it effectively captured the mood of each scene and the twenties.
This film, more than anything else, is a scary attempt of a tribute. In the novel, the green light, and the T.J. Eckleburg sign had significant meanings. Stranded in the film, they remain merely stripped objects. The set seems to attempt to "fix" Fitzgerald's descriptions. Where in the book, Daisy and Tom Buchanan's home is very inviting, the film drowns in whites and yellows in the film.
Actors aren't exploited to its potential. Clayton fails to give us a relatable Gatsby, a crucial element to the novel. Redford could have played Gatsby very well. It's not his fault that he doesn't. When we are introduced to Gatsby, it's through a low-angle shot of a figure seen against the night sky, framed by marble. This isn't the quiet, unsure, romantic Gatsby on his doomed quest. This is the arrogant, loud and obnoxious Charles Kane, who knows he's rich and isn't shy about it. The scene where Gatsby symbolically reaches out to snatch the green light stays true to the book, but looks stupid on film.
Three essential scenes make the film seem even less credible. These are times where it is essential to portray Gatsby as the one we know and love from the novel. The first is the original meeting between Gatsby and Nick. Redford's inarticulate and formality with Nick is laughable. It's the first time we hear him talk, and he's so mannered that the acting upstages the content of the scene. Nick is supposed to be so relaxed he doesn't realize that he's talking to a millionaire. Changing the location of this scene from in the party to the office is the cause for this dramatic awkwardness. This has to have been Clayton's doing. This changes Gatsby's character, and he Gatsby isn't as sure of himself as the book had made us believe. Doesn't that have to be Clayton's fault? Using The Sting, Butch Cassidy and The Candidate as examples, we know Redford has enough versatility to play this scene several other, better ways. In the Gatsby and Daisy reunion (crucial moments to the picture) we see Gatsby's smiling and Daisy's stunned reaction held for so long, we wonder why Nick just doesn't go out and smoke one cigarette, come back, and go outside again to smoke another one. He'd go through a whole pack. Any tension we might have had has been fed to ridiculousness. The other plot cliché that further adds to this product of celluloid silliness is Gatsby's final scene. The way this is presented may work on stage and it certainly would work in a silent film, but here it is so hackneyed, so irreversibly awkward that any suspense is gone, and it looks silly.
The message of the novel, in my opinion, is that although Gatsby is a crook and has dealt with the likes of Meyer Wolfsheim, gamblers and bootleggers, he is still a romantic, naive, and heroic boy of the Midwest. His idealism is doomed in the confrontation with the Buchanan recklessness. This isn't clear in the movie.
We are told more than shown. The soundtrack contains Nick's narration, often verbatim from the novel. We don't feel much of what we're supposed to feel because of the overproduction and clichés. Even the actors seem somewhat shied away from their characters because of this. We can't figure out why Gatsby's so "Great", or why Gatsby thinks that Daisy is so special. Mia Farrow's portrayal of Daisy falls flat of the novel's description. The musical quality of her voice has been replaced with shrills, and her sophistication has been stripped of her complexity. This is extremely evident by her Clara Bow acting style in this picture, especially in the scene where Redford is throwing his shirts on the floor and she starts crying.
How could a screenplay that borrowed so much of Fitzgerald's novel be portrayed so inaccurately? When one reads a novel, it is up to the author to create his symbolisms from scratch. When a book is transformed into a film, the filmmakers must be sure to covey the symbols more than by merely showing them. They must still be carefully developed, whether by dialogue or more action. In the novel it works well. When translated to film symbolism is lost in translation.
As a film on its own, the technical qualities are excellent, and can be more than worth your while catching at least an hour's worth just for the scenery, costuming, and for the few great scenes that successfully convey the twenties.
After weighing in on the Boards about this terrific film, it's about
time I posted a review, since I do have it on my Top-20 list! I love
period-pieces, especially those set in the era of, say, 1918-1938.
Hence, 'Eight Men Out', 'Great Gatsby', and 'Sting' are in my Top-20,
and, of course, Redford appears in two of those. Redford had the
required screen presence, and acting talent to play Gatsby. Those who
criticize the film or Redford's interpretation are, to me, just
over-analyzing or too caught up in comparisons with the fabulous novel
by F. Scott. In addition to superb acting from Redford and a great
ensemble cast, the costumes, music and fabulous sets/photography give
this flick plenty to recommend.
I have read the book a few times -- I view it as a great American tragedy. But tragedies about larger-than-life characters are not so easy to reproduce on-screen. Anyway, maybe half the viewers haven't read the book; so, for a screenplay writer, it's a dilemma. Maybe *this* particular tragic role - a man who builds fabulous wealth in just a few years, a man who suddenly can compete with the N.Y. aristocracy in attracting the rich and famous to his parties, a man who does it all to reclaim the rich 'jewel' he lost in his youth, a man who gambles it all on one shake of the dice - is, like King Lear, almost too surreal to be performed. Think of it that way, and watch Redford again. He is brilliant. And if you want to see the role messed up, watch A&E's 2004 version. Thirty years to try to improve? And they produce an interpretation of Gatsby I call the 'grinning idiot'.
I've never heard Redford comment on the mixed opinions about his Gatsby portrayal, but I'll guess he knows he got it right, and there wasn't anyone else with the required taste and style to outfit this role. (And as Michael Caine so deftly expressed it in 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels', "Taste and style are commodities that people desire.."). You'd be hard-pressed to name a current American actor with the same charisma (so, you go to the U.K. and get Jude Law or Ralph Fiennes, right?).
I'll touch on the comment of one frustrated IMDb reviewer who wondered why they changed how Nick meets Gatsby. In the movie, Gatsby's compact but sinister bodyguard (who has just decked a guy the size of a Buick) quietly leads Nick upstairs to Gatsby's private study. As soon as Redford appears, we know - and Nick knows - that it's Gatsby. In the book, Nick is having a conversation at a table with an amiable fellow who turns out to be Gatsby! Can you imagine filming a scene with a character chatting with Redford and - surprise - it turns out to be Gatsby? (A&E tried it that way in 2004 - note my 'grinning idiot' comment above). Furthermore, this reference to Gatsby's protective layer helps us to identify his tragic blunder later on: he fires his household help for the sake of privacy once his romance with Daisy blooms. That decision is costly.
The book was described somewhere as a 'story in perfect balance'. In practice, that includes characters that are neither too villainous nor too heroic -- neither too loose (morally) nor too prudish. Our eyes and ears for the story, Nick, probably does not whole-heartedly approve of Tom's fling with Myrtle, but he's not about to blow the whistle on him either. He observes, and goes along for the fun with a crowd that clearly is more prosperous than he is. Later, he has good reason to assist in brokering the romance between Daisy and Gatsby (Nick has a growing friendship with Gatsby - and he is no big fan of Tom). At the same time, he finds Gatsby's affectations a bit annoying - and he only pays him one compliment (at the end - remember? "they're a rotten crowd - you're worth more than the whole lot of them put together").
Anyway, once again, portraying all this on screen is no easy matter. So, relax and enjoy the show, a sparkling period-piece that relates to us a tragic tale about the folly of wealth. Meantime, I will try to track down the 1949 version with Alan Ladd, to see how *they* did! 9/10 - canuckteach (--:
The Great Gatsby is a book that is very much expected to be made into a
movie, and has been adapted several times before this one. It is an
intricate story that entails an enormous amount of meaning and
to society, but the literary version is not one that is capable of being
adapted into a film that can capture the entire effect, because so much
the quality of The Great Gatsby lies in the words that are used in the
novel, the way things are described, the way people think, etc. This can
never be completely transferred to film, and this version of Gatsby
out a huge amount of the language and even unnecessarily changes several
I have heard Robert Redford criticized for fitting the upper-class half of Gatsby's personality too closely and not capturing his darker side well enough, but this is a completely superficial argument. It's true that Redford looks right at home in Gatsby's mansion and his clothes and everything, but it's also true that he walks through the entire movie as though he's not quite sure where he is or how he got there and, above all, that he's nervous about something that he's done or is about to do. I can understand someone thinking that Redford doesn't look like a bad enough guy to play Gatsby, but if there is any problem with him portraying Gatsby's darker side, it's probably more a result of the fact that so much of his hidden dealings are hidden or removed from the film than any weakness on the part of Redford's performance or his appearance in the role. We see one suspicious phone conversation and we realize his intentions with Daisy and how he came to be where he is, but this is told rather than shown.
Mia Farrow gives a satisfactory performance as Daisy, although she does not capture many of Daisy's characteristics from the novel, most importantly, I think, the stunning beauty of the sort that would cause a man like Gatsby to spend several years completely transforming his life and becoming filthy rich (and becoming a criminal while he's at it), only to keep his mind occupied with thoughts of Daisy despite all his money and the fact that his ocean-side mansion is constantly crawling with celebrities and beautiful people. Daisy has to be a ridiculously beautiful woman to justify that kind of behavior, or else Gatsby would have to at least be a completely obsessive nutcase. Neither is true.
Farrow's shortcomings as Daisy are hugely overshadowed, however, by the character of Tom Buchanan, who is changed from a `hulking brute of a man' in the novel to a tall and skinny guy who only has the slow intellect and harsh jealousy toward Gatsby from his character in the novel. Bruce Dern is hugely miscast in this role, but does a decent job going through the motions of his character, at least the verbal ones that he's given. Sam Waterson probably gives the best performance in the film as Nick Carraway, although there is something of an awkward feel with his character if only because he is the narrator in the film, telling the story through his own eyes, while in the film he is an external character and the vast majority of his internal thoughts are necessarily erased.
More than the performances, however, there are some scenes that are changed from the novel that just shouldn't have been. I can understand changing or reducing a scene or some dialogue here and there (although in the case of a classic novel like this, changing anything is almost always a dangerous proposition), but there were some scenes that were very important in the novel, either to the story or to the process of characterization or anything else, that were changed for no good reason and with no good affect.
The introduction of the characters of Tom, Daisy and Jordan, and most importantly, Gatsby himself were enormously altered for the film, for no apparent reason. Tom has a self-involved introduction in the novel where he introduces himself to Nick by making a comment on his own success, Daisy and Jordan are introduced sitting carelessly in the gigantic living room at Tom and Daisy's house amidst an atmosphere the likes of which no film is likely to reproduce, and Gatsby, most of all, has a wonderful introduction where he is sitting talking to Nick at one of his parties, and Nick casually mentions that he has been invited by some man named Gatsby that he's never met or even seen. Gatsby looks at him in surprise, saying, `I'M Gatsby.'
This is the perfect way to introduce Gatsby as a man with the means to put on a social event of this caliber but without a clue in the moon about how to interact with his guests. Rather than this simple introduction, however, Nick is approached by one of Gatsby's servers and asked to come upstairs. This is a creepy scene which makes Nick feel nervous as though he's in trouble (which is understandable since the man who approached him won't say a word and gives him a sly smile here and there as though Nick's the enemy and he's being taken prisoner by the mob boss).
Nick gets upstairs and Gatsby is standing alone in a room looking out over his party, and there follows a creepy scene in which Gatsby stumbles over his words trying to introduce himself, and no a scrap of his joviality is captured from the novel. In the book, Gatsby is a man who doesn't know the social rules of his parties but is glad to have a grand old time with Nick even though they'd never met, while in the movie he nervously stumbles through plans to go out boating the next day, leaving Nick to stand there still not quite sure what he's supposed to do.
I watched this version of The Great Gatsby just after watching the 1993 version of The Secret Garden, which is a film that takes a magical novel and makes a wonderful film out of it, but only really captures the basics of it, the necessary parts that are needed to have the film present the story and make sense. This version of The Great Gatsby is similar in that it is an enjoyable film that captures the story of the novel, but because of the richness of the language used in the book and some of the things that were, for some reason, changed for no apparent reason other than to be different from the original text, it doesn't capture the same experience as the novel.
The high-profile, big budget American adaptation The Great Gatsby of
the same-titled novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald bombed when it was
released in 1974. Jack Clayton directs a star-packed cast and uses a
script by Francis Ford Coppola written a few years earlier. Coppola
disowned his The Great Gatsby screenplay when he saw the movie, because
he felt the movie adaptation ruined his work.
We follow a group of morally decadent upper-class flappers in Long Island in the 1920s, seen through the eyes of our narrator, Nick Carraway (Sam Waterson). Central to all of them, and arguably the main character, is Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford) who is living the American dream; he is extremely rich, throws lavish parties and fights for the woman he loves, Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow). Gatsby is a working class hero who started with nothing, only he lies and puts on a charade to get ahead in life. The movie follows the novel almost religiously, scene-by-scene, paying great attention to details like colors and scenery. It is a faithful, but lackluster adaptation that lacks any depth. It tries, but it never succeeds to do the Great American Novel justice and instead it drags on for two and a half hours without making a point or addressing any of Fitzgerald's themes.
Director Jack Clayton was a born and bred British citizen and perhaps this is why he fails in recreating the great American novel. What is curious to note is that Clayton seems to fully grasp the complexity of Fitzgerald's characters, the significance of the American dream and the importance of the setting. Yet, he only succeeds in translating one of these onto the screen, namely the setting.
The Great Gatsby is visually astonishing, much like the novel, but scratch the surface and you find nothing. The visual realization is the one redeeming achievement in the movie. The great attention paid to details such as hair-cuts, period suits and sophisticated design and setting impressively captures the essence of the roaring twenties. The lavish parties thrown by Gatsby at his beautiful house are the most noteworthy as they capture the spirit of the times and stay true to the novel. This visual authenticity was rewarded in the form of two Oscar grabs for best musical score and best costume at the 1975 Academy Awards.
Similarly, all characters look the parts well enough, the exceptions perhaps being the all-too-pleasant-looking Bruce Dern as the brutish Tom Buchanan and his mistress, the-too-gaunt-looking Karen Black as the curvy Myrtle Wilson. Robert Redford is perfectly debonair as the mysterious Jay Gatsby; even his clear blue eyes embody the idealism of the character. That takes care of the visual. It ends there, however, as Redford struggles to add depth to the character of Great Gatsby, leaving us with a 'mediocre' Gatsby who is too self-assured and not dreaming enough. I found the beautiful Lois Chiles to be the light of this film. She is perfect for the part of Jordon Baker, a jaded, tomboyish flapper who cheats on the golf-course and surrounds herself with entertaining people so as to not snooze off.
My biggest problem with this book-to-film adaptation is lack of depth around Gatsby's and Daisy's relationship. It appears to have been transformed into a lustful love-story (bordering on triangle with Nick present and heavily breathing by Gatsby's side) and strayed away from important themes and motives, such as why the characters feel the way they feel or do the things they do. Rather than make Daisy out as the characterization of the American Dream and the unattainable and add some depth to her complex character, she is made out as a lackluster soap opera queen with an occasionally hysterically high-pitched voice. This is the voice that F. Scott Fitzgerald described as being "full of money" in the novel, which suggests more subtlety and sophistication than what Mia Farrow achieves.
I appreciate the difficulty in translating The Great Gatsby onto screen as the strength of the novel is its richness of language, symbolism and imagery. To include all of these aspects in a film would make it visually overblown and perhaps detract from important details (like the bright flowing dresses that Daisy and Jordan wear symbolizing carelessness and coldness). In this sense, Clayton succeeds as he gets us to notice the little things. The symbolism of the novel is mostly lost, however; the color green which is so important in The Great Gatsby is present, but neglected. In the novel, it represented the American Dream and, indeed, the first time we see Gatsby his mysterious silhouette takes this color. It fades as the movie plays on, instead of integrating it into Gatsby's character and dream. The lack of green grass visible during Gatsby's vivacious parties was a low point as the grass holds great symbolism for Gatsby's yearning to renew his life and start over again with a fresh start, new friends and a new outlook on life. A subtle background use of the color green might also have helped this movie in addressing the American Dream.
The Great Gatsby is a fantastic portrayal of an erathe 1920sbut does not do F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel justice in the least. Perhaps this is why, being a fan of the source material, that Coppola disowned his screenplay.
This adaptation may have worked with the mute button on, but the cheezy
movie-of-the-week score, the shrill cries of Mia Farrow, and the pallid
reading by Robert Redford doom this film. Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan makes
as much sense as Jimmie 'J.J.' Walker as Muhammad Ali - the physical
strength that defined Tom is totally missing.
The staging, costumes, and incidentals (cars, etc.) are gorgeous, but the beauty of Fitzgerald's prose is nowhere to be found. This must be a difficult work to film, and it shows.
Looking as if it were plucked from the dreaming ear of an impressionable adolescent with Fitzgerald's novel half-open on his bedstand -- and sometimes sounding, alas, as if it were scored by the guy who did episode #93 of Kojak -- there is no reason why this 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby shouldn't be better regarded than it is, or even included among other masterpieces of the fertile period. Well, maybe one: Mia Farrow gives an execrable, vaporish performance as Daisy Buchanan that will make you get down on your knees and thank god that we only have to deal with Gwyneth Paltrow. In a way, though, even Farrow's neuroting fits, because this is Fitzgerald as seen through a Tennesee Williams filter. The character of Myrtle's husband, a cipher in the book, is here a sweaty man in overalls who squeezes an oily rag in his hand whenever he stresses out over his wife's infidelities, which is pretty much all the time. What we film folk might call the Karl Malden character.
Unbeknownst to many, this movie was written by Francis Ford Coppola, and is another crown jewel to add to his annus mirabilis of 1974, when he also wrote and directed The Conversation and The Godfather Part II. And what did you do last year? Here he does a wonderfully subtle job with a thankless task, excising most of the celebrated prose passages and too-famous scenes. There's nothing worse than seeing desperate actors try to bring tension to overly familiar texts -- I can never stifle a groan when any actor says "To be or not to be" -- unless of course it's doing reverent voiceovers of Great American Literature. Both of these fatal errors are mostly avoided, but for anyone who wishes the movie were more faithful, they retain the scene where Daisy weeps over Gatsby's shirts. This episode has an intuitive poetic psychology in the book, but goes over like a lead balloon on screen because we expect clearer motivation from flesh and blood people. Such are the limitations of film. But to keep himself interested, and to prevent the proceedings from feeling too dutiful, Coppola gives strange, heretical tweaks to his notorious source throughout, including an assassination scene that likens Gatsby, brilliantly, to JFK.
I don't know much about director Jack Clayton, except that he also did an ace adaptation of Turn of the Screw, retitled The Innocents... But maybe that's enough. This guy FEELS literature. Nothing in this movie looks less than how you idealized it -- even the sunsets are Jazz Age. Robert Redford, too, perhaps sensing he was born to play this role, doesn't fold under pressure but gives a shrewdly understated performance to match the underwritten character, somehow keeping the myth of Gatsby alive despite his all-too-solid presence. In the scene where we first meet him in his office, his solitude framed by the noises of the revellers down in the garden, he projects both neediness and the intimidating force field that comes with extreme wealth, seemingly without doing anything.
A reviewer below me wondered why the men in this movie would go for the shrill, plain women, and suggested there was a gay subtext. Cool. Then the casting of Mia Farrow is subversive instead of insane. I have to admit, when Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway tells Gatsby "You're better than the whole lot of 'em put together!" his delivery has something, shall we say, flamboyant about it, especially in comparison to his wooden restraint hitherto. It's almost as if he stored up all his energy for that one line, to force us to see what a key moment it is between these two young men, and perhaps what's lost when Gatsby meets his end later the same afternoon. But enough speculation. Here's a movie open to any and all interpretations -- sexual, political, poetical.
So much for hoping for a special edition DVD of this undervalued movie. Not even a trailer! But at least the movie has never looked better, and the original music soundtrack has been fully restored, so I'm not about to complain any further. Ever since its release this film has been battered with wildly vicious criticisms. Maybe that can be better reserved for the genuinely numbing and off key 2001 TV version, which makes this version look better than ever. This version, to me, improves with every viewing--it's peculiar rhythms and deliberately sedate pace does work very well, creating a mood not easily comparable to other movies. Then too, look at director Jack Clayton's movie, THE INNOCENTS (1960), which shares a bit of this studied approach. I'm glad this Gatsby version wasn't reduced to a quick and vulgarized romp; instead Clayton took a more intellectual tone, very nicely counterpointed with a superb array of period music. The crowning touch, Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do," is a match made in heaven, both the song and the novel having appeared within a year of each other in 1925. As for the DVD, it now highlights to maximum effect the evocative, first rate cinematography and art direction (what were those other commentators thinking--were they watching a duped VHS?), etc. Too bad a 30th anniversary edition couldn't have happened in 2004, but I'm more than pleased this has been given its chance on DVD. I agree that the novel's literary aspects defies easy transformation into a movie, but we are more than fortunate that this 1974 film version is as haunting and quietly moving an experience that it is.
Well,it is by now the best version of Gatsby,and I've seen three of the total four(all except the 1926 version,anyway unobtainable today). I think this one came closest to the original novel,yet much different from the original Fitzgerald novel-which,by the way is one of the best,if not the absolute best American novel ever to be written. The settings,music,original quotes,the acting are accurate only up to a certain point,a careful viewer discovering many inaccurate details if the film is compared to the book-Bruce Dern doesn't resemble Tom Buchanan at all,the actual Tom Buchanan being either a hulking brute(Oliver Reed or James Garner fitting much more accurately into that description,with their animal,macho-like physical structure,Reed's character from Women in Love even being a rich heir and playboy,a careless,spoiled,selfish,snobbish,hollowly narrow-minded and depraved bully)or an inexpressively beautiful all-American WASP,the cute,unimaginative,well-educated,dull,and again snobbish boy next door(even Redford could have been more convincing as Tom Buchanan:both more convincing as Dern and more convincing than his performance of Gatsby),Gatsby's Rolls-Royce couldn't have been a 1922 car because in the film we see a Rolls-Royce Corniche from 1925,actually the events even take place in 1925,not in 1922 like in the book,since eight,not five years have elapsed since Gatsby's first date with Daisy back in 1917,Gatsby's house isn't the like the one depicted in the book,certainly not the copy of an old castle from the Normandie(for example Hearst Ranch,which stood as a model both for Fitzgerald as he described Gatsby's home and for Citizen Kane's Xanadu)would have been a good choice,Daisy's hair is not blonde but dark,while Jordan Baker actually is blond,while she isn't blond in this film.... and the list of mistaken details might continue. Nevertheless,in spite of all the flaws mentioned above,the film still captures the enthralling beauty of the roaring twenties,being visually lush-the rich colors,textures,images used are so lavish,so lush,so intense that they almost seem disturbing.The costumes are stylish and extravagantly elegant,the music is authentic jazz and makes you want to get up and dance the Charleston. But some of the actors are clearly miscast,including Redford in the title role(which he even copies two decades later in Indecent Proposal,where he appears as an unhappy,mysterious billionaire craving to re-live the love lost in his shady past and willing to pay every price for it,thinking that his money and power could buy anything and anyone).Robert Redford does a fairly good job as Gatsby,but is clearly not the best choice.Gatsby is actually more mysterious than the athletic sunny-boy Redford,maybe not even handsome,however far more charismatic,expressive,even more eccentric. Probably the only actor I could imagine as Gatsby would be Richard Chamberlain,which played the best version of The Count of Monte Cristo the same year and by far the most credible Fitzgerald biopic in the following year-Gatsby is actually a sort of Monte Cristo who reinvents himself,assumes a new name/identity,acquires and spends an immense fortune both to reconquer his lost love and to come to terms with his past.Gatsby could have been depicted in a darker way,as he made his Fortune by using shady means during Prohibition("he killed a man"...or more),an elegant character exhaling a somewhat impure,demonic,oddly compelling fascination,manipulating and vindictive,seducing,twisting everything he touches. While Mia Farrow's performance as Daisy lacks originality,style,beauty,chemistry,just about everything.It's incredible that among so many actresses contemporary to her who depicted the twenties's flapper in a convincing way-Laura Antonelli,Susan Hampshire,Julie Andrews,Brigitte Bardot,Karen Black,Glenda Jackson,Liza Minelli,Lois Chiles,Natalie Wood,Faye Dunaway(the last one unjust deprived of this part in this very movie)she was the best choice.However there is something that Mia Farrow does excellently in her portrayal of Daisy-she looks extremely superficial,careless,vapid,insensitively spoiled and incapable of being serious or reasonable for one single second. The supporting cast on the other hand somewhat balances the film's flaws:Sam Waterson is credible as a mature,reliable,discreet,modest,intelligent,trustworthy Nick Carraway,just like in the book,Karen Black and Lois Chiles are also fitting well into their roles,while Scott Wilson as the mentally troubled,yet pure husband of Tom's mistress,plays his haunting part so well,that he somewhat resembles Peter Seller's genius to depict haunting,neurotic characters(Sellers would have been right for this part too). All in all this film is pleasant to watch and entertaining,but not Jack Clayton's ultimate masterpiece-is first watched it I was seduced by its visual splendor,watching it several times again,it gradually lost the magic I remembered.
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