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From Book to Film: The Great Gatsby

November 12, 2015

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a novel that everyone seems to love. It is considered a classic. It is taught at schools all over the country, including RB, of course. Last year it was the prom theme and this year it is going to be performed for the fall play.

Set against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties, the novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, who rents a small house next to the outlandish mansion of the mysterious Jay Gatsby. What he soon discovers is that not everything is as it seems.

Like several other American classics, there have been several film versions. So I decided to look at the only one besides the Baz Luhrmann version to win an Academy Award: the 1974 version, with a script written Francis Ford Coppola, of The Godfather Trilogy and Apocalypse Now fame. For the review of the 2013 version starring Leonardo DiCaprio, go here.

To quote the late, great film critic Roger Ebert, “It would take about the same time to read Fitzgerald’s novel as to view this movie — and that’s what I’d recommend.” This movie is terrible and it utterly pales in comparison to the novel. It’s unbelievably slow moving and boring.

The acting is atrocious. There’s no chemistry between anyone, which is probably the one thing you need in a love story. There’s a few good scenes here and there, but there so few and far between that it’s not enough to save the movie.

And Robert Redford is the Great Gatsby? They don’t even stage his introduction like they’re supposed to. Leaving no reason for Nick (pre-Law & Order Sam Waterston) to even become friends with and like Gatsby in the first place.

The movie did win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Theoni V. Aldredge) and Best Music (Nelson Riddle), but I didn’t think those were anything special either. Except the music. Possible.

One of the universe’s biggest ironies is that more often than not, great books are made into not-so-great movies. If you don’t believe me, believe Roger Ebert. Why exactly is this novel so popular?  I decided to speak to AP Lit teacher Lawrence Forberg and see if he noticed increased interest in Gatsby lately.

“The renewed interest in the novel is in response to the latest version of the movie,” Forberg said, “the use of contemporary music and the flashy and stylized shots and sets has captured the imagination of a new audience.  I hope it will influence people to read the novel. It certainly boosted sales, but buying the book does not always means people are reading.”

But at RB, people are reading.  It’s a book about a incredibly wealthy guy in the twenties. On the surface it doesn’t seem like teenagers would easily relate to it or be interested.

“Teenagers might find the pursuit of a dream appealing,” Forberg said, “ also, many people want something better or see themselves as something different. James Gatz saw himself as someone born for bigger and greater things and that is why he ‘gave birth’ to Jay Gatsby.”

To conclude, I asked if Forberg though it was possible to make a live-action retelling. Given that the beauty of Gatsby is the imagery brought about by it’s beautiful prose

What he said was that there are ways in order to translate that to a different form of media. For example, in the 2013 version, Forberg felt the inclusion of Nick’s voice over helped keep the language in the forefront. “Though [Luhrmann] had to make a major change in the novel. Nick is not a recovering alcoholic in the novel and is not writing a journal to share with his doctor,” Forberg said, “this is a bastardization of the text, but it was used to keep the poetic language in the movie.”

So, if done carefully, it is possible to make a live-action film retelling of the novel. Time will only tell if this applies to a stage version. Times for the fall play are  Nov. 12th, 13th, and 14th. More information to come later.

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