Sunday, May 12, 2013

This is all dazzling sumptuousness

What impressed me most about seeing Baz Luhrmann’s treatment of The Great Gatsby (which surely should  be number one at the box office based on the crowds I saw at the multiplex this opening weekend) was the young age of the audience and how rapt they were by the film. I guess Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is still required reading on numerous high school curricula. Maybe it was also a class assignment! I was amazed at how crowded the cinemas were. We couldn’t get tickets for an 8.30 pm screening Saturday (at MJR) and had to wait until 9.45 – and this was for the non-3D version. And when we walked in at 9.30 we were lucky to get two “stadium” seats together rather than be relegated to the flat front rows under the screen. But what was interesting was that this audience was overwhelmingly under 30, perhaps even 25. Other than a bit of talking at the very beginning after the movie got underway there was pretty much silence throughout its two hours and 22 minutes. Moreover, nobody seemed bored. I noticed only one couple walk out. So what was the appeal of, after all, a period film to an audience which is supposedly ahistorical in a mass culture that can’t remember beyond a couple of smart phone iterations ago? Heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio? But there were also lots of men there. Okay, they were the dates of those whose hearts were aflutter by The D. Carey Mulligan ain’t a bad looker either, so many of the men went because of her co-starring role? But this doesn’t answer the question of why the audience was seemingly so engrossed by the entire film. Was it the glitter and special effects? The movie has already been criticized for its over the top pictorial gloss at the expense of the story’s real guts – which is questioning the excess, based on an illegally-gained fortune, of the roaring Jazz Age. And while the movie screen imagery is in many ways remarkable one does come away wondering what the heck narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) (Fitzgerald’s stand in) sees in the “great” Gatsby (DiCaprio). Can he really admire a figure for holding out hope beyond hope to reclaim his long lost love Daisy (Mulligan) by throwing over the top parties at his palatial mansion in Long Island’s West Egg, across the bay from Daisy’s sumptuous home shared with hubby Tom (Joel Edgerton), in endless bids to gain her back? Kind of an over the top story to begin with, when you think about it, and Gatsby is considered one of America’s greatest pieces of fiction. No question the movie packs a kaleidoscopic punch with dazzling party scenes and a high tech recreation of 1922 New York, complete with realistic elevated trains and the soot which blemished the afternoon Manhattan sky from the window of the Plaza Hotel (this was before the EPA, folks). Soot – perhaps a metaphor? - was also all the rage in that era, as witness the hell-like valley of ashes (think Zug Island) through which the uber affluent had to drive en route to Manhattan. No, this film had no critical edge. But it was certainly luxurious to watch. The costumes, the images, and the extraordinary period detail saw to that. 

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