Gatsby Fever

We have only a week left until Baz Luhrmann’s  adaption of The Great Gatsby opens in movie theaters. Have you been waiting patiently? If you’re really looking forward to seeing Leonardo DiCaprio star as Gatsby, you can view stills and nearly a dozen movie trailers here

There’s been a lot of hype and build-up. Even my favorite writing magazine, The Writer, features the upcoming film with just a hint at what writers can learn from Fitzgerald. So, as I lay in bed recovering from a serious virus a few weeks ago, I rented the 1974 version of the film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. It was a quiet movie  but adequately captures the voice of Nick Carraway as he reflects on events of the summer of 1922. The pace of the movie mirrored the novel with the “ups” in the film being the exciting party and car scenes. I love the Roaring Twenties and the dancing, music, cars, and costume were accurate. This movie also did a good job covering the events from the novel, though little is explained about Jay Gatsby’s background. As in the early chapters of the novel, it is mostly speculation. Unlike the later chapters of the novel, in which details of Gatsby’s childhood are revealed, this movie version suggests  it  is not important. This version of the movie gives us a glimpse of the goodness that was still at the heart of Gatsby when his father arrives for his funeral and he spends some time with Nick.

I truly hope Baz Luhrmann will hold true to Fitzgerald’s work because what we learn about Jay Gatsby — and more importantly how cleverly Fitzgerald imparts this information — is very important to the story. In the novel, Fitzgerald delays character revelation for Gatsby which builds him up in the minds of the reader just as his reputation precedes him in the reality of the characters. The reader doesn’t see or hear from Gatsby until chapter 3. Throughout the first half of the novel, the characters speculate about this man and how he gained his wealth. The reader learns Gatsby’s background, finally, in chapters 6 and 7. (Actually, he reveals details about his childhood in chapter 6 and in chapter 7 his criminal dealings are finally confirmed.)

I recall discussing the “mysteriousness” of Gatsby’s character when I read the book first in high school, again in college, and yet again (at least twice) in writing classes and as a source to study in developing my own writing. Another detail covered during those school-related readings was the dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when the reader has information about the story situation that characters do not possess. I know that when I read this novel the first time (in high school) I remembered having little patience or empathy for Tom and later for Daisy. At the end of the book, I remember thinking, “They truly deserve each other!” I won’t spoil the story for those unfamiliar, but the 1974 version of the movie evoked that same response, so kudos to director Jack Clayton on that account.

After having watched the movie, and seeing the movie trailers for the upcoming Luhrmann film, I think I’ll read the book again. I’m curious about the pacing of events in the book, especially after a quick check to see when exactly the reader learns about Gatsby’s past (and watching a trailer that confirms his past will be explained/revealed in the 2013 movie).

I also realize, now that I am a writer and teach writing classes, that Fitzgerald  had choices in which character should be the narrator and his choice of Nick makes the book a standout. He couldn’t choose Gatsby, since that would pose difficulties in the final chapters. How do you wrap up a story after the death of the narrator or viewpoint character? And Daisy is too self-centered while Tom is too boorish to notice details or instill pertinent information to the reader. Nick is a great choice, and I like the way the story reads as a sort of memoir—the events took place long ago  and with the feel that Nick is looking through keepsakes as he recalls that summer and looks over the lists of party-goers he kept which are now yellowed and deteriorating at the creases.

Finally, I’m taken with the description of characters and places in the novel. Even the fictitious East and West Egg and the Valley of Ashes are so descriptive. I see the events and what they seem to represent. I look forward to seeing the latest version of the movie. I only hope (and from watching the movie trailers, I really hope I’m wrong) the music is true to the Roaring Twenties and not an updated hip-hop rendition of those fast-paced jazz tunes.

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