Baz Luhrman's THE GREAT GATSBY [2013]

The book has been the bane of practically every high school student that has ever taken an English or Literature class.  And even some of those fortunate enough not to have to read it in high school were required to read it later in college.  For whatever reason, HERC read the damn thing in junior high.  It wasn't assigned or required but it was suggested to him by Mrs. Peggy Usher, his eighth grade English teacher, and she is forever linked in his memory to the wonder that is F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

The original iconic cover is still used almost 90 years later!
HERC enjoyed the 1925 book because it was different from most so-called classic novels: it was relatively brief at just under 200 pages, it was romantic without being sappy and it featured a tragic ending instead of the formulaic "happily ever after."  The 1974 film version starring Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston and Robert Redford (as Gatsby) has long been a favorite as well.  Although Farrow comes off as a little too much - admittedly, the Daisy character is a fine line between beauty and madness - the rest of the cast fits their characters perfectly.

SPOILER ALERT! Gatsby and the death machine.
It is worth noting that other actresses considered for the role of Daisy at the time were Candice Bergen, Cybil Shepard, Ali McGraw, Natalie Wood and Faye Dunaway.  Redford beat out Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty for the role of Jay Gatsby.  Unlike the book, the movie does tend to drag and linger and it feels longer than it's 144 minute running time.  While HERC enjoys watching it he cannot recommend it.

Now, almost 40 years later, along comes Baz Luhrman with his unique vision of the literary classic/torture device.  Leonardo DiCaprio steps into the titular character and Carey Mulligan dazzles as Daisy.  While DiCaprio reluctantly took on the role of Gatsby after turning it down more than twice, Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper were considered for the role of Tom Buchanan, Daisy's unfaithful husband who was portrayed by Bruce Dern in the 1974 film.

Many young actresses vied for the role of Daisy including Jessica Alba, Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdams, Keira Knightley, Blake Lively, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson.  After viewing the film earlier this week, HERC says Baz's version is loud and full of camera tricks but the heart of the story has been gutted.  Tobey Maguire as narrator Nick Carraway is woefully miscast and entire elements of the story are missing from Luhrman and Craig Pearce's screenplay.  Carey Mulligan as Daisy is near perfection, though.  Can't recommend this movie and it might even become the first flop of the Summer blockbuster season.  Don't think any English teachers will be utilizing it as a teaching aid, either.

Part of fully experiencing a film by Luhrman is the soundtrack and the music in The Great Gatsby is no exception.  HERC has been listening to the soundtrack out of context for nearly two weeks now and on its own he gives it a barely passing grade.  While on paper, the roster of hip-hop artists and cover versions seems out of place, it proves to be completely out of place within the film itself.  The few numbers HERC heard in the movie were jarring, the equivalent of sitting quietly in your car at a stoplight and a car pulls up next to you, broadcasting Weezy's latest lyrical fantasy at max distorted volume.  Anton Monstead, who was music supervisor for Baz Luhrman's two prior films (Australia and Moulin Rogue!), also did the same for Gatsby while Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter  (father of Blue Ivy) produced the soundtrack album.

What do you think of The Great Gatsby?  Sound off on the novel or any of the movie versions in the comments.  If prior Baz Luhrman movies are any indication and they most certainly should be, his presentation of The Great Gatsby will be a divisive one.  HERC falls on the negative side.  

Spotify Tip:  HERC first created the Spotify playlist for this post on Tuesday, May 7th.  At that time the entire Deluxe Version of the album including extra songs and snippets of dialogue was available.  Within 48 hours, only some of the tracks were still available - the rest of the tracks are Local Files on HERC's hard drive.  So what's the tip?  Spotify's library evolves daily - check back often.  Most New Releases are added on Tuesdays but catalog stuff can be added anytime.

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