“On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.”—the opening to Chapter Four of The Great Gatsby
As famous as are The Great Gatsby’s gorgeous opening and ending passages, the above line shows as well as anything the1925 novel’s elusive poetic magic. Gardens are blue, cocktail music is yellow, and trays of silver drinks float in the dusk. In prose at once specific and grandly metaphoric, The Great Gatsby unspools a plot utterly American in its larceny and its romance: the story of a rags-to-riches-shady-but-essentially-good-social-climbing outlaw whose self-invention and male yearning end in murder.
Since I’ve loved Gatsby for much of my life, I resisted seeing until recently the latest movie based upon it. I doubted whether Leonardo DiCaprio could get off Gatsby’s “old sport” tic without sounding ridiculous. “Old sport” was the nail in the coffin of Robert Redford’s inert performance in the 1974 film flop.
Now comes Baz Luhrmann with Leo as leading man. The Aussie’s effort, Hip-Hop infused and with splashy 3-D option, is “pretty much a disaster,” rules David Denby of the New Yorker. “Gatsby’s big parties are a seething mass of flesh, feathers, dropped waists, cloche hats, swinging pearls, flying tuxedos, fireworks, and breaking glass,” Denby writes. “Luhrmann’s vulgarity is designed to win over the young audience, and it suggests that he’s less a filmmaker than a music-video director with endless resources and a stunning absence of taste.”