Other Ten Percent 5/9/13

May 09 2013

So I’ve never been the hugest fan of The Great Gatsby as a book, but when I first read Kathryn Schulz’s long article on how the book is secretly awful I thought it was pretty stupid. I mean the critical consensus on something can certainly be wrong but you usually want to try and engage with that consensus and counter that narrative directly. Schulz’s article seemed to just be a list of complaints about a book that wasn’t her stylistic cup of tea and that didn’t seem like it would actually get anybody to agree that Gatsby wasn’t a very good novel.

Apparently I was wrong though because I’ve been spending the day reading articles by people that apparently despise the book. It’s just kinda hard to notice their problems with Fitzgerald’s original because it usually comes right after they praise it as the greatest American novel and start complaining that Baz Luhrmann ruined it. So far I’ve read reviews that savage the movie and the actors in it for making Daisy a passive character with little or no personal identity and reviews that hate that Gatsby seems to be nothing more than a charlatan who’s obsessed with remaking his past and fails. Obviously a novel whose title character was simply a status-obsessed liar could never command the respect Gatsby does. I swear to God I’m half expecting somebody to lambast Lehrmann’s clunky reliance on visuals to tell his story as best exemplified by this stupid fucking green light he keeps harping on.

I should probably make it clear right now that I haven’t seen the new Gatsby so I’m not trying to make an argument that the largely negative reviews its been getting are actually wrong about the quality of the film. My problem is that I’ve probably read 10,000 words of negative reviews on this movie by now and I have no clue what makes this movie awful. Because by and large the negative reviews fall into two camps: rants about how Lurhmann’s ruined a classic novel by people who’ve seemingly never read the damn thing far enough to understand the basic character dynamics (hint: if you think that The Great Gatsby is a tale of star crossed lovers whose tragic love can never be…stop talking) and people who keep saying things that are actually awesome that they think will get me to hate the movie.

That latter category is best exemplified by the Time Out New York review that has this gem: “The anachronistic pop-music cues, digitally augmented tracking shots and disco-globe–glittery production design don’t re-create the headiness of early-20th-century New York so much as invent a billowy fantasy otherworld in the gauzy vein of Twilight.” Replace the word Twilight with basically any other movie that creates a Fantasy Otherworld and that sounds like my ideal Gatsby movie.

Neither type of review however actually tells me what the movie is besides “not the novel.” Is it the kind of Lehrmann film that uses its visual excess to support the story or does all the glitter gets in the way? Oh sure people will argue its the second in their review but their evidence seems less based in the film’s cinematography and more based in its failure to line up with their reading of the novel which, as we’ve established, can get pretty fucking suspect depending on the reviewer.

The reviews seem absolutely obsessed with establishing their literary bona fides but in a weird way what I want for a review of the movie is somebody that knows absolutely nothing about the book (the prospect that such a person might be in the audience this weekend and that they might like the movie seems like absolute proof that taste is dead to most critics) because my interest is less if Luhrmann adapted Gatsby correctly to the screen and more if Lurmann adapted his own visual style competently to the source material.

I’m not convinced the movie ISN’T a disaster. In fact, given Lurhmann’s track record I was pretty on the fence about seeing the film. Now that I’ve read a dozen negative reviews of the thing though I feel a strange sense of obligation to see it because the reasoning for why its awful is so strange. It shouldn’t be a hard sell to tell me that Luhrmann directing Gatsby is a disaster but the mystery of what the hell the film is actually like has been haunting me all day and apparently describing the film they just saw is no longer the job of film critics. Instead they’re all far too busy describing a book we all ready in our 9th grade English class…badly.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply