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Glitters

Despite the fact that by all accounts, Baz Luhrmann is likely well into pre-production on The Great Gatsby — which will likely be shot in Australia, and in 3-D, and feature Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan in starring roles — the elusive director refused to admit anything at a dinner for Geoffrey Rush in Brooklyn on Thursday night. “I’m not doing Gatsby right now for this reason,” he told Vulture when asked why he was shooting Gatsby in Australia when his “team” was mostly located in New York. “Because despite what might be out there, I have made no comment about anything. So until I say it, it’s not said, you know.” Not really.

Luhrmann explained further, with the clarity of a murky swamp.


What it means is, much like what goes on in any event, when you’re in the middle of the work, there’s all sorts of things you’re doing, and, you know, when I’m really clear — I, right now, my only focus is absorbing — I’ve been studying [F. Scott] Fitzgerald now for three years, and my only act now is to absorb the DNA of his world, his life, the world of the novel. That’s why I have published on our website all the books we’re reading. And I think before we all engage anyone, the first thing to do is to do your homework, read the books, and then let’s talk.


Got it. So he’s not making The Great Gatsby. “No, I’m making The Great Gatsby.” Oh. Eff it all. Good luck with this one, Baz! Wake me when the trailer debuts. (Christopher Rosen, “Baz Luhrmann is still full of crap,” Movieline, 11 March 2011)

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I can't believe someone whose aesthetic is designed to exalt decadence and empty artifice is going to direct a horrid misreading of the most powerful Indictment of decadence and empty artifice ever created.

I always wanted to see a faithful Gatsby film.

Alas, it will never be. (Jack Knive)

Instinctive reaction is to insist that there is some of Gatsby's desire to "suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder" in Luhrmann, and that it is compelling. He can, I agree, seem so thin, even vapid, but he strangely does draw you back to him.

True, the desperate drive and denial that pushes towards the American "orgastic" future could be captured, at least as an essential visual energy.

I just fear that the wealthy and their "retreat into carelessness," essentially that the "love story" is one-sided, that Daisy would rather live within the confines of the illusion of control offered by material possession than risk relating through an unmediated reality...

I just hope he makes it the tragic portrait of the thwarted masculine that it truly is. I don't want to see a post-feminist revision of Fitzgerald.

And so far, Mr. Luhrmann's portraits of the Masculine and the Feminine seem like the exaggerated plasticine figures on a wedding cake-- what an effeminate spazz locked out of that particular existential struggle would think of it if he were simply reproducing its surface features.

You know- the very idea of Nicole Kidman as Woman, and Hugh Jackman as Man. Someone is very confused. Or either obsessed with making a subversion of gender to the degree that this could overshadow the essence of Fitzgerald's unflinching text. (Jack Knive)

It is odd his deciding to do Gatsby at the onset of what looks like (by which I mean, for sure is) a new long depression, since Gatsby was written comfortably within one of the millenium's foremost go-go times. That itself to me seems very odd, has me suspect its moving energy, and has me fretting the film -- though I'm for sure going to see it now!

About your comment on material possessions: I'm turning to the book, again suspecting Fitzgerald would have a tough time at the time showing up luxury, never-ending glittering things, persuading us that the text is best understood as tragedy or critique rather than celebration, when frequent and always-varying partying, lavishness, details, exotica, out-of-placeness, perpetual newness and perhaps even, I'm wondering, also empty-headed insouciance had an appeal to pretty much every someone at the time (weren't flappers somewhat in opposition to depth; advertisements for the power and worth in ostensible triviality?). And looking at it again this morning, I think he did. If there isn't beauty IN all those empty material possessions, all the beautiful things, their gloss certainly appeals. Their glitter actually scintillates -- are part of the acuity and precision and refinery and fun that marks, I think, most every sentence of the text -- everything vapid is so very much evidently worth delineating. Tom is supposed to be shown up as a barbarian, as base and brutal, but reading it now, whatever Fitzgerald's intent, I think EVEN GATSBY IS -- incredibly, FOR his being largely unaffected by all the delicate surface beauty he has surrounded himself with. Have a glass of champaigne and party, you fool!

If Luhrmann does make it "a tragic portrait of the thwarted masculine that it truly is," if he makes it ring as true to Fitzgerald as this week's Jane Eyre is ostensibly to Bronte, it would have to be, amazingly, for it showing Gatsby's fatal flaw being his inability to appreciate the empty life, out of preference for the deep and meaningful. Daisy has no soul, but is a full of hints, and is a considerable flirt -- which in this text makes her kind of awesome, actually, though to very few, I think, even but a year or two outside the heyday of capitalist fun and within a depression's deflating, cowing check.

Well, that is the tragedy of the masculine-- seeking the essence beneath the shifting masks of facade that the feminine offers. When there is nothing beneath the shifting masks. And, when Gatsby (or, I should say the actual human being, James Gatz) attempts a facade of his own (the Gatsby identity) to win her, he is in fact tragically mirroring the facade of the feminine in his very attempt to attract a master of facades. Takes a fake to catch a fake. But then what?

The text is about the tragedy of American inauthenticity and narcissism. To see it any other way is to not understand being run over by the american dream car and found floating dead in a pool shot by a bullet meant for the bastard who got away.

You can't get away with being a fake.

When Tom dabbles in the working class and brutalizes and murders, he retreats to his real identity as an unaccountable member of the upper caste. Gatsby ends up dead and blamed. And shot by another member of the lower class, to boot. We kill each other while the Tom's and Daisy's of the world saunter on.

The last line describes the endless search for the essential ungraspable ineffable thing that can never be had. You know, the nature of desire. You want it until you have it, then you don't want it anymore. That's the engine of american culture (or maybe all culture, but ours with extra horsepower.)

I understand that a thinker trying to reconcile his own narcissism and celebration of protean, shifting identities has to try to find the fun in the nihilism-- but this is the very reason why I say it is unfair to "correct" Fitzgerald in this way-- his was a moral tale.

Don't make it into po-mo "aesthetic celebratory" non-sense.

To confuse the exhaustive decadence as being ambivalently approached by the text is only as accurate as saying the garden of eden story is about how tempting that fruit looks. Tempting is tempting.

Tom is brutal because he can be. Because he is rich, and he can retreat into the comfortable emptiness of lavish things and his detached wealthy "c'est la vie" sigh.

The 20's decadence preceded the Great Depression for a reason, just as the vast "do as you will" culture of "lifestyle commodity" preceded our current situation (and we are indeed still pre-depression: I assure you, you will know when we're there for the blackouts and the gunshots out in the hungry night.)

A properly understood Gatsby film translation is highly necessary art at this time. Nick is saved by what he sees, and an audience might be similarly affected (inasmuch as a piece of media can redeem it's own alienating affect.)

"There are no second acts in American lives" is not meant to be a condoning of how great the first act was. (Jack Knive)

If Gatsby is as you say it is, entirely a moral tale that shows up the emptiness of 20's youth culture, their lives of glitter, New York!, and endless flirting, rather than itself a contributor to and an evocation of it, it's hard to see why the book, which came out smack middle of the go-go 20s (and was commenced in 1922, I believe), would have been so popular, or how Fitzgerald could ever have been seen as someone who was working to cement the 20s as primarily a youth-focused/lead period, as helping instill a new (and to their elders, vapid) morality.

For you, all the novel's scintillation, all its finely, lovingly, wondrously delineated accountings of all the particulars in an endlessly glittering and beckoning world, was exhausting -- deplorable, and readily summized as decadent, probably from the start. For you, very likely, it never was an Eden or a ripened apple tree which tempts. For me, it was; it WAS a party I hoped to see more of, but alas the quickly fainting Gatsby and ranging Tom episodes ensured little more of it as the text wound down. The moralizing comes unrelentingly at the end, and I guess if you're already in mind to agree with it the previously encountered could be managed into a tempting-but-ultimately-evil retrospective accounting of it, but for me the finish was ponderous, and its moralizing, unconvincing (if you're originally from the Mid-West you can never really lose your past, be a fashionista, au current, abreast of the latest, a participating New Yorker??? Excuse me Nick, but despite your whip-lashings it's pretty clear that your extraordinary ability to see, savor and fashion [in your prose] glamor, catch and INITIATE its evident actual spirit, powerfully contests this thesis, and you're not so dumb not to at some level know it. All your lesson is is that you might still find it all the more comfortable if you sometimes keep to the sides -- but still, very much, within.), and was in mind to partake of another big bite of life of the Big Apple myself. (I was evicted, but was never persuasively made to see the rightness behind the eviction: am I safely away from the tempting sin-laden tree, or just behind "Soviet" walls, bidden to the very worst of masters -- tired, I suppose, somewhat pleasingly familiar but awfully well-tred moral truths, and dumb sobriety?) I suspect the 20s generation that loved the book and weren't anywhere near-ready to shift into, geez, "mommy and daddy did know best" old-timer think, sure, took the ending as a possible anticipation of what might follow -- we're ultimately damned for our fun; it's all an (albeit impressive and powerful) staving off, and we know it -- but recognized the book overall as one OF its era, an authority and a catalyst for further MORE of just their kind of fun, where if this here is proving a disappointment, another surely awaits in the 'morrow, and you know with the added focus it's sure to be more even more splendid than ever! And this is in fact the true glory evil, degrading, past-dismissing Capitalism befell upon them, for another four to five more years. Lucky buggers!

I'm hoping Luhrmann helps remind us all that this great era actually happened, and was worthy, even if this means being blasted by incredulous critics as an attempt at a Sex and the City 3, after number 2 was just loudly everywhere damned as a must-never-be-seen-again, worst kind of inexcusable out-of-stepness and excess. If it's just loud and sure morality tale and damnation, then it's just Dick Diver, and what ten years of the Depression did to Fitzgerald, as he lived out his second act.

You're point about desire, to the hopeless task of catching and keeping what will only surely slip out of your hands the very moment you grasp it: Nick says something along these lines in the text, but Fitzgerald writes him as someone who delights in his smart and capable grasping of phenomenological experience -- in his remarkable capturing of all that he sets out to capture. He makes the effort constantly -- it's pretty much, for me, what the book is mostly about; what he mostly does. And he succeeds, and he knows he succeeds -- and in a way that would draw admiration from others and that he himself will relish -- every time. What HE desires doesn't so much slip away from him as he does from experiences he has already succeeded in catching, "nailing," and savoring. And rightly so. He has his breakfast, enjoys it, and when ready, begins his looking-forward to lunch. This isn't so much Capitalism as it is someone who is not of the depressed. Take Nick (from the first part of Gatsby, before he converts over to Gatsby) and place him away from New York and out for a long spell without possessions in the wilderness, and you've got yourself Annie Dillard from Tinker Creek, in this case, enjoying the daily rush of experience Nature provides. She, we remember, doesn't retreat sadly back away from the thrilling onrush of the Now and into retrospect and past-obsession, until she has the willies startled out of her: until something "massive" and awful stops her forward progress. The rest wasn't her getting wise, just her recovering. I think he puts the stop in to some extent just to steady himself -- he is not ultimately, her equal. But put a true Westerner into the spoils of New York, and you'd never get from him a Great Gatsby: Nick, whatever your reticence and discomfort and breaks-on, New York was already well within you, my friend.

Fitzgerald self-destructed because of his discomfort with the empty artifice you describe. And his inability to ultimately find that life palatable.

Literary works don't become popular simply because they celebrate the culture they describe. Quite the opposite. Usually they articulate an unspoken longing in the culture at large for something beyond the anodyne offered as a salve to the wound of the human existential burden of the era.

We readers have always found hope to live in the bridge across alienation offered by evidence of another troubled soul out there engaged in the same struggle.

Water water everywhere and none to drink. And you're admiring the fountain.

Only a hopelessly lost narcissist longing to make their false identity a reality would believe that the bottom line of every text is a celebration of the self.

All true literature is critical.

"Look how pretty we all are.. and how!" is not enough of an impetus to engage with the painful construction of a work of literature.

Read about Fitzgerald as a human being. His life is evidence of a soul that can't give up seeking a transcendent truth drowning in decadence.

And yes, you can side with the decadence and see Fitzgerald as flawed for seeking "more." I think that's perfectly fair. But then, I side with Francis.

It's called the lost generation for a reason. But clearly, you are lost, so you interpret the exploration of being lost as an exhortation and celebration of that meaningless series of fragmented trajectories.

His construction of the novel was in and of itself an event to win the poisonous psychotic Zelda. And, as Hemingway pointed out to him over and over again-- he was a writer who couldn't let go of the pain of never being able to truly touch some ineffable, essential perfection.

"We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist." 
— Ernest Hemingway, 1934 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald

Does this seem like something an intimate would write to a glitz and glamour celebrating dilettante?

I admire your instance on the attempt to find a phenomenological value system. I admire it the same way I admire the beating heart behind "Jay Gatsby's" artificiality and "James Gatz's" attempt to make his narcissistic facade a reality.

The beauty of failure is exquisite.

The text clearly indicates that this course is tragic. But I see that frightens you.

Just as I am frightened by the gals from Sex and the City. This is where I'd put a smiley face emoticon.

To be fair, I need to lighten up. So did Ernest and F. Scott.

But you could get a little heavier, stranger.

Let's hope Baz thinks about it at least this hard.

Truly, this dialogue gives me hope that the struggle to tackle the dynamic between the glitz and the emptiness could be accomplished in a nuanced, ambivalent way-- even by someone unaware of his own denied inner depth. (Jack Knive)

I'll remember your advice. And well met, Jack Knive!

Link: Baz Luhrmann is still full of crap (Movieline)

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