I mean, look, said Baz Luhrmann, the cinematically manic auteur behind the new edition of “The Great Gatsby.” Who cares if his movie about obscene wealth and romantic illusions got mixed reviews in the U.S.? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel received the same in its day.
One critic, director and co-adapter Luhrmann noted, gravely, called Fitzgerald a “clown." And said that the characters were "marionettes."
At the opening press conference Wednesday for the 66th Cannes Film Festival, Luhrmann mentioned that more copies of the novel were sold in a recent week (thanks largely to the Warner Bros. movie’s promotional tie-in machinery) than during Fitzgerald’s entire lifetime.
Typically the Cannes festival’s opening-night picture is an audience-friendly affair (last year’s was “Moonrise Kingdom”), featuring plenty of star wattage for red-carpet purposes. Such purposes are not incidental to the world’s most formidable and influential film festival.
Atypically for Cannes, and a bit of a glamour-dampener, “The Great Gatsby” has already opened in the U.S., albeit to a strong $55 million gross in its first five days. The days leading up to the domestic release, Luhrmann acknowledged, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and others by his side, were “very nervous” indeed.
The director recounted a meeting with Warner Bros. brass, at a particularly vulnerable juncture in the lavishly budgeted film’s financing, in which he argued that “Gatsby” was a lot like another, earlier Warners title in its portrait of a mysterious loner nursing a broken heart. That film was “Casablanca.” Few, if any, in the press room saw that particular comparison coming.
DiCaprio worked with Luhrmann 17 years ago on “Romeo + Juliet.” Reading Fitzgerald as a young man, the actor said, he was “fascinated with Gatsby,” but re-reading it in preparation for the movie, he found it “no longer a love story,” but rather a “tragedy about a great Rockefeller, a great American who’d somewhere along the way…lost the sense of who he was.”
Luhrmann noted that Fitzgerald wrote much of “Gatsby” a few kilometers east of Cannes, while his wife, Zelda, was having an affair with a French pilot on the beach and thereabouts, near the site of the official “Gatsby” France premiere. The screening at the Grand Lumiere Theatre will be followed by a dinner on the beach, promising a certain level of pre-recession swank and excess. But presumably without Fitzgerald’s undertow of loss and waste and heartbreak.
You can only be so faithful to a great novel if there’s a Cannes banquet involved.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun