I watched a couple of films over the weekend – “The Great Gatsby” and “Gravity”. You can probably tell there was a “yours and mine” selection here between my wife Lisa and I. Still, I was kind of interested in The Great Gatsby… for about 30 minutes or so. It’s a typical Baz Luhrmann film filled with hundreds of people in crazy costumes (he’s got to keep his wife busy somehow, I suppose) and plenty of those huge, excessive party scenes. Okay, if you like that kind of thing, no problems – it’s just not my kind of movie. I’m certainly not saying it’s a bad film.
I ended up on the front porch having a beer and watching the night sky – which led to me wondering just how close Luhrmann’s film (and the other TGG movies before it) comes to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original concept for his book? As always, the iPad was within reach (sad, yes – I know) and I was surprised to discover that according to Wikipedia TGG was considered a failure. It only sold 20,000 in 1925, which considering the celebrity status of FSF was a poor showing indeed. Fitzgerald reckoned no one “got” what he was trying to do. It wasn’t until the 1940’s (Fitzgerald died in 1940 still convinced the book had failed) when TGG was freely distributed among soldiers serving overseas during WW2 that the book did one of those weird, literary things and became much-discussed, popular and eventually became ranked as one of the great American novels.
It always intrigues me how close, or not, readers come to understanding a writer’s original intent (assuming they’re no longer alive to explain it themselves). I’ve had people tell me deep, complex analyses of my novels and I’ve never had the heart to explain nothing they imagine was ever in my head. I was just trying to write a good story! So the question is, which version of The Great Gatsby became the best selling novel? Was it Fitzgerald’s imagery that we finally “got”, or some completely distorted understanding of the book that we’ve created over the decades of picking every sentence apart? In other words, if F. Scott Fitzgerald were to see Luhrmann’s film today, afterwards would he say, “Yep, that’s what I was trying to say”?
Oh – and Gravity? Well, if you’re like me and into all that space stuff with floating astronauts and the rest – you’ll love it. The effects are very good. The story is pretty much non-existent, it’s little more than a vehicle to justify the visual trickery, and has huge holes anyway (e.g. how Sandra Bullock is a kind of “guest” scientific astronaut, not one of the space shuttle crew, but at some point she’s capable of reading Russian instruction manuals on how to drive these things…), but it truly doesn’t matter with the spectacle of the vision itself. And it’s not too long. So… highly recommended.
I suspect F. Scott Fitzgerald wouldn’t have “got” Gravity at all. He wouldn’t have understood the concept of no story at all, but only a thin idea to base a film script that depends on visual effects alone. That’s crazy writer’s talk.
I had another interesting thought though. How would Fitzgerald have written TGG, if he’d stayed alive long enough to witness the Great Depression?
Hmm… that’s what happens with beer, front porches and starry nights.