Well, it was a rainy day and after a bout of intense writing, My great friend and writing buddy Nancy and I decided to take a movie break. On our agenda: Gatsby. I have to confess that Alex decided to pass on this evening out, mainly because he’s a major F. Scott Fitzgerald fan and he’d heard that the movie was so-so.
I must confess to reading The Great Gatsby many moons ago. As a consequence, I’m a little fuzzy on the story and so it’s not all that easy to compare the book to the movie. But there are a few things that did strike me:
First, the mansions of the mind are a lot more satisfying, if ethereal, than computer-generated ones. Were all the Downton Abbey-like piles in this movie’s East and West egg summoned from cyberspace? I can’t swear to it, but it certainly looked that way. Here’s the rub: whether they were constructed, contracted for or cyber-made, the result is the same: They focused attention on the reality, the thing-iness, of the places rather than the idea of what they represented. Movies are so visual, they’re literal instead of symbolic, which often flattens out the meaning that things represent. Reading, on the other hand, allows the visual and symbolic to merge, which is intensely satisfying and mind-opening.
Second, the hyperkinetic style that the film was going for made the action seem frantic instead of inevitable. This movie was definitely heavy on the glitz: crystal costumes, chandeliers, tons of flappers in jazzy clothes, and sumptuous, decadent parties like Buzby Berkeley extravaganzas on steroids. All this bling and the lightning-fast pace made it difficult to stop and digest the meaning of events. Sure we had Nick, the story’s narrator, commenting via voice overs, but this wasn’t enough. As I recall, The Great Gatsby had a kind of stately movement that acted as a counterpoint to all the frantic party going. As a reader, you felt the story moving toward something momentous.
And finally, the movie did some major tinkering with the storyline. I know this is often required in the novel-to-movie trade, but it simplified some elements of the story to the point where it lost a lot of its mystery.
Despite all this, The Great Gatsby is now on the bestseller list because of this film — something that F. Scott would surely be wildly, madly happy about. So let us rejoice as readers. And write on.