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In the Dark

A Vast, Vulgar, Meretricious Beauty

The Great Gatsby
Produced and distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce 

 

Why do studios keep trying to turn F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby into a film?  Fitzgerald’s extraordinarily vivid prose and his unmatched descriptive powers would seem to make it a natural choice, but, through five attempts, it’s proved to be thoroughly allergic to the screen.  Why?  It may be that Fitzgerald was working less as a novelist than as a poet when he wrote it.  It’s well known that poetry refuses to yield to the inherent literalism of film.

Take, for instance, the valley of ashes glimpsed by the novel’s characters several times while riding the train from Long Island to Manhattan.  On the page it’s an image that hovers between the literal and the symbolic.  The first-time reader registers its suggestiveness subliminally.  Here’s a wasteland in which train laborers shovel cinders to maintain ballast under the rails.  But it’s also the realm of modern man’s parched soul deprived of spiritual sustenance.  Made literal on the screen, the conceit looks at once precious and thoroughly ridiculous.  This is just one of the narrative’s many metaphoric images that do not...

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