Wednesday, May 29, 2013


After having successfully mangled Shakespeare and the movie musical, Australia's One-Trick Wonder has set his sights on arguably the definitive American novel - F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."

With results that are both expected and surprising.

The film's first 20 minutes or so - a graphic depiction of the parties hosted by mega-millionaire Jay Gatsby (who has the good sense not to attend any of his own soirées) - are suitably grotesque, as if they were staged by Busby Berkeley if Berkeley had access to Ecstacy.

But once the filmmaker gets all of the insistent noise and clutter out of his system, his film settles down - surprise! - and actually tries to tell Fitzgerald's classic cautionary tale of a life tragically misspent.

The problem is, this is where the actors come in and, unfortunately, this particular filmmaker is a bad director of actors.  Only Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby has any actorly power here, largely because he's Leonardo DiCaprio, the best of our young character actors and someone smart enough to know which directors and direction to heed.  Tobey Maguire plays Nick Caraway as a pubescent, while Carey Mulligan is just about a total washout as Daisy, her line readings jaw-droppingly unmemorable.  Meanwhile, poor Isla Fisher is in way over her head in the drastically watered-down role of Myrtle, who is now little more than a Kewpie Doll.  

That said, take a second look at Jack Clayton's sublime 1974 "Gatsby," with Sam Waterston as the real Nick Caraway, Karen Black doing wonders as Myrtle, and Mia Farrow reading Daisy's lines the way they're supposed to be recited. Farrow also plays Daisy as slightly unstable. Delicious.

I could go on but won't.  I've whetted my own appetite to watch Robert Redford and Farrow in a "Gatsby" that's actually watchable.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


In his latest DVD column for The New York Times, the invaluable Dave Kehr details the recent output of Fox Cinema Archives, the one-year-old, manufactured-on-demand arm of 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment,  questioning (and with very good reason) why Fox, of all studios, would eschew letterboxing for most of its wide-screen films.

In this particular case, for this particular studio, it frankly makes no sense.

Per Dave:  "...most galling of all, for the studio that fueled the wide-screen revolution of the 1950s with the introduction of CinemaScope, wide-screen films (are) presented in pan-and-scan versions reformatted to fit the televisions of the last century, with large parts of the image cropped out."

Yes, Fox was the driving force behind CinemaScope, the one studio that could be credited, without hyperbole, with introducing and nurturing wide-screen movies.  Whoever is making decisions at 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment these days clearly is ignorant of his/her studio's august history.  Sad.  But rather typical. Fox should confer with Warner Bros., whose Warner Archive Collection repeatedly get things right.

Generally speaking, I don't learn much from modern movie reviews.  The days of great film journalism are gone.  But Dave is an exception.  I invariably come away from his essays enlightened about something.  And this particular observation jumped out at me. Bravo, Dave!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

déjà vu

Baz Luhrman's new version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby" runs 142 minutes.

Jack Clayton's 1974 filmization of the same material runs 144 minutes.



Baz Luhrman's "Gatsby" is breathlessly being ushered to the screen as a Big Event, replete with 3-D and gorgeous Leo as Jay Gatz.

Jack Clayton's "Gatsby," I hasten to note, was an even  bigger deal nearly 40 years ago, replete with a Francis Ford Coppola script and beautiful couple Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the leads. Even more gorgeous.

Fact is, Clayton's "Gatsby" was the first to be sold as a modern movie event, predating "Jaws" by one year and the “Star Wars” assault by three years. (The Spielberg and Lucas films would simply up the ante.)
Time magazine devoted a 1974 cover story on the over-the-top hype that preceded and accompanied the opening of Clayton's film, and Farrow, as Daisy, graced the cover of the very first edition of People magazine.

This was all part of the overwhelming “Gatsby” marketing blitz which not only distracted from the many merits of the movie but also brought out the venom of critics - hence, the glib Canby dismissal ("as lifeless as a body that's been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool") that's been invoked in seemingly every New York Times article promoting the new version.  Me?  I rather like and admire the Coppola-Cayton version.

He says defiantly.

Back in '74, Robert Evans, the marketing Svengali behind Clayton's film, was quoted in the Time piece saying, "The making of a blockbuster is the newest art form of the 20th century."  Being interviewed for the new version of "Gatsby," Evans steps back, warning about about the temptation to “overcommercialize and overpublicize” the Fitzgerald source material

And he's correct but that's certainly what he did 40-plus years ago.

So, the only real point of Luhrman's remake is that very little has changed in the movie industry. Except for its  taste in music.

For his version, Luhrman elected to, well, baz things up by bringing in Shawn 'Jay Z' Carter to add some anachronistic background songs.

Clayton?  He had the actor William Atherton croon Irving Berlin's wrenching "What'll I Do?" over the main credits.  Much preferable.