The Great Gatsby – Stories behind the story

The stories behind the story – Part 1

The Great Gatsby

Original edition, The Great Gatsby, 1925

Today’s post is not one that attempts to share the full details of those extra-literary elements that helped create The Great Gatsby or perpetuate its popularity across nearly five generations. The object is to spark a dialogue among readers about four topics in particular, though drifting to related matters is certainly welcomed.

 

 

In no particular order, these four subjects of discussion are:

  • Film adaptation
  • Celestial Eyes
  • The Big Four
  • The Lost Generation

The Great Gatsby has grown to represent, I argue, not so much a story about The Roaring Twenties as it is about the indomitable break between eras brought on primarily by The Great War.

Four films


Next Friday, May 10, Baz Luhrmann newest film version of the great American classic opens to general audiences in the U.S. As I’ve mentioned before, (if not a bit too often), the movie’s release was delayed ostensibly so that the film could be shown in 3-D.

Have I mentioned that viewers can watch The Great Gatsby in 3-D?

I’ll be first in line at McDonald’s to collect the Jay and Daisy action figures that come with a child’s Happy Meal. Perhaps there will even be a figurine with a tire track across the facial features of Myrtle; that certainly wouldn’t be any more tacky than 3-D.

I plan on seeing the film when it opens and suffice it to say I have my doubts despite a few silver linings.

On the bright side, for it to be much worse than the 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow adaptation it would take the concerted effort of Mel Brooks parody genius. For that version, the casting doomed the film. Redford, an actor I’ve admired since childhood, was not at his best and his scenes of nervousness at reuniting with Daisy are downright bad.

A young Sam Waterston, (The Killing Fields and Law & Order), is the least miscast member of the crew. He has all the nativity of Nick Carraway, but none of the subtle bigotry that Fitzgerald bestowed Nick in order to capture a historical snapshot of 1922 America.

Playing the part of Tom Buchannan, “one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at Yale,” is the ferret-built Bruce Dern, an good actor, but one cast poorly if not carelessly.

A very difficult book to put into the visual medium of film, the 1974 Gatsby seems an overpriced attempt to cash in on the popularity of Redford and the escapism of Gatsby’s Saturday night extravaganzas as relief from the Watergate Hearings.

No one has yet mastered Daisy. That statement certainly goes for Mia Farrow. We’ll soon know if Carey Mulligan becomes the first film actress to pull off this tough act.

It is, in my opinion, the role of Myrtle, Tom Buchanan’s mistress and the long-suffering, unstable George Wilson’s unfaithful bride, whose casting plays a pivotal role in the film’s worthiness as an adaptation. Scottish born actor Isla Fisher, whose roles seem limited to comedy and cashing in on her beauty, suggests – strongly suggests – a bad bit of casting that no amount of talent can save.

Again, it would be hard to do worse than Karen Black’s performance in ’74, but there is one performance as Myrtle that is worthy of note, that of Shelley Winters’ in the 1949 film starring Alan Ladd in the title role of Jay Gatsby.

The next post will begin with a review of my personal favorite among all films that bear the title The Great Gatsby.

Mark Thomas

About Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas is a former active duty Marine, now a veteran teacher working in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. A professional writer in both print journalism and digital content writing, Mark combines his love of teaching history with his passion for the written word. His personal blog, History as Prologue, http://dmarkthomas.com/, reflects his deep interest and knowledge of how the past influences the present. Mark can be contacted at Mark@dmarkthomas.com

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