With the release of Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s, "The Great Gatsby," an extravagant, 3D spectacle no less, the debate over literary license begins anew. Luhrmann has a history of appropriating literary lions — see his Romeo + Juliet as case in point — and making them palatable for modern audiences.
A traditionalist might argue that F. Scott Fitzgerald is turning over in his grave at Luhrmann's creative interpretation. After pretty much drinking himself to death as he slogged away his waning years on sloppy screenplays, I seriously doubt Fitzgerald would be surprised at how cinema interprets the written word. They are, after all, different artistic mediums, film being one he could not master.
1. Listen to dear old dad.
The Great Gatsby begins with my favorite opening line from a literary work.
2. Don't judge a book by its cover.
A debate is raging over the new trade paperback cover of The Great Gatsby. Published in 1925 the book has maintained, for at least half a century, a cover illustration by Francis Cugat. The image is of a shadowy jazz flapper with bright red lips and a single tear on her cheek. Now a movie tie-in version with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby looms large over the other characters.
What I would say here is: get over it! Who cares? The pages between the covers haven’t changed. After the movie runs its course no more copies of the DiCaprio cover will be in print. It’s a blip for a book that celebrates its 88th birthday this year.
3. Money does not make the man.
The book, at its core, tells the story of a gilded man living in a gilded age. And yet, though separated by 40 years, The Beatles’ song, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” serves as thudding reality for Gatsby. For this beautiful, golden man, no amount of wealth and power can change him. He is haunted.
Likewise, Fitzgerald lived a haunted life. A golden boy like Gatsby, he could never accept his place in the literary canon. He was haunted by failure — both real and imagined — and haunted by his wife Zelda’s madness. In the 90s, I spent many weekend afternoons in Montgomery, Ala. at Zelda’s historical home, pondering the idea of whether Scott’s drinking drove Zelda to madness or Zelda’s madness drove Scott to drink. I figure it was a little of both and I forgave them, maybe Zelda a little more, and named my first cat after her.
4. The past is never dead.
Another literary giant of the Lost Generation, William Faulkner, penned the line: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
That idea is also at the heart of The Great Gatsby. Earlier I talked about my favorite opening line from a novel. And now my favorite last line, also from Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”