I saw Leonardo DiCaprio as The Great Gatsby. I liked the movie but I didn't love it.
When Moulin Rouge! was released, Luhrmann told an entertainment journalist that he was greatly influenced by master director of Hollywood musicals, Vincente Minnelli. I beg you, Baz. Watch the classic Minnelli musicals and learn. Watch that big gem in the crown of MGM musicals, The Band Wagon starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant as performers trying to put together a hit for Broadway. That is, if they're not done in by the "creativity" of their lovably egotistical director. As one overwhelmed stagehand complains to the director (delightfully played by Jack Buchanan), "You got more scenery in this show than there is in Yellowstone National Park!"
Someone needed to say that line from The Band Wagon to director Baz Luhrmann.
Director Jeffrey Cordova, wearing a red cape and acting as the play's narrator, overloaded the show during out-of-town rehearsals because of his hunger for stylized visuals and special effects. For his two stars, it was like trying to dance in a funhouse.
During another Luhrmann party sequence with another big, thick bottle ejaculating champagne into the eye of the camera, I thought to myself "This isn't about Jay Gatsby at all. Or Daisy Buchanan."
DiCaprio worked hard. He's a good Gatsby but not a great Gatsby. Rarely has DiCaprio been photographed with such romantic, Old School Hollywood love. He looks like a movie star here. But, Baz's attachment to MTV music video-style editing works against the actor. Let me go back to Minnelli. The "Dancing in the Dark" number from The Band Wagon, Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in Meet Me in St. Louis and Lana Turner's auto-hysterics in The Bad and the Beautiful are not chopped up with fast, frantic cuts every three to five seconds like in music videos we saw in the 1980s and '90s. Why? Because the main purpose of many music videos was marketing. The videos sold an artist's image, the music, and product in the video such as clothing, jewelry and champagne. Think of how brilliant Madonna was at marketing herself in music videos. She was a master of reinventing her image in those videos, a master at selling her new music. Compare the raves for those to her overall film acting career (Shanghai Surprise, Dick Tracy, Body of Evidence, Evita, Swept Away). Playing a character and sharing a dramatic scene with someone else is different. Just ask Best Actress Oscar winner, CBS TV star and pop music diva, Cher. The purpose of a Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly or Judy Garland musical number is to reveal character and emotion. Luhrmann cuts his film like a music video. That makes much of The Great Gatsby seem less like F. Scott Fitzgerald and more like a dazzling long-form Chanel for Men commercial.
Joel Edgerton is excellent as the privileged bully in The Great Gatsby. He deserves Best Supporting Actor Oscar consideration for that performance.
I've got more notes on Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby that I'll put in future piece. In closing this one, let me just wish once more that he spends a weekend watching, paying close attention to and learning from Hollywood classics directed by Vincente Minnelli. If he really has been influenced by Minnelli, it has yet to show. With his penchant for overhead shots, visually stunning yet often overstuffed musical numbers and women meeting a tragic end, he's more like a modern Busby Berkeley. Look at the title number in 42nd Street (1933), Berkeley's "No More Love" number in Roman Scandals (1933) and, most famously, his "Lullaby of Broadway" number in Gold Diggers of 1935.
In Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby you get young love, a female's tragic death, fabulous fashion statements and great big colorful party scenes. In fact, they get bigger with each picture. You have the feeling that Baz is off-camera shouting to the background actors, "Faster, Pussycat! Dance! Dance!" Did you see it?
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