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falderal : a moving images blog

Archive for May, 2013

The Great Gatsby ; 2013

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke
Country: Australia, U.S.A.

I dedicate this entry to my friend, Poopsie, who has known me for thirteen years and calls me a film snob. I swear to God that I’m not!!! But maybe I might come off snobby in this entry? *wiggles eyebrows* No, she’s right, I am a snob. Speaking of pretension, this is what I could call snobby: The New Yorker.

When I heard that there was going to be another adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I felt a combination of excitement and dread. Excitement, because I thought that Baz Luhrmann might be the perfect director to direct the story, but dread because I wondered if ANY film could do the book justice. Also, I grew up watching the 1974 version (ROBERT REDFORD, HNGGGGGG) so I’m going to be perfectly frank with you, I’M BIASED.

Then the trailer came out, and I was excited to see Leonardo DiCaprio (I love him as an actor), but instead of feeling in awe of DiCaprio, I laughed when he came on the screen. What kind of indicator was THAT? And on top of this, I saw that Ziegfeld Follies was misspelled so I had my little immature moment (aka “snobby moment”) going “What the fuzzy?!”. According to a comment that was left in an article that my friend sent me, there is a newsreel clip where Ziegfeld is spelled Zeigfeld, and maybe Luhrmann was acting even snobbier than all 1920s fans/snobs by making some abstruse reference to a newsreel clip, but COME ON. Ziegfeld is a big name so HOW COULD YOU MISSPELL THAT? Feeling miffed and confused over DiCaprio, I became reluctant to watch this movie and didn’t plan to watch it.

In a turn of events, I ended up at a theatre, and I told Poopsie that the actor I am looking forward to the most is Tobey Maguire. When I found out that he was cast as Nick, I was really happy to hear that — definitely more excited than hearing that DiCaprio got the role of Jay Gatsby despite my fondness for him. Well, like most people, Poopsie was horrified to hear that I was looking forward to Maguire and I’m going to tell you guys now: I still stand by my approval of him.

I found the movie fun to watch and all I could think was that the film was a sensory orgy. I didn’t know what to listen to nor where to focus my eyes on because there was so much to look at and sounds sometimes overlapped to create a certain feel. Visually, the film itself was very Luhrmann-esque (think Moulin Rouge) and my first impression was that it was nothing more than a lot of glitter, but that made me think even more about it.

First off, DO NOT COMPARE THIS MOVIE TO THE NOVEL. Like many people, I tend to compare film adaptations to their source work, but recently, I have been trying to stop doing that. After watching this film, I decided that comparing a book and a movie is like comparing apples and oranges and that there are some things that only movies can do and there are some things that only written works can do. I tried to watch this movie with an open mind (it also helped that it’s been 10 years or so since I last read the book) and I tried my best to not compare it to the novel’s themes or story line and to only take in what was shown in front of me. It was rather effective since I found the movie to be well-paced and fun to watch.

After the initial reaction wore off, I began to think that the movie was very “empty”. Despite trying to prevent myself from comparing the film to the novel, I felt a little sad that the movie felt like it was all about the visuals and the themes of the novel weren’t present in the film at all. How I saw it was that the story was just a backdrop, or even an excuse, to have such resplendent visuals, and that all that mattered were the images and nothing else. Pretty much what I ended up concluding about the movie was that it was like nice on the outside but nothing on the inside. But then I thought, “Would this movie hold up on any level if there was no story? Or if the source material was a bad one at that?” Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is on the verge of being a melodrama on the story level and it appears that the only thing that Luhrmann took from the novel was the love story with the themes in the novel being completely lost. After much thinking about this, I think that my initial thoughts are wrong. The film isn’t meaningless — on the contrary, Luhrmann uses this seemingly glib film to underscore the emptiness related to wealth when it is surfeit and the superficial nature of American patricians.

In many ways it reminded me of Josef von Sternberg’s films where image is most important. Just like von Sternberg (reference Image 4), Luhrmann’s visuals are lush, but unlike von Sternberg, I think that Luhrmann’s Gatsby has visuals with meaning. At this point, I see many of von Sternberg’s films made in the 1930s to be purely visual pieces where the story is used just as an excuse to compose beautifully composed moving images. But does a purely visual piece mean that a work is meaningless? Does meaning give worth to a movie? I think this is where subjectivity comes into play because when I watch some experimental films, I don’t feel like all I saw was images but that there was something more to it. Is it because I’m watching a narrative film that I expect to not feel this “emptiness” and that I’d take something away from the movie and its storyline? What would Gatsby be without the visual overload? I don’t even know what to think of all this. I should rewatch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette because I think that that film will be the perfect film to use as a backdrop to aid me with my thoughts and questions. Anyway, coming back to what I was saying, I don’t think it’s just beauty for beauty’s sake with this film but instead, Luhrmann quite appropriately uses excessiveness. After all, don’t we associate the Roaring Twenties with extreme extravagance? And it was because of Luhrmann’s style that made me think in the first place that he would be the perfect director for this film.

Coming back to Toby Maguire, the reason why I liked him so much was because of this “emptiness” that I speak of. Even as Nick, who has the most “soul” in the movie, he appears to be stiff and cold. Maguire’s acting style doesn’t make me see Nick as a warm character but instead, his acting is just another aspect of the movie that emphasizes the lack of warmth and genuine human interaction within the upper crust.

Also, was it only me or was there a picture of Norma Shearer (ref. Picture 5) in the party scene where Nick gets drunk? I had a mini fangirl moment while watching the movie. I love that woman too much. I don’t remember the picture too clearly, but it kind of looked like this one. I was also happy to see Leyendecker’s Arrow Collar Man (ref. Picture 3), Mae Murray’s name, Blood and Sand, and Douglas Fairbanks’ name. I need to learn how to stop fangirling whenever I see references to things I like. Will I ever grow up?

Image credits:
http://www.reykjavikboulevard.com/the-great-gatsby/
http://www.americanillustrators.com/artist.php?id=12591
http://www.annexmagazine.com/gatsby-trailer/#sthash.Z7VHcJLk.dpbs
http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/late%201920s

IMDb Link: The Great Gatsby

Paths of Glory ; 1957

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Richard Anderson, Joe Turkel
Country: U.S.A.

My friend and I have been planning a Kubrick marathon for some time but something always came up and we would not watch a Kubrick film or we wouldn’t get to it. We decided that The Shining would be our first film but due to technical difficulties, the only choice we had was Paths of Glory. We both groaned since we both dislike war movies and I felt pooped about having to stare at Kirk Douglas’ face. I have nothing against him but whenever I see his face, I just want to punch him, just like Jason Schwartzman. Just like how I didn’t want to punch Schwartzman when I actually met him, my urge to punch the computer screen whenever Douglas showed up lessened and lessened. He was wonderful as Colonel Dax.

In many ways, I don’t think that Paths of Glory is special but at the same time, there are many exceptional things about it. For the most part, the film looks like a normal A/B feature film but then you start seeing things that are distinctly Kubrick, specifically cinematic aspects that you see later on in his films. I, and many others, associate Kubrick with tracking shots, and I have often associated Max Ophüls with tracking shots as well. For me, when I watched Paths of Glory, the tracking shots did not have the grand feel that Ophüls’ tracking shots had. Or maybe they both achieved the same effect in that Ophüls used those tracking shots to give his films a glossy feel whereas Kubrick used tracking shots to achieve various effects. For example, in the famous tracking shot of when Colonel Dax walks in the trenches, the viewer isn’t marveling at the lovely movement of the camera but instead, one notices the grim look on everyone’s faces. Each face may be different but they don’t really have an identity — instead, they collectively give off the impression of people being in the dumps. War isn’t glamourous and fighting it isn’t all flags and glory — instead, it is a cause for unhappiness.

This picture (on the right) also made me aware that Kubrick was stepping out of the norm in regards to normal Hollywood style camera angles. It was moments like this when I became aware that this film was made my Kubrick, versus let’s say… Edmund Goulding (no offense to Goulding, of course). The impression I got was that the director was going for something new and the odd angle had an almost Brechtian effect on me. Sure, it made me focus on the character and made it look like I was looking down on him, just like what the judges and prosecutor were doing, but at the same time, all I could think was “WHY DID HE USE THIS ANGLE?” It bugged me loads.

All in all, I thought it was a good movie but it definitely made me feel pooped, as usual. I wonder how I’ll fare with Full Metal Jacket.

IMDb Link: Paths of Glory