Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 56

. . . which is a post NOT about Breaking Bad!  I know, I know - this is a departure from the norm for me, but this Wednesday is also a departure from the norm.  Here at my college, we've just wrapped up the Spring 2013 semester and commencement is scheduled for tonight.  Between the usual end-of-semester madness and Wanna Cook? responsibilities, I'm a bit behind and will probably stay there for a week as I regain my calm.

So, no Breaking Bad news or speculation this week.  Instead, let me go down a different path for this post.

I co-host a movie show on my College's TV station - often we cover new releases, although we sometimes go "into the vaults" to discuss classics, particular genres or directors, and so forth.  With summer movie season in full swing, our most recent pick was Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby and I wanted to put in my two cents.

I've been a Luhrmann fan since Strictly Ballroom, which I highly recommend.  His films (which include Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge) are characterized by excess.  (Seriously, the man never met a swooping camera he didn't like.)  Gatsby is not getting universal love and that's okay.  It's based on a novel that's been called "unfilmable" and previous versions didn't work all that well.  It's a tricky path to walk - you want to be faithful to the novel, but novels and films are inherently different ways to tell a story, so how do you render prose into visuals?  Hmmm.

In Luhrmann's case, you do it with the character of Nick framing the story through voice-overs.  I think that mostly worked, but I understand the criticism leveled at the technique.  I think Leonardo DiCaprio (who was Romeo in Luhrmann's adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy) is pitch-perfect here and I'm willing to forgive him a couple of iffy movies for his introduction of himself as Gatsby to Tobey Maguire's Nick - yes, for that tiny bit alone.  Couple that with the vulnerability he shows when he first re-meets his muse and moneyed damsel Daisy, and I'll forgive him much, much more.

Is it a perfect movie?  No.  In places, the CGI looks off and the swooping camera, while it evokes Busby Berkeley dance pictures, can be a little much.  But the excess of the pre-crash, Prohibition-is-for-other-people 1920s has never looked better.  Gatsby is full of people who have plenty of money, but little to anchor them, so they drift.  Some towards momentary excitement, some towards flash and glitz, and some towards a green light on a dock across the bay.

And, since it is Commencement for my college tonight - Baz Luhrmann's 1999 graduation speech.

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