Friday, May 31, 2013

Excited for Gatsby

There are spoilers below.


I'm just going to say fuck you to the reviewers and critics who really just want to bag Baz, bag the movie, say that Leo's too old, say that there's too much of the party scenes, say what the hell is Beyonce's voice doing in there in a soundtrack to a movie set in the '20s jazz age. Sometimes people just like to be picky for the sake of being able to say: yeah, I didn't like it.

Well, I'll say fuck you and also point out the following:

1. This is Baz Luhrmann we're talking about here. No, he doesn't do subtle or atmospheric in the way the Scott Fitzgerald purists would like. And, er, check out Moulin Rouge's soundtrack (Christina Aguilera), and Romeo & Juliet's soundtrack (um, a Prince song), and er the way he directed those movies, with occasional jerky contemporary roaring in your face SFX and camera work. Then come back and complain about the over-the-topness and I'll poke you in the eye.

2. Movies are always an interpretation of a book, and by all accounts this is a good one. Even Professor Paul Giles says it's a good movie and he's an American 20C Literary dude at the University of Sydney. Also, Giles Hardie rates it highly in The Age and had good rebuttals to the criticisms. And if you come back and complaining, saying those two people must be the same cause they're both called Giles, then I'll poke you in the eye again.

3. I wonder how closely a lot of the critics have read the book. I wonder if they have even read the book or if they are just spouting off. Some people say the book is 'humourless.' Oh my god, people are idiots. And for people who say that there are no likeable characters in the movie, and that Daisy is a drip and even Nick is contemptible for not helping Wilson's wife when she gets punched in the nose by Tom: read the book. They are none of them super sympathetic characters except I reckon Gatsby does become sympathetic probably because you're so damn sorry that everyone was happy to go to his parties and drink his booze yet no one went to his funeral, and also you find out what he did (or it is heavily intimated) to realise his dream of being rich and trying to get Daisy. He also has a scrap of honour because he said he was driving the car to protect Daisy. And Nick is on track to developing and maturing because he breaks off with Jordan properly and doesn't leave her hanging.

4. Baz does 'love' well, and if the Daisy and Gatsby scenes are anything like the Romeo and Juliet fishtank scene, well, yeah. That does it for me.

Sorry for the aggression, I won't really be angry if anyone comments here but I'd love some feisty discussion, fo sho.


Melba said...

OK so I saw it. It's good but not great. None of my criticisms are to do with characters, costumes, sets or [really] throughlines. I thought all the important bits from the book were in. What I didn't particularly like was the focus on Nick Carraway as a writer, right at the beginning as an alcoholic in rehab. I have just finished re-reading the book and I'm sure that's not in it. Was this Baz trying to make Nick into Fitzgerald? If so, no like. I didn't like some of the flashbacks where Leo did look a bit too old. They had another actor for him as a young man, should have used him. (This doesn't include a scene w him & Daisy in a car. That was fine.)

It could have been shorter and tighter, they shouldn't have had it (The Great Gatsby) as a book written as a form of therapy by Nick. Didn't like the doctor scenes and Nick C/Spiderman as a five o'clock shadowed man wandering the streets. Didn't need those bits. Also they struggled with the narrative threads, how to convey it but really it ALL could have just been a 'this is what happened to me and these are the people I met that summer' narration from Nick/Toby/Spidey.

So, yes tighter editing but the party scenes were amazing and rightly so, all the casting was impeccable apart from a distracting taxi driver and the aforementioned doctor. At least it wasn't as 'let's squeeze in every Aussie ac-tor evah'. A couple of times Leo looked jowly and that could have been handled better - he was meant to be 32 but maybe that was a lie too? But I thought he acted very well, and his obsessive love for Daisy believable. Joel E was good as Tom, terrific actually, and Thingy was good as Daisy. And there was an Australian actress in the mix as Jordan the golf player - she was good. Some of the scenes were perfect. The afternoon tea at Nick's house and the scene in the Plaza. Fabulous.

I enjoyed the Romeo & Juliet jokes (open coffin) and the Titanic joke (Leo floating in the swimming pool face down) - maybe I'm reading too much into it but my daughter said there was also another Titanic referencing - Gatsby lifts a glass to say cheers in exactly the same way he does in a dinner scene in Titanic.

Makes me want to read the book again. I think I shall as soon as I finish the current one - High Sobriety.

Melba said...

Yesterday I got my latest copy of ABR. In it, a review of The Great Gatsby by Brian McFarlane, an Adjunct Prof at Swinburne. He makes a couple of points better than me:

"The main innovation here is to place F. Scott Fitzgerald's narrator, Nick Carraway, in a sanitorium, where he is being treated for alcoholism and several other disorders. As part of [his]therapy... he is writing about his experiences then typing them up at 'Gatsby'... This device allows Nick to read aloud passages of commentary on the action. It doesn't work, very often seeming redundant in the light of what we've seen, and in case we've missed the point it will sometimes appear in handwriting or typing sprawled across the screen."


"It is as a pair that the two [Di Caprio and Mulligan] pose a threat to credibility. There is an eleven-year gap in their ages, and in some shots DiCaprio looks almost like her father. This matters if we are to be persuaded of their love affair five years earlier."

I suspect that the muse of DiCaprio (like the Kidman Muse) is past his use-by date for Baz as a romantic lead.

Anonymous said...

I'd love some feisty discussion, fo sho.

I'd be happy to oblige, but I haven't seen Gatsby and I haven't read the book; so I'll have to argue from a position of pure principle.

Firstly, it seems a bit odd to me that you launched such a strong defence of something you hadn't actually seen. What's up with that?

Sometimes people just like to be picky for the sake of being able to say: yeah, I didn't like it.

This is Baz Luhrmann ... he doesn't do subtle or atmospheric ... check out Moulin Rouge's ... and Romeo & Juliet's soundtrack ... and er the way he directed those movies, with occasional jerky contemporary roaring in your face SFX and camera work. Then come back and complain about the over-the-topness ...

I think it's important to make distinctions between something you think is fundamentally flawed (it was bad), which is something that requires justification; and saying something doesn't appeal to you (I didn't like it) which is just a matter of taste. It's been ages since I've seen Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge, and while I don't remember thinking they were bad I don't remember liking them that much either. So for me, it doesn't seem like much of a defence when I hear someone say, "Hey, don't bag this movie because it does a bunch of stuff that was also done in these other movies that you also didn't like all that much."

Movies are always an interpretation of a book

I wonder how closely a lot of the critics have read the book.

In my view, an adaptation needs to be able to stand up for itself and be its own thing. People who want to defend an adaptation by saying you need to understand such-and-such about the source material and people who want to criticise it for not doing justice to the source material can fuck off equally in my opinion. I don't care, as long as the thing is good in its own right.

And for people who say that there are no likeable characters in the movie

I think there's a world of difference between a sympathetic (or more importantly, compelling) character and a character who you would want to braid hair with and swap dirty stories down the pub. For people who don't see that difference, I dunno, I don't get you people. Some of my favourite characters from fiction have been villains. And I loved those old tragedies from the 50s & 60s where some poor schmuck (frequently a teen girl) would make some bad decision that led to another and another and by the end of the film, they'd be a raging, out-of-control lunatic with barely a shred of humanity. Good person with good intentions does a bunch of good things is hardly compelling fucking drama.

It is as a pair that the two [Di Caprio and Mulligan] pose a threat to credibility

I suspect that the muse of DiCaprio (like the Kidman Muse) is past his use-by date for Baz as a romantic lead.

Or they could stop having every lead actress in every movie from Hollywood look like they're about ten.

This was fun. I enjoyed blowing off some steam. I look forward to perhaps further scrapping, but please don't take any of it to heart.

Melba said...

True Alex about the last point, they could stop having every lead actress in every Hollywood movie looking like they're about ten. As for the rest, I was just blowing off steam as well. No points that I really feel I need to defend strongly... oh what the hell. Here I go:

1. I was defending it in advance thinking I could dismantle many of the criticisms I'd read, because I was sure they were based on things like 'Baz was too over the top' and 'Baz didn't stick to the book version.' AS it turned out he did stick not only to the book version but also incorporated previous versions of Gatsby.

2. Critics can't get off by just saying 'I didn't like it' they have to justify it so your second point doesn't hold. Friends can say that, but I was talking about critics who'd written reviews.

3. Agree

4. Agree

and your 5th point I've agreed with too. So 3 out of 5 we concur about. Huzzah.

Anonymous said...

I guess our views on this stuff are too similar to have a proper barney after all. We're only really left with the one miserly point of disagreement.

I don't think I'd mind a critic saying something like, "Despite being a competent storyteller, I've never been a fan of Baz's style or the way he approaches the subject matter. Like his other films, I found this hard to get into, which is a shame, since I thought it was a good story and a technically sound production. Fans of his previous work should love it."

Would that be justification enough of do you think they'd need more?

Having said that, I get the feeling there aren't too many critics who have much sense of there being a big distinction anyway; tending more towards the reasoning "Well, if I didn't like it, it must have been shit."

Melba said...

That would be enough for a critic to say but they can't do that, they have to include lots of vitriol which is why they are writing reviews like that: to be the Most Scathing.

I don't really care what they say or don't say. I'm just writing these posts trying not to drown in my own lethargy here. Wanna talk politics? Even though I try to stay away from it, what the hell is going on with The Age and the headlines that are all a variation on: Gillard is Stuffed.

I can't see any indication for this OTHER THAN THE FUCKING HEADLINES.

Anonymous said...

I'm just writing these posts trying not to drown in my own lethargy here.

Understood. I'm just glad to have someone to talk to on this sort of level. Most people I know aren't that keen on long abstract conversations or debating ideas and shit.

I have a sense (just a gut thing) that there's a few separate things going on with the papers that are sort of converging. Firstly, there's the concentration of ownership. I mean, outside NSW & VIC it's all Murcock, and there's been that ongoing thing with Fairfax and Sweinhart.

Then, remember, there was that thing earlier in the year, or last year, with the restructuring at Fairfax? On Media Watch, there's always talk about papers letting journos go and editorial work being shifted overseas.

Then there's the fact that newspapers are businesses that need to make money to operate, and content that attracts a bigger audience will make you more successful than content that's high quality. Factor in the need to keep the website constantly updating and you've got fewer staff doing more work with a higher degree of pressure towards sensationalism with a certain ideological slant.

Now, (I'm getting to the point of the question, I swear) my gut tells me that all these factors have drawn the papers in this particular direction and what they've learned over the course of the last election cycle is that it doesn't really matter if they do actual reporting or not. Like, if you harp on about a leadership crisis destabilising a dysfunctional government consistently enough, maybe you can crash the opinion polls to the point where you can create a destabilising leadership crisis. At that point, it's all justified; and even if that doesn't happen, well, is anyone actually going to be held to account? Or will people just move on to the next thing and forget?

I just went for a (very quick) look at The Age website and I don't think I saw a single proper news article (as opposed to an opinion/prediction piece). So my guess is that The Age, like the others, have decided that the story they want to tell is the fall of Gillard, so that is what they're going to write about. The more dramatic and fanciful and compelling the story the better. And if it results in a power shift that benefits the boss, that's better still. If not, what've they got to lose? Basically, the papers are becoming the political equivalent of New Idea.

And since radio, TV, and even the independent sites on the net, bloggers, etc, seem to rely on the papers for a lot of their content -- despite the ongoing conversation about newspapers being on the way out -- they still seem to be able to steer the course of conversation to a high degree.

A bit of a worry, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and in case that isn't depressing enough, I think we can look to Fox News in America (and I guess Today Tonight, ACA, 60 Minutes, etc here) to see the future of our news media.

The ABC's pretty well rooted. What was the beef you had with that 7:30 report, by the way?

I saw some episodes of the 7PM Project (or whatever it's called) at a relly's place not long ago. That was depressing. It's like news for people with learning disabilities. Which would be cool if that's what it was. But it makes me cringe to think that's how you pitch information at average punters these days.

Melba said...

Oh my god, your first comment I can see it. I CAN SEE IT. That's what happening, seriously. That is the best story they want to sell, The Fall of Gillard. The Age has gone to complete shit now, I only read it on Saturdays to get the book stuff, same with The Oz. Just flick through and pull out the book stuff.

Oh the beef with the 7.30 report was about Bali, ostensibly about the Rise in Crime there, not just the Rise in Crime and not just the Rise in Crime Against Foreigners but the Rise in Crime Against Australians. The first five minutes were about an Australian woman out jogging along the road and the next thing, she's on the ground with serious head injuries. They ramped it up so much. Then it started to be a whinge about poor hospital care, so first it was intended to make us think she was attacked (or hit by a dangerous driver from behind) then it was about hospitals. I stopped watching. It was pathetic. So loose, so tawdry, so like those other shows, is it still even called A Current Affair? And the other one. Bad bad bad. The thing is, I only watched it, it was in the background because I heard 'Bali' - yep we're going again. Yippee. I'm pretty sure I'll be fine because I won't be jogging along a busy street. I won't be jogging anywhere. It's dangerous.

Good night.

BTW. Bad stuff happening in Turkey and my heart is sad. Need to go and make it happier by reading the first Game of Thrones book. You aren't up to date Alex, are you? OH MISSING OUT!!!

Anonymous said...

With season three done, I think I'll have to have a Game Of Thrones marathon weekend sometime soon.

I don't like the way those "news" packages are all zooms and pans and music cues that tell you how you're supposed to be feeling and other stuff geared towards getting an emotional reaction. Just tell me what the fuck's going on, for Christ's sake.

One thing I have heard about Bali though, is that there's been a few cases of methanol poisoning in public bars recently. It might be wise to skip the cocktails and stick to bottled stuff while you're over there.


I notice the Turkey protests really aren't getting the same type of coverage in the western media as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, etc did. I can't help but wonder if the western media's attitude towards mass demonstration has soured after the whole "occupy" uproar.

I think I'm really growing to loathe those (media) institutions. A proper, deep-seated loathing. Like in the guts. Maybe even deeper than the guts. Like in the ovaries or the pelvic floor.

And speaking of the news and things I loathe deeply, I see Mal Brough's name in the headlines again today. And why the fuck are websites blurring/omitting "red box"? They say "shit" on the news now. Who the fuck considers "red box" too profane?

Melba said...

Yes I'm onto the methanol stuff, no cocktails for me. Will stick to the Bintang and occasional wine but want to try to be healthy. Ahem.

Turkey protests aren't getting coverage because no one's dying and no foreign journalists being sexually assaulted. Also it's different to those ones, it's not a 'Spring' situation. But maybe yes, the Western media might be making a distinction between an 'occupy' situation and a 'simple street protest possibly growing into a bigger thing' situation. I don't know.

And on the red box stuff - stupid. Trying not to get rage over it; but one good thing coming out of it (because I do not want Abbott to win and I do want Gillard to rouse herself) - we are hearing her voice instead of just seeing those stupid headlines every single day.

Anonymous said...

Even if Gillard does rouse herself, I guarantee the media will spin it as shrill, cynical, manipulative and desperate.

Remember how they treated the misogyny speech until there was an internet backlash?

One thing I've heard more alternative media outlets saying about the Turkish thing is that there's a generational dynamic to the tensions. Older, more conservative Turks who want more "Islamic values" integrated into legislation (no alcohol, no kissing in public), and younger, more liberal Turks who want to remain staunchly secular.

If that's right, it reminds me a bit of the Green movement in Iran.

Also, I worry that we might get a gradual encroachment of "Christian values" if Abbott gets both houses. I don't know if Gillard is simply shit-stirring with the abortion thing, but it's certainly one of the things I've had at the back of my mind (hence, the avatar). I might just end up out on the street myself if things go that way.

Melba said...

I don't know about that analysis Alex, re Turkey. There are a lot of older Turks who hate the religionists, and lots of younger ideologues who wear scarves (women) and are intellectuals. I don't know it's that simple. But I'm not sure about it, don't know enough beyond anecdotal stuff. The older Turks are possibly the real Kemalists, ie so attached to Ataturk's principals and they wouldn't be liking the current PM and his directions re alcohol etc. Turkey has been a secular country for a long time; the entire time that it's been modern, and even before that it was pretty cosmopolitan in places like Istanbul anyway. I think there's such a mix of people and interests and agendae within the protesting group, hard to tease out the threads but there are supporters of Erdogan, hippy tree hugger environmentalists (the originals I think), left wingers, right wingers, agitators from overseas (possibly), police in plain clothes acting as provocateurs (some 'citizen journalists' on twitter etc have said they've seen the molotov throwers with police radios, guns and police-issue gas masks and have published pics to that effect. Apparently the petrol bombs didn't start being used until well into the protests and after the police copped criticism for over-reacting/being too violent.) SO I don't know but it's not simple, it's not a Spring, it's a country where people are so proud of being Turkish, and of their democratisation which I don't think has been completed. This might be the stirrings of completion, and while it's hard it might be a necessary step to get to a place where journalists and novelists aren't charged with sedition/jailed/assassinated when they are critical of Turkey. Also the media needs to be independent. The police need to be restrained. That sort of thing. BUT you could argue that other Occupy 'events' in 'fully democratic' countries have seen police brutality (eg here). What's a democracy? America? With what's happening at the moment with the NSA story? I don't think so. So what's a democracy? Having lots of fascinating convos w/ Princess at the moment about it.

As for local stuff and Abbott, I just can't bear to think about it. If he gets in and goes near abortion I'll be on the streets too. The rest of it is despicable game playing (the current stuff re the menus and the radio announcer thing) but abortion is different. It's a human right issue.

Melba said...

Broke my own rule and looked at The Age but here is an article by Leslie Cannold on Abbott and abortion (I don't really love her, but she tends to know her stuff):

And here's Waleed Aly on Turkey:

You might have seen them but I just made my comment above and then went to the paper... and there they were.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about that analysis Alex, re Turkey.

Well, it wouldn't be the first time I've gotten the wrong end of the stick from listening to alternate news sources. They're just as fallible as the mainstream stuff. I'd prefer to just go and have a read/listen of what Turks are saying on Turkish websites and social media and so forth, but I don't speak the language. It's a funny thing, I love language diversity on an aesthetic level, but I hate the communications problems it throws up. I think I mentioned not long ago the great aunts from Scotland I had whom nobody of my generation could understand. What I wouldn't give for one of those universal translators they had on Star Trek. I'm afraid google and babbelfish just don't cut it.

The thing with the coppers acting as provocateurs, there was a lot of that going on in Egypt if memory serves. Even heard rumours of it going on during the occupy protests in America, so I wouldn't be at all surprised.

What's a democracy? America? With what's happening at the moment with the NSA story? I don't think so. So what's a democracy?

Well, I guess democracy's just a way of describing a political mechanism that allows people to remove shitty leaders from power. It doesn't guarantee the next leader's going to be any less shitty, and it doesn't magically make a society liberal/prosperous/fair/free/etc. That ultimately comes down to "the people" as a whole. I guess you could say democracy isn't a cure for arseholes. I know a lot of people like to talk about democracy as the big goal in and of itself, but I don't think that's quite right. It's a tool that opens the door for people to fight back against arseholes, but I think maybe it's that fight that's the really important bit. And fighting that fight is the responsibility of us all.

As for the fucking NSA thing. I haven't stopped at all this week. Following the NSA story making the mainstream headlines, I've had a deluge of rellies/aquaintances/people-I've-done-stuff-for-in-the-past asking me about how private their email/phone-calls/text-messages and other junk are and what gets recorded and where and what they can do to be "safer" online etc. I think a lot of people think of hosted webmail like regular mail that you send in a sealed envelope which is an offense to open. I like to describe it more like a postcard that anyone in the mail service can read/copy-and-store/share-with-their-mates/etc, which I think freaks a few people out.

And solutions can be tricky. PGP is a great way to make email private, but it's no good if the people you're communicating with don't use it. And a lot of people want to be able to do their email in a web-browser now, which makes things harder still. There are chat clients that use dependably secure implementations of encryption (and some degree of anonymisation) but since it doesn't work with skype, or google face-chat or whatever the fuck people want to use, it may as well not exist. Basically, it seems a lot of people want privacy and security up until the point where you tell them it's going to take a little bit of effort and loss of convenience and then they just can't be fucked. Which can be frustrating, when you end up having that very same conversation with the very same conclusion four dozen times in the span of a week.

Anonymous said...

abortion is different. It's a human right issue.

It certainly is. Up here in the backwoods, the official policy is that abortion is one of those crimes that everyone is supposed to ignore. This farcical situation was dragged into the spotlight in 2010, when Tegan Leach and her partner were hauled into court. There was much bellyaching from everyone, including the premier, shocked that the law was actually being enforced, but when the jury took less than an hour to hand down a not-guilty verdict to thunderous applause, the state government held it up as an example of how well the present arrangements were working and how there was no need to amend the stupid fucking laws.

Now we have a conservative government that thinks the results from the last election give it a clear mandate to do whatever it pleases. It's not some far-flung fantasy that things could get ugly up here. Back to the idea of fighting back the arseholes I guess.