1. The 20s need to come back.
The 1920s is one of the few decades I get nostalgic about, and there’s a great reason why: the fashion. The Great Gatsby movie promises bobs, bowlers, cloche hats, lace pantyhose, flapper dresses, suspenders, ascots, tea gowns, beaded overdresses, garters, hip flasks, top hats, boutenirs, homburgs, straw boaters, newsboys, fedoras and makeup out of a Man Ray painting. If you do not want these things to come back, you are a Communist and a devil worshiper. Be gone with you.
Also, did we mention how awesome 1920’s slang was? Here’s a sample of the decade’s vernacular lexicon, courtesy of The Atlantic and The New York Times:
Egg: Man. “He’s a funny egg.”
Fire extinguisher: A chaperone (aka, a killjoy, an alarm clock).
Gams: Is there a better way to say legs, even if one is being objectifying? Pins? Stilts? Or maybe getaway sticks. “Cheese it; it’s the fuzz! Move your getaway sticks or you’ll end up in the cooler.”
Hotsy-totsy: Perfect; the cat’s pajamas.
“I have to go see a man about a dog”: To go buy whiskey.
Jake: Okey dokey. “Everything is Jake.”
Know one’s onions: To know one’s beeswax; to know what someone’s talking about.
Let’s blouse: We’re out of here.
Mrs. Grundy: A prudish type. Maybe also a fire extinguisher. Definitely a wurp.
Noodle juice: Tea. (But noodle on its own means head.)
Ossified: Drunk, probably from having been on a toot, or a drinking binge. Also: splifficated, fried, blotto.
Phonus balonus: Nonsense. (Related: baloney = piffle).
Quilt: A drink that warms its drinker.
However, the 1920’s can keep its sexism and racism. Sure, we’re nowhere near equality or a giant, racial kumbaya, but at least black people can vote now. We even managed to get one in the White House. Go us, kind of! Next stop, let’s fix our failing inner-city schools.
2. The book is a classic.
Of all the books we had to read in high school, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was the one I fell for first, the book that got me into great literature. The Great Gatsby has become a Freshman English cliche, but Fitzgerald’s “Great American Novel” is a flawless evocation of an era gone by, even as the novel was being written. Set seven years before the stock market crash, the novel is a brilliant satirization of the emptiness of consumerism and how life at the center of the Roaring Twenties was noiseless and hollow.
As we struggle to emerge from the Great Recession and the downfall of the American Dream, Fitzgerald’s story of “ashheaps and millionaires” is as relevant as ever. A recent analysis of The Great Gatsby suggested that Gatsby, as a cipher for the age, may have been black. Carlyle V. Thompson, in his defense cites the racially ambiguous context by which Fitzgerald describes Gatsby and the fact that, like many light-skinned black folks struggling to pass for white, Gatsby changed his name. It was originally Gatz.
Do I believe it? No. I think by this logic, he was just as likely Jewish, as Lost Generation novels often depict the rampant anti-Semitism of the age. (See: The Sun Also Rises.) However, Thompson brings up a great point:
“When I ask people what basis there is for Gatsby being white, I get silence. I have asked students, colleagues. They don’t know. They cannot give me any evidence to back up the speculation. And why haven’t people made this argument so far?”
Classic literature that still has the power to challenge us today? That’s a party I want to celebrate.
3. The last attempt was pretty shitty.
Fun fact: Did you know that Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script for the ill-fated 70’s fiasco? You can’t tell. Coppola’s Gatsby adaptation felt embalmed onscreen, as full of life as Madame Tussaud’s, and Robert Redford’s skin even looks like it was covered in wax. Redford, while being unspeakably gorgeous, made Gatsby into the world’s dullest bootlegger, conveying all of the longing of the novel but none of the sense of danger. And the less said about Mia Farrow as Daisy, the better.
I’m looking forward to Baz Luhrmann’s version, if only because it will be exactly the opposite of elephantine. For better or worse, Luhrmann’s films burst with so much energy that the screen can hardly contain it. This is probably what led him to film Gatsby in 3D. Now the screen doesn’t have to.
4. The casting is on point.
I’m not generally sold on Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor, but his appearance in Romeo + Juliet was one of his best performances, a bright spot in a movie that was all over the place. In addition to his previous Luhrmann history, DiCaprio can do longing in his sleep, as previous efforts Shutter Island and Inception have allowed him to hone his craft in pining. In addition to having a wife or girlfriend he’s separated from, DiCaprio himself is great at dying in movies, as he’s kicked the bucket in Blood Diamond, Titanic, The Departed, Romeo + Juliet and J. Edgar, among others. He’s an ideal choice to die again.
(Note: I don’t know if he’s dead at the end of Inception, because I don’t have a portal into Christopher Nolan’s brain. Oh, how I want that.)
Also, Tobey Maguire is the perfect Nick, because both of them are boring mouth breathers. Every time I see Tobey Maguire, I think of the SNL skit in which they hold a mirror up to his face to see if he’s still alive. He’s not. And whoever bagged Carey Mulligan for Daisy gets a raise. There is no one else who can both make you see Daisy the way Gatsby does, while also loathing her for being a vapid, narcissistic twit. Although she’s best known for her quiet intensity in Drive and An Education, the brassy, neurotic energy she showed in Shame shows she’s perfect for the part. I just hope I don’t have to see her bush this time. You’re married to the Tim Tebow-looking dude from Mumford and Sons, and you look twelve. It’s just weird.
5. The soundtrack is bonkers.
Moulin Rouge pulled together everyone from David Bowie to Tom Waits, whose cover of The Police’s “Roxanne” impossibly stands up to a classic. It’s not better, but it’s invigoratingly different, like the film around it. The Great Gatsby soundtrack boasts everyone from Jay-Z to Lana Del Rey, who couldn’t be more perfect for this movie. Every song she’s ever recorded has been about the American Dream and the veneer of glamour. There’s also the xx, Gotye, Jack White, will.i.am, Andre 3000, Fergie, Florence + the Machine, The Bryan Ferry Orchestra and Beyonce doing Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.”
What’s the through-line here? Beats me. However, at the very least, it won’t be boring.
6. Baz Luhrmann hasn’t made a great movie in a long time.
Everyone believes that Baz Luhrmann has made one great movie. However, no one can agree on what it is. I’m in the Moulin Rouge camp. Moulin Rouge shouldn’t work. It’s totally out of its mind and frenetic, shot like a Michael Bay movie on the ecstasy of La Belle Epoque. The camera can’t focus on anything for more than two seconds, and it makes anachronism into an international sport. It’s also outrageous and daring, a one-of-a-kind experiment that we’ll never see pulled off again. Every time I see Moulin Rouge, I feel like Baz Luhrmann got away with something. I’m just not sure what.
However, Australia was an unqualified disaster, making the reliably terrific Nicole Kidman into a second-rate Joan Crawford facsimile, down to the inhuman facial expressions. (Luckily, Kidman cut down on the botox after seeing her face frozen on the big screen for two-plus hours.) Whether or not you liked Romeo + Juliet or Strictly Ballroom, you will never forget them, especially the sight of Mercutio in a dress. Luhrmann is a director of ideas, sometimes too many, and I hope that they translate to Fitzgerald’s work. On paper, Luhrmann’s perfect to tell a lurid story about greed, sex and lust in the 1920s. In real life, we’ll have to wait and see.
But know this, Luhrmann: If you fuck it up, I’m going to come to your house and smash your camera. Don’t say you weren’t warned.