What happens when you take Kanye West, Fergie, and Baz Luhrmann and throw them out of 2013’s The Great Gatsby? You get what Francis Ford Coppola had in mind when he wrote the screenplay for the 1974 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel.
In this day and age, literature is Hollywood’s favourite go-to for movie material. Whereas film adaptations decades ago were more of a privilege than something to be expected, today they’re just run-of-the-mill movies. For this reason, the 1974 adaptation stands on a much higher pedestal than the 2013 version. Robert Redford portrays (the great) Jay Gatsby to a tee because he has to; being such an iconic figure in 20th-century American literature, the role of Gatsby must be executed the way it was dreamt of by Fitzgerald himself.
With Redford’s masterful depiction of Gatsby, audiences see a timid, modest Sam Waterston play the narrator of both the book and film: Nick Carraway. Think of Harry Potter, but told from Ron Weasley’s perspective, whereby you have a meek figure admiring a greater one who has all sorts of abilities and welcomes you into a whole other world. Nick is that meek character that is invited into Gatsby’s out-of-control universe: the Roaring Twenties.
The Great Gatsby, directed by Jack Clayton, captures the essence of the times. We see the move of modernism happening, breaking away from the formalities of the past, with non-stop partying and women wearing their hair short and risqué. In this new time, women developed agency. It is a proud moment, where the partying is earned. However, what Fitzgerald does with the uproarious partying is to ultimately show its consequences.
In all truthfulness, as much as a cinephile as I am, Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal in The Great Gatsby still wins me over. He amplifies the charm that Redford has in the 1974 film, but lives and breathes the way Gatsby would. While Redford’s Gatsby exhibits all the traits of the literary Gatsby, his portrayal is too tame. With DiCaprio’s portrayal, the golden blonde hair, the affectionate smiles, and the whole attitude of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby are emulated.
However, contrast the 1974 film’s aesthetics with the 2013 one and here is where you see your major difference. With all due respect to Luhrmann’s interpretation of the novel, everything is lost in the over-amplification of the lights, the music (which is obviously not from the time period), and the in-your-face nature cinematography.
Long story short, old sport, if you had DiCaprio’s Gatsby in Clayton’s film, well then… you’d have yourself a mighty fine film that’s all right in the end.