Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Great Gatsby (1974)

This is the first in a series of blog posts about contemporary creations based on the novel The Great Gatsby.

The year was 1974. Disco was new. Richard Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal. Patty Hearst was kidnapped. “All in the Family” was the most popular television show in America.

And The Great Gatsby premiered at the movies.

All of my readers should know the storyline of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel by now. Nick Carraway arrives in New York from the Midwest hoping to make it big selling bonds as the stock market is sky rocketing. After moving into the upper class neighborhood of West Egg he meets up with his cousin Daisy Buchanan, her husband Tom (an old friend of Nick from Yale) and Jordan Baker. Then one day Nick receives an invitation to attend a grand party hosted by his neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Nick learns from Jordan that Gatsby had known Daisy years before and that he wanted Nick’s help in reuniting the two them. Events quickly begin to spiral out of control leading the deadly consequences.

The 1974 film had an all-star cast with Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan, Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan and Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway. Jack Clayton directed and David Merrick was the producer. The legendary Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay.
Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby
Vincent Canby's of The New York Times back in 1974 wrote in his review of the movie, "The sets and costumes and most of the performances are exceptionally good, but the movie itself is as lifeless as a body that's been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool."

In my view, Canby was being overly generous. I found the sets and most of the costumes to be horrible. Gatsby mansion was bland and the costumes at times looked more 1970s than 1920s. One might not enjoy Luhrmann’s Gatsby but at least the fashion was more accurate than Ralph Lauren’s attempt in the 1974 movie. I have no idea how the movie won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

I give the director Jack Clayton credit. It takes a unique talent to suck the life out of great an actor like Robert Redford but he succeeded. The acting was stilted and the camera angles were bizarre with strange editing. The cinematography was the same bad quality found in so many of the movies in the 60s and 70s. In addition, who in the name of all of the Gods of the Cinema thought that Bruce Dern was a good fit for Tom Buchanan? Dern was an abysmal choice for that role.
Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan
Oh, there were a few bright spots in the movie. The portrayal of Gatsby’s grand parties was spot on. The costumes of the partiers, especially the women, as opposed to the main cast, were quite accurate (maybe that was why it won an Oscar). Same for the dancing, which looked like it was straight from some of the candid films made of flappers during the 1920s. Moreover, Redford, unlike DiCaprio, was able to make the phrase ‘old sport’ seem natural although he fails to say it often enough in the movie.

The movie poster read, “Gone is the Romance that was So Divine.” That statement is a perfect description of the 1974 version of Gatsby.

Thankfully, you don’t have to spend your hard-earned money to watch this movie. If you really want to torture yourself, you can always watch it online at You Tube.

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