Baz Luhrmann goes after Gatsby

December 20, 2008

The F.Scott Fitzgerald (FSF) frenzy continues, as I predicted. Yes, Baz Luhrmann decides to make a version of the Great Gatsby. See here and here.

I’m sure you’ve noticed The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button posters everywhere by now, and also smell Oscar all over it.

Regarding Luhrmann’s Gatsby, he will be the second Australian filmmaker to make an adaptation of a work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The first is myself, of course.

Baz rightly believes Fitzgerald is a timely author as he is the ultimate writer of doomed opulence. Gatsby is a masterpiece of 20th century literature, so he had better not be too camp, and mine the stories hidden depths. Luhrmann says “If you wanted to show a mirror to people that says, ‘You’ve been drunk on money,’ they’re not going to want to see it. But if you reflected that mirror on another time they’d be willing to” and “People will need an explanation of where we are and where we’ve been, and ‘The Great Gatsby’ can provide that explanation.”

He is partly, right. But I worry Baz himself is ‘drunk on money’ having lived a fairly opulent life in recent years and gotten used to very large budgets. His style of film making too is one of excess and decadent nostalgia. That can all help his adaptation, though, if its handled correctly.

The Beautiful and Damned is a book, I suggest, that suits the times even better than Gatsby. It is more Universal. It is about a young couple riding on the road to hell, through excess in the pursuit of their God – money, for no other reason than that can, and that they desire nothing else. While shot on a low budget, I think my film explores the ontological dimension of just such a state of affairs using many locatios and costumes that reflect contemporary wealth. Film critic Jake Wilson accused my film, and Fitzgerald’s book of being ‘moral’. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it shows a retrograde understanding of our contemporary situation. When The Beautiful and Damned, the book, came out in 1922, reviewers also failed to understand it. Many calling it a ham-fisted morality tale, rather than seeing it as an ontological examination of capitalist excess itself. Fitzgerald does not think Capitalism, and the pursuit of money is essentially bad, per se. As Hemmingway lampooned FSF over his ‘idolatry of the rich’, Hemmingway also misunderstood Fitzgerald’s relationship to the idea of wealth. Fitzgerald indeed documented the lives and folly of the idle rich, but he also did it in a way that is guiltyly sympathetic, and yet utterly hostile to the coordinates and goals of such a society. He is fully aware of the existential failure of just such a lifestyle, that he himself succumbed to. That our very civilisation is succumbing to! Not only that, Fitzgerald believes, as many do now that  Capitalism is ‘the only game in town’, the endless  merry go round of excess, and the empty hegemony of money, nihilism and capital. Its vast, vast sway and ubiquitous influenceare every where, and responsible in most part for the Decline of the West, as pessimist social critics like Oswald Spengler and Max Nordau have spelt out.

As an aside to authors of his generation,  Fitzgerald detested the works of author John Steinbeck, who he considered ‘bogus’. I remember reading that, and laughing, because in high school, I thought the exactly same thing about Steinbeck! I detested the ‘misery for hire’ and sickly turgidity of the works he wrote. It was refreshing to have my high school teacher’s high regard for Steinbeck, refuted by such a pedigree source as Fitzgerald.

But it must be remembered that the 80’s excesses, and for that matter 20’s decadence, have never left us. Remember, that in a depression it is the rich who do NOT suffer, little changes in their world. When it is in their world that most deserve too!  As they are usually the ones responsible for, and who have benefited most from, the mess created. Unless of course a revolution like that in 1919, 1922 or 1933 takes place.

Of course this coming second Great Depression leaves the door wide open for my greatest prediction here on Idea Fix i.e. the return of some form of Fascism to the world stage this century.

Fitzgerald looked for ways out politically too, to the situation he found the world in in the 20’s and 30’s. I find him an acute political author. He was drawn to this friend Edward ‘Bunny” Wilson’s socialism, but he also more than flirted with fascist ideas and ideologues calling himself essentially  ‘a Spenglerian’ in his mature period, and speaking highly of Mussolini. FSF had his own ideas of romantic elitism, hierachy and meritocracy, beyond money and nihilism. He was deeply informed by Spengler. Spengler, it should be remembered, is a major 2oth century fascist ideologue and historian of true genius, who painted a very accurate portrait of the our current epoch, and even its decline, to this day. Fitzgerald also harbored racist beliefs qouting from the likes of L.Lothrop Stoddard in his books. Many contempoaries of FSF said he disliked blacks, being a Southerner, and had a mistrust of people of Jewish descent. The latter comes up in most of his books, and many have commented in the supporting literature on his perceived anti-semitism.

How will Meyer Wolfshiem the symbolic Jewish arch Capitalist/Gangster of Gatsby be portrayed in Luhrmann’s adaptation? Perhaps, Bernard Madoff, the Jewish stock broker who is behind one of histories biggest financial scams, can be let out of house arrest for a role?

Baz needs to get the balance right on Gatsby, between romantic opulence, stromng story telling, and existential critique of Capitalism, itself. It has to go beyond the script by Francis For Coppola, which was a pretty good adaptation of the book in the 70’s taht starred Robert Redford. I have studied FSF intensely for over 4 years now, I have read all Fitzgerald’s books, short stories, many of the essays and supporting literature. Perhaps, I should contact Bazmark, and offer my services as a consultant?

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4 Responses to “Baz Luhrmann goes after Gatsby”

  1. I’ll be interested to hear your take on “Benjamin Button” after you see it. I found it a horrific bore and a major disappointment after “Zodiac.”

  2. Greg Maxwell said

    Quote:”But it must be remembered that the 80’s excesses, and for that matter 20’s decadence, have never left us. Remember, that in a depression it is the rich who do NOT suffer, little changes in their world. When it is in their world that most deserve too! As they are usually the ones responsible for, and who have benefited most from, the mess created. Unless of course a revolution like that in 1919, 1922 or 1933 takes place.

    Of course this coming second Great Depression leaves the door wide open for my greatest prediction here on Idea Fix i.e. the return of some form of Fascism to the world stage this century.”

    Jeez Rich, you’re a depression in action yourself. Why so gloomy? And why so class envious?
    Maybe the technological singularity will make any form of totalitarianism unviable. If you have an abundance of material resource and energy due to the confluence of limitless fusion power and nano-assembler technology, the fundamental power of the totalitarian state, the ability to ration, is gone.
    What if we could all be Gatsbys?

  3. richard777 said

    Will review Button when I see it next week, Mike, I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for your MUFF section in 08 by the way…

    RE: Greg’s comment. I’m not gloomy, nor am I class envious. I think the technological singularity leads straight to a new form fascism. The ability to ration is not only a feature of totalitarianism, it is one of capiatlism actually. My own theory of transcendental fascism is non totalitarian anyway. “We could all be Gatsby’s”… that sounds suspiciously communist for you, my dear?

    My political ideas wish to temper and alter capitalism and give it purpose, social and historical goals, and reduce the excesses of greed and plutocracy. But I am neither for leveling everyone down, removing private property or even removing class divisions. I’m for overcoming them, in a transcendental manner and focusing on the more important mythological reinvention of Western politics, culture and society itself, along ideas spelt out in fundamental ontology, i.e through the fascist nature of Being itself.

  4. Greg Maxwell said

    I will just remind you that wealth is not a zero sum game.

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