Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"The Great Gatsby": You'll love it or you'll hate it, but I think the ending means something

When I  subbed a few years ago, practically every ninth grade read F. Scott FitzGerald’s “The Great Gatsby”.  That came back as a lavish period (almost comic-book) 3-D film from Australia (Village Roadshow Pictures and Warner Brothers) from Baz Luhrmann this week.  I do recall the 1974 film, a Francis Ford Coppola production by Jack Clayton, with Robert Redford as Gatsby and Sam Waterston as the scribe Nick Carraway.  This was the definitive, relatively “real” film, which I saw in New Jersey about the time that I “came out”, and it was very popular then in the gay community.
Tobey Maguire, the soft-spoken “Peter Parker” fills the bill for “Nickie” in the new film. It’s 1922, and the Nick wants to be a writer but really has to make a real choice in these pre-tech days and becomes a bond trader.  He is lucky enough that the cottage he rents on Long Island is next to the Gatsby mansion.  
Leonardo Di Caprio is somewhat the extension of the plantation owner in “Django”.  Once he tells story of his poor background, we of course know that all this money came from Prohibition-era bootlegging (and Ken Burns’s film on the topic is mentioned in the credits).   
Nick is the one friend that Gatsby has, as the unfortunate web of betrayals and mistresses around him revolves.  After the ending, nobody cares enough to come to the funeral.  I think there are times when there should be no memorial service at all, and that we can learn from that.

The visual portrayal of the "Valley of Ashes" on Long Island gives the environment a kind of "other planet" look, almost characteristic of David Lynch.  I don't think the Long Island Railroad had steam trains then. 
Ezra Klein (Washington Post columnist) wrote a piece critical of the ending of the book and movie.  I had somehow misconstrued his piece and tweeted that the movie changed the book, but it seems that the ending is the same, at least in areas that matter.  I’m not sure that I agree with Klein that it is all coincidence and accident.  The piece is here. I suppose a lot of English themes get written about this ending (or it shows up on a lot of quizzes). 
I do remember that a teacher for whom I subbed asked the kids to write a piece about Nick’s quote “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known”.  Here's a link for quotes from the book. 
The official site is here

The opening of the movie shows the corporate trademarks in “1930s style” and the 3-D and color develop gradually.  I saw this film in a small auditorium (digital) at Regal in Arlington.  They don’t always “Go Big” but we don’t “go home”.  I wish the theater would announce on its website which shows are in large auditoriums.
The other novel that everybody reads in ninth grade is “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, an MGM film in 1990 by Henry Hook. I saw plenty of reading quizzes on this book. 

Picture: Far Rockaway after Sandy, my picture

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