REEL MOTION: Gatsby ’74: Love, Identity, Obsession, and All That Jazz

Sep 09, 2019

Film stars Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Bruce Dern

Welcome to Reel Motion, a series of blog posts that examine the 2019-20 Northrop Film Series selections. Everything old is new again in the first entry of film series, programmed concurrently with the 2019-20 Dance Series. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale of identity and obsession in the Jazz Age has been adapted for film many times since the novel debuted and is a book Hollywood has returned to as recently as 2013 with Baz Luhrmann’s overly extravagant take on the book. The first film adaptation came just one year after the novel was released in 1925. Unfortunately, all that survives of the 1926 silent film adaptation of Gatsby is merely 1 minute of footage, the film’s trailer. For the Northrop Film Series, we’ll be screening director Jack Clayton’s almost slavishly faithful attempt starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, and Sam Waterson, released in 1974.

Seemingly, according to some critics, none of the film adaptations of Gatsby have quite captured the elusive spirit of Fitzgerald’s novel now firmly enshrined in the American cannon and kept alive in the public consciousness thanks to its place on many a high school English course reading list.

Is it the satirical aspects of Fitzgerald’s book that filmmakers choose to ignore or lose in the extravagant visuals of the rich being rich to excess? Of course, when you are experiencing the Oscar-winning costume design of Clayton’s take, making all of the beautiful people impossibly more beautiful, it’s easy to overlook any flaws one might find in Clayton’s version. Going so far as to lift Nick Carraway’s narration nearly word for word from Fitzgerald, and working in some of Fitzgerald’s symbology from the novel (to effective or disastrous effect, depending on whom you ask or when the review you are reading was written), the fun of viewing the film now is not just judging it on its merits as an adaption of a story from one medium to another, but whether the production holds up decades after it was made in this era of late-stage capitalism where we are facing, yet again, the consequences of the wealthy few hoarding access to resources while the many struggle to make their way in the world.

If you are keen to engage more deeply with the film and get a fresh take on the age-old book versus movie debate, come early to the screening on Mon, Sep 16, to hear Robert Silberman give a short introductory lecture in partnership with the University Honors Program’s NEXUS experience before diving in to the decadence of the Jazz Age.

And, for a kinetically entertaining take on take on Fitzgerald’s world, Northrop invites you to Pittsburgh Ballet Theater’s production of The Great Gatsby on Sat, Sep 28 with a jazz-infused score by Carl Davis and choreography by Jordan Morris that gets to the heart of the story without lifting a single word of dialogue directly from Fitzgerald.

Shayna Houp is Northrop's Artist Services Manager and curates the Film Series each season.

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