May 2013

If an Oscar prediction can be made this far in advance, I'm going to go out-on-a-limb and predict that Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby will certainly receive nominations for both production (set) design as well as costumes.  It may also garner wins as well. Time will tell.

Catherine Martin, the Australian set designer (and wife of director Luhrmann), is to be given the credit here. And to top it all off, she also served as the film's costume designer.  She speaks in detail about her extensive research into the time period examining historical images and films of the time:

"We're blessed because the photographic image and also filmmaking was extremely prevalent in the '20s," adds Martin. "So, the time was captured not only in illustrations and drawings—cartoons of the times—but there are extensive photo archives. It's very exciting, because you see the birth of our modern contemporary culture." Read more in this essay from Vanity Fair magazine.

This is a lavish extravaganza of a production--what some might refer to as 'eye candy.'  And if excess described the lifestyle and culture of the rich, Luhrmann follows suit, not holding back, putting his stamp on this often-made story. " I want to do that book" says the director as he optioned the rights,  " and I want to find a way of unlocking Nick Carraway's inner head ..."

In fact, if you haven't yet seen this Gatsby, I offer a bit of advice for when you do: don't blink.  Because if you do, you'll miss many of the details in this fast-paced and slickly edited motion picture where every shot contains much to see.

“Baz and his team built this spectacular world", says actor Tobey McGuire, (Nick Carraway) "that brings you back to a version of the 1920s—one that also kind of contemporizes it. It’s the ’20s as the characters might have experienced them. The film is an amazing, immersive experience.”

"I think The Great Gatsby feels more relevant now than ever," producer Douglas Wick offers. "In a time with a glittering but unreliable economy, and a prevalent sense that we have lost our way, Gatsby could have  been written yesterday. But it wasn't. The book takes you to another time and place, a lost world of blinding allure, of extravagant hope and crashing dreams, which we knew Baz, more than anyone imaginable, could deliver for an audience."

Product placement takes on a new spin, with men's fashion brand Brooks Brothers now promoting the fact that it was consulted and is prominently featuring fashion of the era in its store displays.



                                                                                           (Photos by Frank W. Baker)

I was struck by perspective in the film.  The story is told in flashback from Nick's point-of-view. We first meet Nick, in a doctor's office, where he is recalling his experiences to a therapist. He stares out a window, but does not see, until his doctor suggests he turn to writing. This action alone opens the floodgates, and thus the story begins to unfold. Flashback and flash-forward are used frequently.

We're introduced to New York City in an aerial view; we witness cars as they race from the country to the city from a bird's eye point-of-view; Gatsby sees Daisy's home from his property across the bay;  wide camera angles show us the scope of the lavish party inside and out at Gatsby's mansion; and Nick peers up at Jay in the window in the mansion from his small next door cottage.

For teachers of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, and those who also teach film, there is much to be studied (and enjoyed).  For one, this version of the film includes hip-hop music composed and selected to appeal to a new generation. Gone, for the most part, is music you might expect to hear from a film set in the swing jazz era. Instead, Jay-Z has brought a hip and contemporary style to the soundtrack. "Baz treats the music like another star," said Jay-Z in this interview.

Even the stylized font selected used in the opening title credits, as well as the film's posters, reveal much about the time period portrayed.




But it is the sets and the costumes which stand out the most, in my opinion, overshadowing the performances of many of the stars.

I will also predict that Gatsby will be a huge best-selling DVD when it's released in a few months.  Look for extensive behind-the-scenes and "making of" featurettes as well as the customary interviews with the director, stars and crew.