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‘Unfilmable’ novels? No such thing, says Hollywood

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New version of "The Great Gatsby" one of many attempts to bring classic to the screen

Book's lyrical prose, point of view make adaptation difficult

Movies are different art form, and filmmakers have to remember that, says producer

"Gatsby" benefits from well-known title, marketing ties

CNN —  

On paper, the 1974 version of “The Great Gatsby” had everything.

It starred Robert Redford, the biggest, most glamorous movie star of the era. The screenplay was by Francis Ford Coppola, coming off writing Oscars for “The Godfather” and “Patton.” The art direction was sumptuous, and the costumes – which helped launch a new craze for 1920s-inspired fashion – were designed by the then little-known Ralph Lauren, among others.

And yet the movie, though a box-office success, fell far short of the novel. Critics at the time roasted it, and it’s been largely forgotten since its release.

There are lots of reasons that the 1974 “Gatsby” hasn’t become a film classic equal to the book’s literary status. The actors were, perhaps, miscast: Redford a little too perfect given Gatsby’s rough edges, Bruce Dern too unpolished for rich Yalie Tom Buchanan. Director Jack Clayton may have paid more attention to the opulent settings than the relationships between the characters.

And then there’s the shadow of Fitzgerald himself, with his lyrical language, so enticing on the page and so difficult to translate onto celluloid.

But Hollywood hasn’t given up. Like the green light across the bay that forever taunts the book’s title character, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel holds out the promise of a dream: turning the Great American Novel into the Great American Movie. After all, it has everything – a love story, sex, money, crime, great themes, lush settings.

The latest attempt, a 3-D version starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by “Moulin Rouge’s” Baz Luhrmann, opens Friday.

The latest version of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic stars Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Daisy and Gatsby.
Warner Bros.
The latest version of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic stars Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Daisy and Gatsby.

Luhrmann has steeped himself in both Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age. He immersed himself in Fitzgerald’s biography. He read previous drafts o