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PostPosted: 18 Oct 2009, 10:00 
Grand Poobah
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Essay on if Gatsby can ever be made into a good movie. Sorta long.


Can It Be Done?

Given the centrality of Nick’s first-person voice and point of view, is it possible to translate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to the screen? It is indeed possible to transfer the plot, or something like it, but the plot is neither what the novel is nor what the novel is about. Voice and point of view are at the heart of Fitzgerald’s story. As Sartre said of The Sound and the Fury: the story cannot be told in any other way. Lose the voice and change the point of view, and you’re telling a different story. Whether you tell it well or badly, it’s a different story. Until and unless a filmmaker finds a way to accomplish on screen what Fitzgerald accomplished on the page with Nick’s voice and point of view, the result will never be a fair adaptation of the story F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote and neither will it be a good movie.

Gatsby is, for all the fancy cars and drunk party guests, a small narrative. All the significant action except Myrtle’s death takes place in rooms: Nick’s cottage, Jay’s bedroom, Wilson’s garage, the Buchanans’ sunroom, Tom’s upper Manhattan pièd-a-terre. The action in those scenes occurs mostly in dialogue among very few people, which is why the novel worked so well as a play. Nick is rarely doing or saying anything in those scenes. With only a few exceptions, his job is to bear witness, to tell us about it a year or so later from the heart of the country.

If Baz Luhrmann or whoever is the next filmmaker to take Gatsby on thinks the plot is what the novel is really about – a mysterious rich guy with a lingering love for a flighty society lady who tries to get her away from her playboy husband but only gets the husband’s mistress and himself killed – he should acknowledge that’s what he’s up to, get rid of Nick and do with Gatsby what no filmmaker has yet done: make a movie that works. And if he understands the centrality of Nick’s narration to Fitzgerald’s novel and wants to make a film of that, he should deal with that voice and character as something more than mere decoration.

Chloride and Sodium: Two terribly dangerous substances that taste great together!

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