Baz Luhrmann Dazzles and Strays in Cannes Opener “The Great Gatsby”


Baz Luhrmann, Tobey Maguire and production/costume designer Catherine Martin. Photo: Marion Curtis/Starpix

Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby will have already had its regular theatrical release Stateside by the time it has what is sure to be a glitzy red carpet premiere later next week at the Opening Night of the 66th Cannes Film Festival. Quite frankly, the 2 hour and 21 minute feature is made to open Cannes. It also happens to be Luhrmann's second Cannes opener this century after Moulin Rouge launched the 2001 festival.

Void of some of the over the top fantasy elements that characterized that film, The Great Gatsby is nevertheless a spectacle and Luhrmann certainly leaves his characteristic stamp on the classic American story by F. Scott Fitgerald, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as budding writer/narrator Nick Carraway. In this version, Maguire's Carraway recalls his encounter with the hedonistic 20s in Gatsby's Long Island from a sanitarium where he therapeutically writes his recollections about the mysterious party-giving multimillionaire.

Like Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby will no doubt divide audiences and will likely irk adherents to Roaring 20s orthodoxy.

At a recent reception at the New York Public Library, hosted by Peggy Siegal, an attendee who introduced Baz Luhrmann noted that virtually every person educated in America had read the book that spawned the Australian filmmaker's feature. While the story occupies an indelible place in the American psyche, it was actually in a very unlikely place that Luhrmann became engrossed in the novel and planned to make the story his next feature project.

"After Moulin Rouge, I took a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway," said Luhrmann. "Boarding the train wasn't quite the Dostoevsky moment I expected. But to [pass the time] I had two recorded books with me, and one was The Great Gatsby, as well as [a lot] of Australian wine… I realized I didn't know the book at all. It spoke so directly. It was us. It was now. It's a very internal book."

DiCaprio's Gatsby lords over a Long Island castle that sits across the bay from Carraway's cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who is married to the philandering blue-blooded Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Gatsby throws frequent booze-soaked bacchanalias in hopes that, one day, Daisy will attend. Upon learning that he is Daisy's cousin, Gatsby solicits help from Carraway, who has moved in next door in a beachside bungalow.


A scene from Baz Luhrmann's Cannes opener, The Great Gatsby.

"Jay-Z was one of the first people to see a rough cut of the film," Luhrmann recalled. "Jay-Z said, 'Wow, that's beautiful. But it's aspirational, not about how he made his money. Do they have a moral compass? Do they have a purpose? He uses the parties, the Charleston and everything else to bring everyone into his sticky fly trap, but he wants only one butterfly.'"

Shawn 'Jay Z' Carter, who also served as executive producer on the film, provided much of the modern music for the feature. The Great Gatsby is also peppered with jazz and other period 20s tunes, but Luhrmann was determined to be unorthodox to the music of the decade, which was fueled by a roaring Wall Street, a loosening of morals, and at least for some, a fast-paced quest for the decadent. If distributor Warner Bros. has any intention to re-create the party scenes in the movie at Cannes, that will likely be among the most sought after invitations in years.

"Fitzgerald, in my view, wasn't nostalgic," said Luhrmann. "He took jazz and pop of the time and put it into his text. It was 'the now' that he was trying to express and I want the audience to today to have a similar feeling when they see the film." Fans of the Roaring '20s should not be disappointed by the flapper fashions, lingo and music of the era, but 21st century elements are never too far away.

"Baz wanted a New York that is visceral, modern and sexy, not quaint and nostalgic," noted Maguire. Added Luhrmann, "Fitgerald was focused on new things. He loved technology and he loved film. In my estimation, he put cinematic elements into his writing. And I am channeling myself into Fitzgerald."

The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher and Joel Edgerton, opens Friday in the U.S. and will kick off the 66th Festival de Cannes on May 15.

FilmLinc will be in Cannes reporting from the festival daily beginning late next week.

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