Luhrmann, travesty and The Great Gatsby

I’ve posted before about Baz Luhrmann’s use of anachronism and pastiche – we can be certain that he and designer Catherine Martin will liberally employ both in their adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, scheduled for release in May 2013. As with their other work, the film will be based on meticulous original research that will be the foundation of creative reinterpretation – which will no doubt drive purists wild. Fearless as ever, they’ve taken on the Great American Novel.

Luhrmann’s background is in theatre, where travesty is common (he’s a huge admirer of Shakespeare). All his films use travesty to overturn accepted conventions and confound expectations – they are parodies themselves, and often parodied. This antagonises some and embarrasses others, possibly because film is perceived to have a privileged relationship to reality. 

Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is bound to have elements of travesty, but that does not mean it will be a travesty. It will reinvent the source novel and raise questions about adaptation and authorship, unsettling ideas about art as the expression of individual creative vision. Like the celebrated Red Curtain Trilogy (Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!) it will be design-led, from visual style to music soundtrack. There will be multiple layers of quotation from classic and world cinema, plus coded references to the director’s other films, creating a richly textured work replete with opportunities for  commercial spin-offs and tie-ins.

The film is already controversial for its application of 3-D to a literary adaptation. It’s sure to polarise opinion, particularly among US critics. As befits a major event movie, anticipation (whether positive or negative) will continue to build until it reaches a breathless climax.

© Pam Cook

More about travesty in Baz Luhrmann’s work in Baz Luhrmann by Pam Cook (BFI/Palgrave 2010)

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