The Great Gatsby (Luhrmann, 2013)

gatsby

One one thousand…two one thousand…three one thousand…

You may wonder why I’m…two one thousand…three one thousand….

Why I’m counting and recounting…one one thousand…two one thousand…three one thousand…

…Every three seconds or so, well it’s because…three one thousand…four one thousand…five one thousand…

I’m trying to give an approximation of what it’s like…one thousand…two one thousand…three…

…like to watch a two and a half hour movie with cuts every…one one thousand…two one thousand…

…every three seconds or so.

About thirty-five to forty minutes into The Great Gatsby, I started wondering if I was going crazy, or if the film did have more cuts than usual. So I started counting the seconds in between camera cuts. The depressing thing was not that I never got to ten, it was how often I didn’t get to three.

…one thousand, two one thousand…three…

I wouldn’t make the argument that long takes are inherently better than short ones, but if there was a rhyme or reason to Luhrmann and company never letting the viewer’s eye rest on one object for more than …one one thousand…two one thousand…before shifting to another image, it was lost on me…two one thousand…three one thousand…and it tends to create a film that is experienced in three second intervals, less a film actually…one thousand…two one thousand…three one thousand…as a narrated slide-slow of book illustrations.

A counterargument could be made, I suppose, that Gatsby is a novel about surfaces and that the flashy, kinetic, restless visual style of the film is meant to function as the visual form of the film’s motifs. I don’t buy that argument for two reasons. Okay, maybe three. First, there was no discernible stylistic or editing differences that I could see between early scenes and late, between crowd scenes and individual encounters. I could see a barrage of images as meaningful to convey the chaos of Gatsby’s parties, but when Jay and Nick are talking by the pool? When a handful of characters are sitting down for tea? One one thousand…two one thousand…three….The cutting is relentless, and intrusive, and while Gatsby is a novel of superficial ¬†appearances, it is also one…one thousand…two one thousand…three…of stolen moments of intimacy and attempts at…two one thous…greater…and…three one thousa…

In the second half of the film the scenes get longer, even if the takes do not. That suggests to me that the story wants to–needs to–vary in its pace in order to convey relational development or even just change.. The regularity of the cutting makes the film feel very static, and the staticness makes a long film feel even longer.

Also, Gatsby’s art design is admittedly beautiful, and the density of each screen image is very high. I think one could do more frequent cuts as a means of directing the viewer’s attention to the dominant in any image, but there is so much visual information going on in each frame that the frequent cutting had for me the opposite effect. I never knew where to look, and always, always, as my eye settled on something…one thousand…three one thousand…four one thousand…the camera cut away and the desperate attempt to find something to hang onto began anew. For two and a half hours.

I’ve heard some complaints about the performances in the film, but my response is that it is hard to convey much of anything in three second intervals. One could make the argument that these characters are a bit one dimensional to begin with, but I think simple people are capable of having complex relationships. When Nick tells Gatsby he is worth “the whole lot of them” we haven’t seen where that is coming from except for a brief montage where Nick tells us Gatsby has the capacity for hope. More problematically, Nick’s assessment that Tom and Daisy are “careless people” appears to run counter to the film’s overall assessment of Daisy as victim of Tom and circumstance rather than as weak or seduced by money. Mulligan is a superb actress as anyone who has seen An Education can attest to, but the film gets so wrapped up in what she means to Gatsby that it never really takes the time to investigate what she really is.

Even so…one one thousand…two one thousan…it’s hard to get into sustained disagreements about character development or plot interpretation…one one thousand…two one thousand…three one thousand…when one formal decision so overpowers every other feature of the…one one thousand two one thousand three…film. It’s not that I am adamant that Luhrmann doesn’t…one thousand…two one thousand…three one thousand…doesn’t understand…one thousand…two one thousand…this story, it’s more that…one thousand…two one thousand…I doubt his understanding of how to…one one thousand…two one thousand…tell any story….one thousand…two one thousand…in this format. One one thousand…two one…

Oh, wait, it’s over. Whew. That gets annoying after awhile, doesn’t it?

 

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