Baz Lurhmann‘s highly anticipated summer blockbuster The Great Gatsby has excited the film public to a level almost unprecedented. Upon the release of the first trailer we were awed but a little confused by the sprawling party shots of prohibition flappers doing the Charleston to No Church in the Wild. “Silly Baz!” we cried! But Di Caprio and Mulligan still seemed to be amazing casting and we were swept up in the high contrast, high definition deliciousness of the stills.
But then the soundtrack details were released: “Will.i.am? Gotye? FERGIE?! Come on Baz, what the actual fuck?” It seemed like theAustralia director was running carefree like Gatsby’s yellow car, mowing down the last ten years’ best songs in an attempt for his trademark loveable quirkiness.
The fascination the Australian director has developed for anachronistic scores could be traced to the success of Moulin Rouge! The sight of a mustachio’d Jim Broadbent leading cancan dancing prostitutes and punters alike, wailing “Here we are now, entertain us!” was some of the most compelling cinema I’d seen. But surely taking this surreal tack with the classic American novel was a step too far, especially considering the slow, respected treatment the 1974 Redford/Farrow version gave it?
The effect of sound on a film can make or break it. There’s Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, a film that relies so heavily on the light drumming of fingertips on a steering wheel, the radio report of a baseball game and the clunking of teeth around a toothpick to set the film’s scope (only to be crashed apart by engine roars and shotgun shells in skulls). The soundtrack was also key to the success of the film. In line with the 80’s homage it featured a synth heavy pounding of robotic voices and slowly swirling basslines – it’s on my iTunes and I’d argue all the former and current Screen Editors’ too. It’s not the only success story – look at Skyfall. The fact that I don’t have to clarify if it is the song or the movie in that sentence says it all.
However, there are a lot of terrible soundtracks out there too – Die Another Day was awful from the moment Madonna opened her mouth. In fact, let’s compare the unforgivable let-down that was Quantum of Solace to Casino Royale by their opening songs – the Jack White/Alicia Keys’ flop against the Chris Cornell ace. Sensitivity to sound is incredibly important as it sets the mood for the film, as well as the marker for the audience’s response.
With all this in mind I gave the trailer one last watch, and I think Lurhmann’s going to get it just right. Filter’s wailing cover of the Turtle’s Happy Together outlines Gatsby’s seething desire and obsession perfectly, especially against the backdrop of sultry 1920’s jazz from the Brian Ferry Orchestra. Baz is risking a lot, especially as his last film was Australia, but the focus on symbolism in the trailer and the raw emotion he brings to his projects should make Gatsby a winner. It’s not going to be the tight lipped exchanged glances of Redford and company, but the sound of the angry, confused and lost. Sounds a lot like Fitzgerald to me.
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