I thought of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel when I was watching Sunset Boulevard recently. If you know both, you’ll know why (I think)–otherwise I’ll leave it to you to get to know both. Oddly, I did not immediately jump to thoughts of the 1974 adaptation, which waited patiently for my viewing at the same time, nor did I even reconnect the thoughts until I began to watch it today. I did, however, think quite instantly of something I philosophically discussed with myself recently. I’ve had an aversion for some time now to reading “classics”–too many have left me wanting for entertainment, or even for thoughtfulness, many have bored me quite nearly to death, and still others just fail to capture my interest. I’ve forced my way through some, and given up on plenty more. I appreciate the ones that could hold my interest–Tess of the d’Urbervilles, To Kill a Mockingbird, and so on. The Great Gatsby (to finally end the oh-so-great suspense) was another that I made my way through mostly happily (I’m never a fan of following someone else’s schedule for reading, which only gets worse when combined with text I don’t wish to read). While I thought of this, I thought somewhat sheepishly, of the feeling that I was wont to forget the plots, characters and situations of the books I did manage to finish, leaving it sort of irrelevant as to whether I had indeed “read” them or not.
So, imagine my surprise when I begin watching this movie and thinking, “Hey, I remember these words!” as Sam Waterston (playing Nick Carraway) begins to narrate the film. Then Tom Buchanan (Bruce Dern) drives him up to Wilson’s garage, passing under the great advertisement for Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, and right into my brain. It was the most bizarre sense of déjà vu; for once it felt like it was being exactly re-created. Dune is the only other movie I can think of that so exactly replicates the words of the book it is based on, but of course has to omit much greater sections, and made greater deviations. But here it felt so exacting, which is something I’m not sure about when Coppola was the author–but I’ve just read that he claims they didn’t film his script anyway.
If you didn’t know, Robert Redford is Jay Gatsby himself, constantly pursuing what he feels is the love of his life–Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow), wife of Tom. I’m not sure, but I could swear that in school I never saw this version because my teacher hated Mia Farrow. I seem to read a lot of Mia Farrow hatred in my wanderings through writings on film, and I’m not quite sure I get it. Admittedly, when she goes into hysterics, it can be the most grating kind, but it always seems appropriate for the role. She does have such a distinctive voice that I can imagine to some it, in particular, is the grating element, but then it’s a matter of taste. I will say that none of these actors particularly made me think, “Wow! It’s So-and-so, straight out of the book!” but they all filled the roles with the talent I was pretty well aware of them all having.
I was somewhat surprised to find Karen Black in the credits, considering my knowledge of her is primarily from House of 1000 Corpses, Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake of Invaders from Mars and It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive. You know, cult and horror films–the REASON she’d be picked by Rob Zombie for one of his movies. And here she is in a lavish 1970s movie with Robert Redford, scripted by Francis Ford Coppola and with a running time a decent bit over two hours. Nothing against her for that, certainly, but I can’t say I was expecting it. And who else appears but Edward Herrmann! Of course, I saw him in Reds recently, so that was less shocking.
The most interesting thing about this for me is seeing an adaptation that seemed somewhat close to my own reading–I am an unbridled romantic underneath whatever there is on top, and I always saw Gatsby as one, too, even as everyone insisted to me that the “symbolism” said he only wanted Daisy because she represented money and power, and not for real love. Perhaps this makes me naïve, I’m not sure, but that’s okay with me, so long as it doesn’t go anywhere beyond that one aspect of life.