Stylizing Gatsby

The Great Gatsby movie trailer is out, and I’m suddenly confused. I thought we were getting a 1920s period film, but apparently not.

Instead it looks like one of those stylized, postmodern films. Which means it has potential to go either way. It’s from the same producers and director as Moulin Rouge! (I hated) and the Romeo + Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (I loved). Something akin to Sin City, but not quite as aggressively styled as that film.

Interestingly, Baz Luhrmann, the director, directed the eight short films for the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Met.

To be clear, I can tell from the trailer that these costumes are not period accurate. They all look like contemporary fashion interpreting 1920s Halloween costumes. The hair and makeup look like they’re from the present day. The architecture and interior design look much too contemporary to even pretend to be from the 20s. The colors are a bit too bright and the sparkle is a bit too computer generated.

As for the acting, I’m a bit let down by this first look. I imagined Leo with prohibition-like swagger, but I don’t see that here. And Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan seemed like good casting to me, but she doesn’t seem to have to mastered Daisy’s charms. Hopefully it’s just that this trailer doesn’t capture the actors fully realizing their roles, instead of disappointing performances.

I think I could wrap my head around this version of The Great Gatsby if the film never came right out and said “this is the 1920s.” If they just pretend it’s a roaring ambiguous-moment-in-time-that-never-happened, it might work. But in the trailer’s opening seconds the voiceover tells us it’s 1922. Ugh.

So what do you think? Do you like postmodern film that mashes up time periods and styles for effect? Or do you think classics should stay true to their origin?


  1. Hm, interesting! I have to confess to being a bit of a Baz Luhrmann fan – Strictly Ballroom is a fabulous film and I adored Romeo + Juliet, although Australia’s only redeeming feature was the amount of screen time devoted to Hugh Jackman. So I’m not necessarily put off by his overly stylized, slightly fantastical imagining of the 1920s, since it’s what we’ve come to expect from him. But my heart still belongs to Robert Redford. Would love to know your thoughts on the original film – was it any more accurate to the period?

    • jacqueline says:

      I have to confess I have not see the Robert Redford version (I’m dreadfully behind when it comes to classic movies). Putting it on my Netflix queue right now so I can give you my take.

  2. Emilia Jane says:

    Oh that is NOT what I thought it was going to be! I’m quite intrigued now. Annnnd I’m off to go watch the old version and reread the book 😀

    • jacqueline says:

      I remember liking the book in high school. I worry though that rereading it now will only make the movie worse if they’ve taken as many artistic liberties as I think they may have.

  3. Maggie says:

    The first thing I said when the trailer started was, “Is this Sin City?”

    the second was, “What is he wearing?!”

    I love Strictly Ballroom, hate Moulin Rouge (though I enjoy some of the music). Have never seen Romeo + Juliet, though I’ve been meaning to.

    “The colors are a bit too bright and the sparkle is a bit too computer generated.”

    Yes, yes, yes. It looks so… aggressively flashy, more style than substance. Generally, I prefer my period movies to be faithful–both to the book (if it’s based on one) and to the period–aesthetically, and in the actors’ mannerisms, movements, etc. Sometimes it can be fun to see a mish-mash of periods, when a movie is set in an indistinct time and place… but in other cases, it just comes off poorly researched or intentionally careless.

    I was originally excited to hear that Carey Mulligan was cast as Daisy, but after seeing this, I don’t know if she pulls it off successfully. She seems to lack some sophistication or something.

    I can’t say I’m surprised, though, since it’s a Baz Luhrmann film. I’m willing to give it a chance, but I think it’ll be as true to 1922 as Moulin Rouge was to 1900. Btw, did you see Australia? I haven’t yet… didn’t hear good things about it.

    I used to think the costume designer Catherine Martin had it made… since she’s married to Baz, she does all his films. Nice gig. 😉

    • jacqueline says:

      I do like Strictly Ballroom and have never seen Australia (because it seemed much to close to Moulin Rouge for me to enjoy).

      Also, I’m not buying the excuse anymore that period films need to have a contemporary spin on the fashion in order to attract a wide-spanning audience. I think Downton Abbey proves that you can do it right and be successful.

      • Maggie says:

        Definitely. I was thinking about Downton the other day (there’s still a loooong wait-list for it at the library), and how it seems to appeal to a surprisingly wide audience, not just the period drama nerds (me) who usually watch Masterpiece Theater. Am hoping it paves the way for more movies and tv series’ like it…

  4. jacqueline says:

    Just came across the original version of The Great Gatsby from 1926. Love this silent movie trailer!

  5. Lizzie says:

    For the most part, I love Baz Luhrmann’s films, even Moulin Rouge. I’ve learned to watch them as they are, not as period films, otherwise I could not watch without yelling at the screen! I kind of like a historical-modern-steampunky feel; sort of what we got in Hugo, but I’ll admit that the look of these films is not as fresh as it was 12 years ago.

    I just don’t think there was any sort of honest effort to make a period film set in 1922 after seeing the trailer. I mean, exposed belly-buttons? Not even Josephine Baker did that until 1925, and that was in Paris! Backless, and sideless dresses? Vidal Sasson haircuts? And the make-up!

    The costuming in the 1974 Redford-Farrow version was okay, but it had problems, especially with make-up. Plus, Farrow was pregnant and they were trying to hide that. And her wigs were horrible. They used a lot of original 1920s dresses, many of which were ruined when the extras all went into the fountain at Gatsby’s party!

  6. pgt says:

    I followed Huff Post here- nice to see a good recommendation from them! I remember a number of articles bemoaning Downton Abbey’s faux pas in the hunting togs worn? While I love and prefer something historically accurate-there is creative license to allow for-and anyone expecting BL to adhere to “accurate” is bound to be disappointed. As with any movie that bring Us historic novels-Classics- to cinema- from the Leopard to GWTW few are truly accurate-all stray from realities of the period. the BBC stays more true to a period than any cinematic piece will adhere to it. The GG of Mia Farrow, RR may appeal more now than ever since it brings its own nostalgia to the movies made from that era. It didn’t go over so well-other than the costumes. I do think any movie that might lead some new reader to such an American classic as Fitzgerald’s GG has to be appreciated. The novel comes first-and is almost Always Best. look forward to following your blog. pgt

    • jacqueline says:

      I agree with you that nothing is 100% completely accurate. There are always issues of sourcing and expenses and the occasional lapse in research which can cause inaccuracy.

      And I’m not completely bemoaning the movie. Just that I’m skeptical I’ll be able to appreciate it because the costumes and set will probably distract me too much. But hey, anything that encourages people to read the novel and learn something new has merit.

  7. Katie* says:

    I think that in 40 years, a studio or director or producer is going to say, “Let’s re-make The Great Gatsby, but do it authentically this time.”

  8. One of my favorite film/TV critics, Dan Fienberg, snarked that this version of the Great Gatsby seems destined to be the source material for lots of C- English essays by lazy high school seniors. I think that sounds about right. Is it just me or is everyone in that trailer massively over-emoting?

    • Liz says:

      Over-emoting is sort of a Luhrman thing, though. He’s been interviewed to say that he wants movies to be Movies. He wants viewers to be constantly aware that they’re watching a splashy entertaining show- a pull away from the realism that many directors aim for currently.

      As I type that, I wonder if the costuming is similarly purposed. Perhaps, like you said Jacqueline, it’s supposed to look like costumey fake renditions of the 1920’s to make it more constantly clear that we’re in a movie, not real life.

      • jacqueline says:

        Interesting take on possible costuming motivations. It’s possible that the over-the-topness was done to keep reminding the audience that they are watching a movie. However, I have always felt that the best movies are the ones in which I forget I’m watching a movie, where I get so absorbed that I stop thinking about the actors as people, and instead they fully become the characters in my mind. So perhaps Luhrmann’s style is just not my thing (although I still liked Romeo + Juliet and Strictly Ballroom).

        • My guess is that Luhrmann is achieving exactly the effect that he wants with both the over-emoting and the supercharged neon kinda-1920s-but-with-more-glitter aesthetic. I’m just not sure it’s the right approach for a retelling of Gatsby. The novel has always seemed so intimate and melancholy to me — from the trailer, the over-emoting seems like it’s robbing the story of its power. Shakespearean iambic pentameter can take the over-the-top treatment. So can a melodramatic musical. But Gatsby? I’m skeptical.

  9. Andrew says:

    I didn’t know they had AutoTune in the 20’s. Fascinating.

  10. Linda says:

    If you want to see a film from 1927 that has fantastic clothing, watch Metropolis, the restored version. Netflix has it streaming so you don’t have to wait. I knew some of the clothes of the 20s were risque, but oh my, until I watched Metropolis I didn’t know they had see-through blouses in the 20s. So glad I found your site. Came over from Huffington Post. A look they’re avoiding in the remake of Gatsby are the cute cupie doll lips that all the ladies painted on themselves. I wish those cute lips would come back. Kind of tired of silcon injected lips being in style. Love the look of the 20s, from the hats to the shoes.

  11. Liz says:

    I really liked Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. The vaguely time periodish but not really of this clip, though, reminds me of the Branaugh Hamlet- sort of a historical-but-unspecific-time. Like it’s set in a fairytale. That said, I think the lack of a time period served Hamlet well. I wonder if it’ll be similarly purposed in Gatsby? Seems unlikely to me as the era feels so inextricable from the point and theme of the storyline.

  12. Sarah says:

    Hmmm. Apparently I’m the only one who liked Moulin Rouge. I actually have enjoyed all of Baz Luhrman’s movies, but usually I like them because he keeps the time periods ambiguous, so the modernization isn’t just misplaced anachronism. I’m a little disappointed that this is supposed to be 1922.

    • Kat says:

      I was on the fence as to costume accuracy, but now that I realize this is supposed to be 1922, I would say the costumes are probably too over the top/out of period context to be accurate. The hemlines are simply too short to be the early 1920s. But I do think that this will probably be the best portrayal of the spirit of the 1920s since Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things.

  13. Heiress Emma says:

    Yeah, I was surprised by the trailer too – and I shouldn’t have been, because some of my very good friends worked in the costume dept for this film (it was shot in Sydney) and I would have too if I hadn’t been working elsewhere. Anyway, from the word go, I kept hearing about the details, the sparkle, the fabric, and I knew it was going to be a bit of Baz’s 1920s? artistic license we would see rather than the real thing. Still, a close friend who was a cutter on the film says that a lot of the ladies’ dresses were cut from original period patterns.

    I’m with you, I hope the film impresses me more than the trailer does.

    Emma (another ring coming is my previous moniker… and costume design is my previous career! Ha!)

    • jacqueline says:

      Oh very interesting to get a little inside scoop. I wonder if the dresses cut from original pattern pieces were from 1922 or later. If they are original patterns, I would have to guess they were from mid to late 20s.

  14. Kat says:

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