IN WRITE-UPS ABOUT the new “Great Gatsby” movie, commentators refer to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic work as “The Great America Novel.” Is it?
It’s a very good novel, beautifully written, with something to say about America, its dreams and its myth. But it’s also a fairly slight work. A couple other American novels are larger in scope and theme. They’re, well, greater. I’m thinking of Melville’s Moby Dick of course. But also two other works which have much to say about the American civilization: The Octopus by Frank Norris. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. The two authors and their books come at America from completely different directions, but the novels are both large, intelligent, meaningful, and tremendously exciting.
Nothing against Fitzgerald in saying this. He was an extremely talented writer, who for various reasons didn’t reach his full potential.
I have yet to see the new “Great Gatsby” movie. I’m concerned that, like the 70’s Robert Redford version, it’s well over two hours in length. Keeping in mind that the novel is a quick book—its quickness part of its effect.
If I were to make a film version of The Great Gatsby, it’d be no more than 90 minutes long. Shorter. It’d have a quick pace, and be something of a mystery, like the book. I’d shoot it in black-and-white. Gatsby be would somewhat tough looking, and indefinably ethnic. No pretty boy. Nick Carraway would be played by the standard Esquire magazine WASP. Much in the story, and its meaning would be implied. Suggest; don’t tell. I’d use 20’s Jazz Age music, but I wouldn’t make it slow and langorous, as in the 70’s version. I’d give it in quick snatches, making it fast, tinny, cheap. The overall effect I’d aim for wouldn’t be big budget—but the feel of a whiskey night getting drunk, sensitive, alive, as in the book.