The Great Gatsby

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on May 10, 2013

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Dear Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter
Executive Producer

Dear Shawn,

'Sup Z. Sorry, I mean Mr. Carter. Ugh, that doesn't feel right. Your stage name commands more respect than standard honorifics in today's superficial, celebrity-obsessed world. Why shouldn't it? You're a self-made man. A party magnet (and magnate) who built a fortune under an assumed name while living the American dream. You're a modern day Jay Gatsby_ _if ever there was one.

It's only fitting that someone with your contemporary sensibilities was involved with bringing to the screen F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic cautionary tale of riches, recklessness, and youth.

Like most Baz Luhrmann films, it begins with the soundtrack. In Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge _(dubbed his "red curtain" trilogy) the pop score doesn't just set a tone, it's a fully-developed character in the film. The lyrics supplement the narration, while the music propels the imagery. Few films would ever look so jumbled on mute. _The Great Gatsby is no different, and you've helped Lurhmann build a bridge back in time by helping him incorporate the music of some of today's most popular and acclaimed artists.

And, wow, the 1920s have never been so roaring.

Aspiring writer and bonds salesman Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire) buys a small house next to the mansion of mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). All of New York City seems to gather for Gatsby's lavish and extravagant weekend parties, which we soon discover are simply an attempt to impress a girl he once knew and loved (Carey Mulligan). She's now married to an aristocratic who lives across the bay (Joel Edgerton). It's a white, white world with #FirstWorldProblems, but essentially Gatsby is straight-up gangsta and trying to pimp his way into a bitch's heart. You feel me?

Eye-popping, in-your-face visuals are also Luhrmann's trademark, and in 3D the effect is doubled. A bit overkill, no doubt --but, then again, this is a film all about excess.

The story takes place in 1922, when illegal speakeasies helped spark the underground jazz scene; the music was chaotic, spontaneous, and celebratory, and perfectly captured the rebellious spirit of the times. You've replaced most of that with hip hop here, which is the musical heir apparent to that movement. But like Gatsby himself, you had your artists reinterpret the success of others. Emeli Sande covers Beyonce. Beyonce covers Amy Winehouse. You do an original song, but I'm sure Beyonce got in there somehow. The best contribution is Jack White's incredible take on U2's Love is Blindess; he transforms it from an airy and meandering B-side to a blistering, emotional rock ballad. This is the true sprit of Gatsby: seizing on the missed opportunities of others.

In that spirit, this film and its soundtrack are a success. They give us all the luxury and opulence we expect, but, unfortunately, at the service of exposing the futility of those all-American ideals. Much like Spring Breakers or _Pain & Gain _of the past few months. Just with better music.

Sure, this movie's got problems, but a bitchin' soundtrack ain't one.

Peace out,


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