The Great Gatsby and Baz Luhrmann’s Adaptation Techniques (Media Analysis Essay)

Baz Luhrmann’s films are known for their outlandish visuals and mashups of music creatively interwoven into the scene. This post-modern aesthetic made sense to critics in Luhrmann’s works such as Moulin Rouge!, while his adaptions of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and, more recently, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby received negative responses as they were considered unfaithful to the source text. While Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby alters the source text in noticeable ways, primarily through its hyperbolic portrayals of Gatsby’s parties and the use of modern music in a period piece, these changes further illuminate important ideas and themes in the text that may not have been easily understood by a contemporary audience.

Luhrmann is a master of knowing how to highlight important ideas and themes in a work that he is adapting. In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, he recognized the importance of violence and how a modern audience would not understand sword fighting as being indicative of extreme violence because there are much more dangerous weapons available in the current times. Thus guns and a modern setting were introduced to the 1996 film adaptation. In the trailer, you can see that despite the changes to the setting and the increased amount of violence, the plot line and speech are the same.

[This falls under fair use as it is for non-profit educational purposes and is not a substantial amount of the film, and therefore will have no effect on the market. (c) 1996 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.]

Bortolotti and Hutcheon argue, “[Baz Luhrmann’s] film, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, was deemed unfaithful to its source despite using most of the text and action” (Bortolotti 44). Similar accusations were made about Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby. One of the biggest criticisms was that the amount of partying and the luxury shown was unrealistic to that time, even if it did take place during the 1920s. However, Luhrmann understood that just as increased violence and a modern setting was necessary for better understanding Romeo & Juliet, that beyond-conceivable parties full of over-the-top outfits, reckless behavior, and copious amounts of people were necessary for understanding how lavish, rich, and careless these characters were and how that affected their lives and their attitudes toward things.

This clip from the movie illustrates how these hyperbolic party scenes played an important role in the film.

[This falls under fair use as it is for non-profit educational purposes and is not a substantial amount of the film, and therefore will have no effect on the market. (c) 2013 Warner Bros.]

Thus it is apparent that Luhrmann’s adaptive choices when creating The Great Gatsby were purposeful in illuminating important ideas and themes in the text, even if they did not stay within the boundaries of reality.

The soundtrack was another point of contention in Luhrmann’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s work as he meshed together performances from current popular artists from genres such as R&B and hip-hop and popular songs from the time period in which the story occurs. This mash-up technique seemed reminiscent of the soundtrack from Moulin Rouge!, which parsed together a variety of lyrics from songs from many artists, genres, and decades. Yang says about Moulin Rouge!, “Luhrmann undoes–or perhaps ‘redoes’–opera not to obliterate its considerable power, but to have it speak to us in our own contemporary vernacular, in the increasingly noisy Babel of twenty-first-century culture” (Yang 282). This “redoing” of opera is heard in “Elephant Love Medley” from the movie’s soundtrack.

[This falls under fair use as it is for non-profit educational purposes and no profit it being made from it, and therefore will have no effect on the market. (c) 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.]

In a similar vein, The Great Gatsby soundtrack features artists like Jay-Z, Will.i.am, Fergie, Lana Del Ray, Gotye, and Emeli Sande mixed with jazz music and other sounds heard during that era. This use of modern artists creating music for the movie allowed the film to feature music relevant to the themes and ideas present in The Great Gatsby, but still make it consumable by modern audiences. Tracks such as Fergie’s “All Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” exude the sounds of modern parties, but also incorporate instruments, such as horns, more common to music of the twenties.

[This falls under fair use as it is for non-profit educational purposes and no profit it being made from it, and therefore will have no effect on the market. (c) 2013 Fergie.]

Thus it is apparent that Luhrmann’s soundtrack choices, while unconventional and often unfaithful to the time period, are purposeful in connecting modern audiences to older time periods so as to illustrate ideas and themes that are a crucial part of the text.

Ultimately, Baz Luhrmann’s use of the eccentric and unconventional in his films are not purely just because he is drawn to the post-modern aesthetic, but also because he wants to illustrate ideas and themes to modern audiences in a relevant context, while still working with texts from older time periods. This can be seen in his adaptation of The Great Gatsby, in which the parties are hyperbolized and the soundtrack draws upon modern influences so as to fully illustrate the over-the-top nature of the world these characters are living in and its consequences.

 

Works Cited

Bortolotti, Gary R., and Linda Hutcheon. “On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success”—Biologically.” New Literary History 38.3 (2007): 443-58. JSTOR. Summer 2007. Web. 23 Sept. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20058017>.

The Great Gatsby. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, and Joel Edgerton. Warner Bros., 2013. Film.

Moulin Rouge!. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Perf. Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, and John Leguizamo. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2001. Film.

Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, and John Leguizamo. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1996. Film.

Yang, Mina. “Moulin Rouge! And The Undoing Of Opera.” Cambridge Opera Journal 20.3 (2008): 269. JSTOR. 3 Nov. 2008. Web. 23 Sept. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40664813>.

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