Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby (1926)

Since the newest cinematic version of F. Scott Fitzgerald will finally be upon us in May, I thought it would be a good time to reminisce about the first attempt to place this classic of American literature on the screen.

Being a fan of the book myself, I must admit to looking forward to the remake with much anticipation. Justing from the trailers, Baz Luhrmann is up to his old over-the-top tricks again. If there is any filmmaker that comes the closest to imitating the old-school borderline kitschy glamour of studio era Hollywood, with modern trappings, this is the guy. It could be bad, it could be great, but it will definitely be an interesting viewing experience.

But what does it have for competition? Why, four other films of course, starting with a silent!

Released four years after the novel was published, it should be the most aesthetically accurate by default, since it was made in the time period that the book was set. And, judging from a contemporary review from The New York Times, it was a rather faithful adaptation, downbeat ending and all. But how well does it translate to film? Do the actors shine? Is it the definitive movie version?

Alas, it looks like we will never known, because this is a lost film. All that remains is a short trailer that incorporates a few brief shots, and from what I can judge, it looks...okay. I feel kinda hesitant to go further than that, considering what little there is to work with, but the scenes appear to be recreated faithfully. I can't say anything about the actors either, except that Warner Baxter looks strange without a mustache in the flashback with daisy.

One thing that can be said in the film's favor is that what little there remains of the party scenes look fun and hectic, with tons of classic bathings suits and much frolicking. The camera is rather static, but then again this is less than a minute's worth of excerpts so maybe there was more enthusiastic cinematography elsewhere.

Some nice on location work, and some copied scenes from the book are are that remain, and that's disappointing. Perhaps there's a script somewhere that gives a better idea of what the film looks like. Until then, we'll have to make due with the little that we have.