I watched the DVD of the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version of The Great Gatsby on the laptop to kill time during the flight a week and half ago between New York and Dallas. I think Tom Wolfe (piqued at the unauthorized usurpation of his trademark white suit by Redford’s Gatsby) once dismissed the movie as “Fitzgerald as interpreted by the Garment District”, and while the film did put Ralph Lauren on the map, most of the duds the actors are wearing, with their fat ties and wide lapels, seem much more 1970s than 1920s.
But that’s the least of Gatsby’s problems. I can’t quite figure out if Mia Farrow works or not, but Redford, who’s far too cinematically pretty to play the self-made Gatsby, and who sort of sleepwalks through his role, seems wildly miscast. As does Bruce Dern, who can’t escape his Roger Corman-era psycho biker roles (his Freeman Lowell in Silent Running was merely an interstellar variation on that persona).
But what really sinks Gatsby is a self-conscious pacing that makes Stanley Kubrick’s stately Barry Lyndon seem like an MTV video in comparison. That’s also the same problem that plagues 1976’s The Last Tycoon, Elia Kazan’s last movie, with a young Robert DeNiro in a thinly disguised portrayal as doomed Hollywood wunderkind Irving Thalberg.
So will there ever be a decent cinematic Fitzgerald? This article on the various cinematic portrayals of Gatsby says don’t bet on it.
And as the made for TV version of Gatsby a few years ago demonstrated, attempting to film Fitzgerald these days presents an additional problem.