The Story Behind The Great Gatsby Film Adaptations: Then and Now

great gatsby 2013

Photo Courtesy of Warner Brothers
"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness…"

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is possibly America's finest literary offering, chronicling the "Jazz Age" in a way that's both indicting and glamorous. Fitzgerald presents the 1920's through a soaring economy with bootleggers making a killing from prohibition and consumers creating an underground world of excess. Considering this was after WWI, it should be no surprise that the public overcompensated, turning their shock and fear to extravagant showmanship. Fitzgerald lived in this period as a celebrity and this novel was his way of working through his conflicting feelings regarding the unrestrained opulence, writing a reflection of the period's hypocrisy and emptiness.

With so much to work with, The Great Gatsby would be a dream project for any larger-than-life director, which is why Baz Luhrmann (who also wrote the screenplay with Craig Pearce) is behind the most recent film adaptation. In preparation for the release (May 10, 2013), let's take a look at 1974's adaptation directed by Jack Clayton and see if Luhrmann is bringing anything different to the story.
the great gatsby
Photos Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros

The Posters

The movie posters are definitely different, with the '74 film reflecting a softer, more subdued story. It certainly looks good but reviews of the film (with a screenplay penned by Francis Ford Coppola) were less than stellar. Late film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review that the film had little in common with the novel's spirit, pointing out that the film spent so much time in looking good that it never delved into the characters' souls. "The movie is "faithful" to the novel with a vengeance -- to what happens in the novel, that is, and not to the feel, mood, and spirit of it." It's also interesting to note that Truman Capote was originally hired to write the script, writing a draft that took some liberties (Nick Carraway and Jordon Baker were written as homosexual) that ultimately got him fired.

While the 2013 adaptation hasn't come out yet, the posters (designed by Concept Arts) certainly imply a different kind of film — one where wealth is flaunted while the infamous eyes used on the book's cover loom over everything, creating a sense of doom.  the great gatsby
Photos Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros

Jay Gatsby

Robert Redford played Jay Gatsby in 1974, though Marlon Brando was almost the final choice (which apparently didn't happen because Brando's salary demands weren't met by the producers). Other actors considered for the role were Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Steve McQueen.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Gatsby in the newest film, having been chosen by Luhrmann very early in the project. the great gatsby
Photos Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros

Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan was played by Mia Farrow, having been selected after Natalie Wood turned the role down because the producers wanted her to do a screen test for it. Farrow was pregnant during filming, which is why she was always pictured wearing flowing garments and shot mostly through tight close-ups.

Luhrmann ended up choosing Carey Mulligan to play Daisy in his version after considering a slew of actresses (including Amanda Seyfried, Keira Knightley, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams). In an interview with Vulture, Luhrmann said that DiCaprio went with him to all the auditions and they both instantly knew Mulligan was the one. the great gatsby
Photos Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros

Tom Buchanan

Daisy's wealthy, bullish husband Tom Buchanan was played by Bruce Dern, getting some positive attention for his performance. While Roger Ebert felt the cast seemed cowed by the film's overproduction, he made an exception with Dern, who he thought gave a convincing portrayal of Tom's indifference to human emotion.

Though Ben Affleck was originally lined up to play Tom in the 2013 adaptation — he bowed out due to a scheduling conflict with Argo — the role is now being played by Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who will undoubtedly bring Tom's disdainful soul to light. the great gatsby
Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The Chemistry

Many critics had a major issue with the chemistry (or lack thereof) between Farrow and Redford. Farrow reportedly blamed Redford's obsession with the Watergate scandals for her not being able to connect with him on-screen. She claimed that he spent all his free time locked in his trailer watching news reports. the great gatsby
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros

Granted, we don't know how DiCaprio and Mulligan do with chemistry but it's got to be better than that, right? Especially since Luhrmann has said DiCaprio understands Gatsby's obsession with Daisy and felt it immediately upon seeing Mulligan's audition. the great gatsby
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros

The Costumes

The costumes may be what the two films have the most in common, though this most recent film definitely has more to offer the public. The 1974 film got designer Theoni V. Aldredge an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design.

Positive recognition is sure to also hit designer Catherine Martin (Luhrmann's wife), who has already won two Academy Awards for her creations in Moulin Rouge!. In April, Brooks Brothers premiered "The Gatsby Collection", which is a line of men's clothing, shoes and accessories inspired by Martin's costumes. Martin also reportedly had a hand in a line of Gatsby-inspired jewelry premiered by Tiffany & Co., including a headpiece, necklace, and four rings. lana del rey great gatsby
Photo Courtesy of Lana Del Rey Official

The Soundtrack

In pure Luhrmann fashion, the soundtrack for his version of The Great Gatsby is definitely a lavish affair, combining period-style music with modern-day choice (much like he does in all his films) and eclipsing the more standard score for the 1974 movie. Scored by Jay-Z, the 2013 soundtrack is filled with songs by Lana Del Rey, Florence and the Machine, Beyoncé and André 3000. Luhrmann told Vulture that he chose Jay-Z because "Fitzgerald puts African-American [jazz] music in his novels" and that the idea was that jazz was the street music of the 20's while hip-hop is the street music of now. great gatsby behind the scenes
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros

With Luhrmann's film yet to be released, all we can really do is predict the outcome but based on the over-the-top trailers and images, this film can either be fantastic or a complete mess. In the end, regardless of who makes an adaptation of The Great Gatsby, they better be ready to fight a losing battle because they'll never be able to please all the admirers of Fitzgerald's novel. Thankfully, we at least know that with Luhrmann's showmanship, his Gatsby will be one to remember — for better or worse.

Mila Pantovich

Mila Pantovich lives in San Diego, CA with whatever animals she is fostering at the time. With a degree in Literature/Writing and a Minor in Film Studies, she holds a marketing position at a prestigious law firm and has written for several publications, including JustLuxe, Citizine and Huffington Post. In her spare time she writes film reviews for various online publications, works on a creative n...(Read More)

Around the web