Baz Luhrmann…love him or hate him, you won’t ignore his movies. Not with “The Great Gatsby” doing boffo box office (as Variety would say) last week, and the film already showing its legs in the fashion world big time.
Luhrmann is his own man, and his lavish, over-the-top, sprinkle-in-as-many-anachronisms-as-possible style is insanely irritating to some people. But to the people it speaks to, and there are many, it’s an explosion of color and creativity.
“Strictly Ballroom,” his first movie to earn international recognition, showed signs of the style Luhrmann is now famous for, and “Romeo + Juliet” gave a much younger Leonardo DiCaprio a chance to stretch his acting wings in an unconventional rendering of Shakespeare’s teenage tragedy. But of course it was “Moulin Rouge” that truly launched the Luhrmann debate. Some have even become obsessed with the movie, watching it over and over and knowing every moment by heart. “Gatsby” is unlikely to attain that kind of cult following, but is very likely to be Luhrmann’s biggest financial success yet—and look for Gatsby-inspired fashion to rule upcoming runways (Carey Mulligan in chartreuse silk velvet on the cover of this month’s Vogue gives a strong hint.)
This is first “Gatsby” since the uneven 1974 Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version, but F. Scott Fitzgerald’s '20s tale continues to fascinate. You can see the exotic appeal to an Australian, which Luhrmann is—an era like the one in “Gatsby” is quintessentially American. You can also see the appeal to an actor like DiCaprio, who has displayed a fondness for self-invented, ambiguous characters over the years.
Jay Gatsby is bigger than life, a character in his own movie, you might say. From the number of people flocking to see this film, the lure of that film is still strong. Will “The Great Gatsby” be Baz Luhrmann’s “Citizen Kane?” Perhaps not, but it will propel him to a different galaxy in the Hollywood hierarchy.