A Window of Opportunity with The Great Gatsby Release

Gatsby tickets

Amidst lots of hype, a delayed release, The Great Gatsby debuts, FINALLY. Besides being directed by one of my all time favorites, Baz Lurhmann, the cast is amazing: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire. I’m predicting, now, this will be Leo’s ticket to Oscar, also long overdue.

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I’ve been teaching this novel to junior high school students for years. There are not too many American literature novels that I love and none that I love to teach more than Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a timeless classic that defined the Jazz Age and makes us all question love and the American Dream. The language of the novel is challenging, and the subject matter difficult for high school aged students to relate to, but it’s a classic and I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least expose them to it. So, since I heard about the remake of this film (done earlier with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in 1974  and again with Toby Stephens and Mira Sorvino in 2000, neither of which I liked), I’ve been conjuring up excitement and anticipation in my students that mirrors my own. I even went so far as to invite them to join me with the promise of doling out some extra credit. But even without the dangling extra-credit carrot, I do believe most students are excited about it. They’ve seen the trailers. Some, who I have as seniors who did not read it as juniors, have even asked to borrow the novel to read before they see it on screen.

Gastby Novel cover

Just as I approach any adaptation of a novel, I am cautiously optimistic that it will somehow enrich all of the beautiful imagination the words on the pages have conjured up in my mind. This adaptation of Gatsby did not disappoint. With twenty six junior high school students in attendance, myself and my former student teacher, we sat in the theater wide-eyed and immediately entranced by the soundtrack. One cannot speak of this adaptation without addressing the modern-day flair given to old school jazz through Jay Z, Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, Florence & the Machine… just to name a few. I was literally swaying in my seat. Further, the cinematography, propels the viewer into the scene (and I didn’t even see it in 3D); Lurhmann is masterful at making the viewer feel like part of the experience and, like Nick Carraway, a voyeur.

Among my favorite scenes was the party scene in New York, set in a high rise amidst the Valley of Ashes. There is a sax player sitting out on the balcony doing his thing while Lurhmann takes us on a ride of windows popping out at the audience to show us exactly what’s going on inside. Nick Carraway, after an exhausting journey of alcohol and drugs and sex, like he’s never been accustomed, as he admits, delivers one of his famous lines,

Gatsby Quote 1

Another of my favorite scenes is when Daisy is on the floor below Gatsby sitting on his bed while they are caught in the midst of laughter as Jay is throwing down an array of  colored, silk shirts upon her from the balcony of a closet above. It’s a scene of innocence and opulence all at the same time until Daisy’s laughter turns to tears and we feel her regret at every having let Gatsby go. The thing about this scene, that I must have read a hundred times, is that, in this moment, Lurhmann brings it to life for me. Previously, I’d rushed through description after description of the shirts, but in seeing it, the idea of what might have been resonates within me.

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The Great Gatsby Featurette

The ever present green light, looming, on Daisy’s dock. The 3D eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, watching. The orgiastic parties of music, libations, dancers, confetti…celebration and sin. The stark contrast in Nick’s humble cottage as compared to Gatsby’s grandiose mansion, polarizing the two men. The seediness of the Valley of Ashes mirroring Myrtle and George, the darkness within them. The hope that sparkles in Gatsby’s eyes when he delivers the lines:

Gatsby Quote 2

The film is like a majestic tapestry culminating the symbols and themes and characters that Fitzgerald so poignantly put into words.

In my experience, viewing an adaptation as a substitute for the original never works because it always falls short of the imagination. But in viewing an adaptation as it’s own work, a representation of the original, a viewer opens himself up to a whole new experience.

Gatsby Quote 3

As the credits rolled away, I sat for a moment, overwhelmed, for I’d been completely satisfied. Out in the lobby, I was met by twenty six students who, wide-eyed and expressive, couldn’t wait to share how much they’d enjoyed the film. I remembered how they’d grumbled when we’d begun reading it in class. “It’s too hard,” “It’s old,” were among the early rumblings I heard. But when we heard it would be a film, there was a shift, suddenly the fact that it was relevant enough to put on screen called attention to it’s worthiness as a piece of literature. So, if this is my window into the classics, for these kids, I’m going to take it.

Great Gastby Jay

Waiting and Dreaming

Do you remember when you were little & you couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving passed to see all the stores embellished for Christmas? Waiting impatiently by the mailbox, you’d close your eyes tight, thinking the tighter you closed them, the quicker your wish for the arrival of the Sears WISH book would come true. And day after day, you’d beckon your parents for that chance to sit upon Santa Claus’s lap, have the annual picture snapped, so he was sure to bring just the right gifts. Time melted slowly, one day dripping into the next– seemingly taking forever, as you’d count down on the Nativity calendar. Then, it arrived: Christmas Eve, the commotion of family and cornucopia of food made the night go by quickly enough, and while you were too excited to sleep, you knew that if you didn’t Santa might never come. So you’d nod off quickly only to wake up, time and time again to the dark night, listening for the sleigh bells, or the footsteps of reindeer or a whoosh down the chimney, one eye open, just in case Santa was, indeed, watching, then cajoling yourself back to sleep. And suddenly, morning crept up and you and your siblings were allowed to bound down the stairs to the sight of the Christmas tree all aglow with piles upon piles of gifts underneath. Once the opening began, the day swallowed you up with excitement and passed in a blink. It all seemed like a dream.

I would consider this same kind of waiting akin to anticipating my wedding day. Two years: plenty of time to plan precisely and, simultaneously, eons away. When the planning was hectic, time flew with appointments for hall tours (big enough to fit EVERYONE or small and quaint?), invitations (the wording choice difficulties with three sets of parents), bridesmaids’ colors and dress styles (to make all the girls look good), my own dress (off the shoulder, Queen Ann’s neck, or strapless?), matchbook covers and napkins (the first official concrete evidence of our union). But when the planning was at a lull, time dragged in warped speed. Until THE day, when the only thing I made a point to savor was our vows; I consciously made a point to live in those moments. The rest, I became caught up in; it all seemed like one big blur, overwhelming and over stimulating, all at once, but a smile planted, subconsciously on my face the whole day. On the return flight home from our 10 day trip to Hawaii, I turned to my husband (my HUSBAND!), and said, “Doesn’t it all seem like a dream.”

Waiting for the birth of my three children was nerve-wracking, especially for the first. I didn’t know if I’d know when I was in labor, or if I’d distinguish my water breaking from having to pee really bad (because it seemed the last trimester all I did was pee– A LOT!). Once in the hospital, the moments between the centimeters dilating were literally, at first, hours, and I’d watch the bleeps on the monitor beside my bed move up and down in uneven rhythms. Waiting. Once each of them we’re born, it reaffirmed for me that I was, indeed, living the dream.

Now, with two in college– one in Vermont and one on externship on Cape Cod, I wait for those moments to all be together again, the only time I really feel complete and whole. After two long months having not seen my eldest, he surprised me two weeks ago when I came home to him in my kitchen. Taken off guard, I dropped what I was holding and ran to embrace him, tears streaming, uncontrollably down my cheeks. I cherished each moment that he was here (even if it were for only two short days), dropping my plans, just enjoying him & living in the moment. And it seemed like the longest two weeks before we’d be fetching our middle son for the weekend (it had been a month of waiting, longing to hug him). Never in his life had I been away from him for more than 5 days at a time; a month seemed like an eternity. But the moment he hugged me, it elapsed time and rebonded the dream, interrupted.

Ironically, Thanksgiving is the next day I will be waiting for, the next time my whole family will be together. I will not want to wish it away. Instead, I’ll want to live it in slow motion. The laughter that comes, easy and unmeasured; the wrestling between siblings, and down on the floor with the dogs; the half-full glasses left on the coffee table with watermarks beneath them; the pillows piled haphazardly on the floor; the shoes in the middle of every walk way; the sweatshirts heaped in a pile on the kitchen table; the sounds of television and Ipod and videogames; the consciousness of bodies filling up the space; the endless, random chatter; the call of immediacy to “look at this, Mom”; the garage door being left open to let in the cold; the lights on in the bathroom; the laundry strewn on the hallway floor beside the basket; the peace I feel when they are all sleeping soundly in their beds, dreaming sweet dreams.

F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right when inventing Benjamin Button (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“) the character who lived life backwards. It’s only after years of experience and the acquisition of wisdom that truly enables one to appreciate all the people and events worth waiting for and the foresight not to allow them to pass without living them fully.