Baz Luhrmann on adapting The Great Gatsby

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Baz Luhrmann is a director known for his vibrant, dazzling style of filmmaking. His films Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge and Australia were filled with glorious colour and roaring sound. His latest project, an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby (which hits theatres on May 10) should be no exception. Oh, and it was shot in 3D, a first for Luhrmann.

In The Great Gatsby, the Australian director has recreated the lavishness of 1920s party life on Long Island. The film comes complete with a soundtrack compiled by none other than Jay-Z and features contemporary hitmakers like Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Rey, Gotye, Bryan Ferry and Jack White.

Despite the glamour of the 1920s and Luhrmann's filmmaking style, The Great Gatsby isn't a spectacle for spectacle's sake. Instead, it's a story of morality and integrity. According to Luhrmann, Jay-Z said it best after watching a rough cut of the film: "He said 'You know, it's such an aspirational story. It's not about how Jay Gatsby made his money, it's about whether he's a good person or not." This question is particularly pertinent in the context of the 1920s, a time Luhrmann describes as "a world of moral elasticity" where "people lost their way a bit in this great orgy of money." Prohibition was "a giant hypocrisy" while "gangsters and governors were hanging out together" and "Wall Street was morally elastic." 

The Great Gatsby took four years to make, but Luhrmann's connection with the story began much earlier. As a young boy, he saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and decided that Robert Redford was "extremely cool." Over the years, he saw all of Redford's films, including the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. "I thought it was very beautiful," Luhrmann recalled. "But I wasn't very clear about who Gatsby was."

He wanted to answer that with his own film. Now, with the film complete, he hopes he succeeded. He knows the movie will have its critics, but, at 50 years old with five films under his belt, he knows who he is and what he's trying to do with his art.

"If there's one person out there who thinks Gatsby isn't a complete waste of time, it's something."

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Related links:

CBC Books: The Great Gatsby in the 21st century 

CBC Books:Classic summer reads 

CBC Books:Books & Movies Quiz