Many, many moons ago, before the whole world went digital, Q magazine ran a feature on how record companies dealt with new bands. They sent off a demo tape* to a dozen companies along with a covering letter asking for feedback and whether there was any chance of being signed. In those days, being signed to a record company was probably a higher achievement than playing in an FA cup final or getting into the Olympic team. Or, as was the case in the mid 80’s, having a job. Anyway, the tapes all came back, and all but one of them had a message along the lines of ‘we’ve listened very carefully to your tape, and, regretfully, it’s not the sort of thing we’re looking for at the moment’. Only one company wrote back and said ‘we’ve tried listening to your tape and it appears to be blank’. Which of course they all were.
It was very hard to get a break in those halcyon days of indie music. When I was in my first band, our guitarist ran into John Peel in a car park. I say ‘ran into’, whereas I really mean ‘cunningly stalked’. He sidled up to the nation’s favourite DJ and asked if he’d be good enough to listen to the tape that he was eagerly pushing into his hand. ‘Sure’, said John, ‘I’ll put it with the others’, and opened up the boot of his car, which was literally full of cassette tapes. And that’s one of the many reasons** why we never got onto the John Peel show.
Anyway, back to Q magazine, and their article, which was obviously trying to show that everyone has terrible preconceptions and can’t be open to new ideas. Which is a delightful segue into this weeks blog, which will contend that a) the Great Gatsby should never have been made into a film, that b) Leonardo de Caprio should never be allowed near the lead role and that c) we are all going to find the knock on fascination with all things related to the Jazz Age intensely irritating by the end of the year. And the neat Q-related aspect of this film review is that I have no plans to go and see the film, so I am going to use every single fibre of my stupidly biased and ill informed being to help me along the way.
So, here’s the thing. The Great Gatsby is my favourite book ever. Ever. And, to be fair***, part of what makes it fabulous is all the things that will be brought out in the film. The opulence built on terribly shallow foundations, and the beauty surrounding the American dream will all be there in spades, and it’s absolutely what Hollywood does really well. But I worry that it’ll finish there as well. It took me at least three reads to even start to understand what the book was about; it’s about the paucity of love, the pathos of religion, the desperation of want, the transience of passion and the illusion of love, and it’s probably about another twenty things that needn’t trouble us here. The point is, that these themes are interwoven into what, ostensibly, is a semi-tragic love story, and you have to look for them, and the only way you’ll do this is by reading, and probably reading again. Otherwise, you’ll get the impression that it’s just about a mysterious rich man who falls for a woman he can’t have. I know it’s a terribly middle class thing to complain about the dumbing down of any filming of a book, but, well, when you’re talking about F Scott Fitgerald, you’re kind of talking about the man I love…
Which is not how I’d describe LdC. I’ve got absolutely nothing against the little chap. He’s no doubt kind to those around him, gives generously to small children and cute animals, and I’m sure he’s really talented. The problem I’ve got is that he’s him. So, no problem with him being in Titanic, or Catch Me If You Can, but a big problem with Revolutionary Road, and The Great Gatsby. I’d read most of Revolutionary Road when I saw the film, and as a result, really struggled to finish the book, as what I’d made up in my mind’s eye as the main character was taller, thinner and, well, just a bit more grown up than LdC. And I can’t really blame him for being shorter, wider and younger than some bloke several thousand miles away had imagined him, but I’m afraid I blamed him nonetheless. Well, that and the fact that I realised that Revolutionary Road was in fact not much cop as a book or a film. Other than the bit about the white horse.
So there’s a real problem with LdC as Gatsby. Pretty much everything above really, and in addition, I’d like a couple of cheekbones in my Jay G, which seem to be notable by their absence wherever LdC is concerned. But even if I didn’t have these narrow preconceptions, I’d still have a bit of a problem. And i think this boils down to the ambition that most actors seem to have of wanting to appear to want more than one movie. So, if you’ve seen, say, LdC in Titanic, there’s a reasonable chance that your understanding in Gatsby of one of American literature’s more important figures will be slightly tempered by your memory of him strangling the bejesus out of an Irish accent while charming the pants off the first class travellers with his hilarious observations and, er, line drawings.
I do have a solution to this problem, should you care for one. Give every actor one role, and one role alone, and then we can always imagine him or her as the same person. Initially, you might think this might be a bit restricting, but Basil Rathbone managed pretty well in the 40’s, and you could argue that Vince Vaughan, Will Ferrell, Mike Myers and many more have played pretty much the same character in every film they’ve ever been in. It would just be so much simpler, and we wouldn’t have all those painful interviews about having to ‘get into character’. Also, there’d be a chance that they could get proper jobs afterwards….
* this was in the form of something called a cassette tape – you may need to ask your parents.
** others included lack of talent, painfully naive lyrics and an unfortunate belief that the first Simple Minds album was a natural foundation for the new sound of happening Norfolk.
*** ‘to be fair’ – please shoot me if I ever write that down again