Splendid entertainment is authentic Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald, who died in 1940, could almost be called the romantic historian of his age.
It was the jazz age' of prohibition and hard drinking, of the Charleston and the Black Bottom. Smart women wore hats with cloche crowns and no brims, or picture hats with huge floppy brims even if without crowns. It was the age of wild parties, reckless driving and amorous adventures. Does it sound familiar?
For the first ten minutes or so I feared Jack Clayton's film of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby ("A", Empire) might come nowhere near living up to its huge advance ballyhoo. It opens all too like a pedantically literal illustration of that first chapter which lays the scene of summer socialite Long Island (in fact it was made at Newport, Rhode Island, but on the periphery of Kennedy country); and introduces the narrator, Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston) . and his rich neighbours,
Tom and Daisy Buchanan (Bruce Dern and Mia Farrow), and their lady golfing friend, Jordan Baker (Lois Chiles) circle in the shadow of Nick's nextdoor neighbour, the mysterious adventurer Gatsby (Robert Redford).
Once Gatsby emerges from the solitude of his elegant white mansion the film begins to take life. Redford's neat, smooth presence instantly recalls that of Alan Ladd in the earlier version. His quiet autocratic organisation for summoning Nick to the presence evokes thoughts of Orson Welles.
With the arrival of the first weekly consignment of crates of oranges and lemons from New York, the fortnightly corps of caterers with tents and lights, bullet tables, "glistening hors d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin design and pastry pigs and turkeys," for the party in Gatshy's enormous garden, the movie takes wing and is off.
In the great ballroom the multitudes of sponging guests perform the grotesque gyrations of the dances of that time. Or, briefly alone, Daisy makes Gatsby get out his wartime uniform and they waltz to disclose that this is not only the social satire ol'an uncaring age but the story of a grand passion, the most romantic film for many years.
The ensuing tragedy is — like most tragedies — part personal, part social. Partly it is the result of the mad, mad world of that moment and of the microcosm of it concerned in the story. Partly it is the result of the flawed characters — of the ordinary rich man, Tom, the unfaithful huSband; of the shallow, lovely, feverish Daisy whose prayer for her daughter is that she may be a beautiful little fool and who is incapable of committing herself.
The impact of "The Great Gatsby" will probably depend on the individual spectator's length of memory. For those of us who can remember the 1920s, this is our youth (quite as idiotic as mini-skirts and pop) and spells nostalgia as well as shame and regrets. For today's young the period is mercifully at the right .distance in time to be the target of their nostalgia too.
There are two ways of filming a famous story. A movie-master may forget the text and create a film about it; another may make as faithful and careful an illustration as possible. I heard sharp criticism on the radio of Jack Clayton and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola for not achieving the Fortner. Such criticism may be accurate, but seems to me less than just to a splendid entertainment whose spell is authentically Fitzgerald's.
By any standard the achievement of the magnificent cast is irresistible. Robert Redford is a beautiful actor and compels assent to Nick's assertion that Gatsby, bootlegger and adventurer, who has schooled himself to spend a daily hour on studying "elocution, poise and how to attain it" is worth all his crowd put together.
Mia Farrow, in the more difficult part, is the lady of the age to perfection. Bruce Dern grows to real stature as Tom, l'homme moyea sensuel. Scott Wilson. as Wilson the garageowner who is the victim, repeats his triumph from Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood".
Finally, Sam Waterston as Nick, looking like a young Anthony Perkins, begins diffidently but ends up achieving absolute identification with the "I" of Fitzgerald's classic.
Roman Polanski is a brilliant but baffling director. His latest
film, What? ("A", Curzon)
leaves me as uncertain as its title. I cannot possibly recom mend it to Catholic Herald readers without a warning that it is strictly "X". On the surface it is almost as outrageous as the publicity which suggests this is a sort of compendium of Mr Polanski's notions of sex in many manifestations.
Nevertheless I must admit that in the exquisite setting of a beautiful Sicilian villa (surely, Mr Ponti's?) I find the carryings-on of an eccentric family whose male members are set in turmoil by the arrival of an attractive young girl (Sydne Rome) somewhere between the heroine of "The Young Visitors", Anita Loos's blonde, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor — much less embarrassing than some in more conventional films.
Marcello Mastroianni, as perhaps the most confused and least disturbed character, is always a joy as he lounges in his deckchair in the garden through which streak young ladies with figures so elegant that their nudity seems natural. Hugh Griffiths gives an exceptionally restrained and touching deathbed scene to the eldest and most vulnerable. Sydne Rome, in a Medusa hair-do, is so good that it is impossible to tell whether she can act at all, Sense of humour and absurdity numbs the shocks, but you have been warned.
Another Italian farce, also produced hyCarlo Ponti but on a very different level. is Run, Run Joe ("A'', Casino Cinerama). This absolutely crude story of hijacking, smuggling and Mafia operations off Sicily has again some pleasant Italian coastal Views, but the chase is so primitive that it cannot possibly sustain two hours of film. Unaccountably. Cyril Cusack plays "Parkintosh," owner of' the hijacked yacht.
At only 90 minutes. The Affair ("A", Metropole) seems almost equally long for its material the on-again, off-again young marriage. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner are both appealing starlets. but the problems pall.