Which Gatsby Is Greater?

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On April 10, 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gastby was first published. It’s a story of the Roaring ’20s, the Jazz Age, and Prohibition, revolving around two adulterous affairs, one towering over the other, all told by a sometimes unreliable narrator who’s enamored of his subjects. At least five film or TV adaptions of the novel have been made, but the two most well-known are undoubtedly the 1974 movie directed by Jack Clayton and the 2013 movie directed by Baz Luhrmann. Pour yourself a cocktail, slip into something more comfortable, and let’s compare the two films, shall we?

 

The Great Gatsby movie 1974

I probably first saw this version soon after reading The Great Gatsby in high school, and I’ve seen the movie a few times since. When I realized it was on Netflix, I had to watch this Gatsby again (a few times) because it so perfectly captures the novel, the language, the mood, everything. Also, it’s vintage Robert Redford at his dreamiest (and he’s not usually my type! but damn, those blue eyes!).

Looking at the 1974 version today, I notice some historical costume inaccuracies, but they’re minor. The women’s wear is quite accurate, and Daisy has an excellent range of fancy party clothes (featuring beading, fringe, ostrich-feather fans, etc.) and pastel sportswear with lovely headgear and hats on both. Occasionally some of the women’s hair is a touch 1970s-modern, and a couple of Daisy’s dresses have a faintly 1970s vibe more than a strictly 1920s look. But other things are excellent reflections of the period and what Fitzgerald wrote, down to “that pink rag of a suit” that Gatsby wears in the final scene before his death. These men’s suits were created by Ralph Lauren, and while some may quibble about the ’70s-style lapel width, the double-breasted waistcoats on Jay and the trousers and accessories on all the men look very period. Fittingly enough, the costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge won an Oscar for this film.

What I love most about this movie is that it’s extremely faithful to the book in both style and story. Much of the dialog is verbatim from Fitzgerald. Scenes may be left out, but very little is invented (as too often happens in literary adaptions; I’m looking at you, Pride & Prejudice 2005). This version reorders the events, because much of the novel is told out of sequence, and the filmmakers probably thought it would flow better on screen. That’s fine with me. The few added scenes are of Jay and Daisy’s romance, both flashing back to their memories and showing their present-day affair more obviously (though it’s quite tame and PG-rated). This works to help tell the story and does not distract.

 

The Great Gatsby movie 2013

The newer Gatsby isn’t terrible as a movie, in that it does tell essentially the story of the novel. The script uses all of the plot and even uses some Fitzgerald’s original dialog. But it’s telling that the New York Times review suggests you “put aside whatever literary agenda you are tempted to bring with you.” I’m a literary nerd, so that’s pretty hard to do. And even if I could, I’d be hard pressed to ignore the weak or atrociously bad casting, and the costuming, UGH, it screams modern adaption, not historical costume movie.

Surprisingly, the insertion of 2013 hip-hop music (the soundtrack was produced by Jay Z) bothered me a lot less than all the ruffles, modern makeup, push-up bras, and stiletto shoes. Costume designer Catherine Martin was reportedly inspired by the “archives” of Prada and Mui Mui, but while Prada was founded in 1913, they focused on leather goods like handbags and shoes and didn’t have a clothing line until the 1980s; Mui Mui is its second clothing line begun in the 1990s. Not exactly a great source of fashion history, and the women’s clothing in The Great Gatsby 2013 looks basically modern with slight 1920s accents. Not to mention the men’s suits — I’m no expert on 1920s tailoring, but lordy, did they just buy off the rack? Because the guys don’t have the faintest appearance that they’re in the 1920s. This film won the Best Costume Oscar, but I’m positive that’s because there were no other flashy historical movies available at all (the closest competition was 12 Years a Slave, and brutal and bloody just can’t win over rhinestones and ruffles).

In addition to the non-period costuming, the 2013 Great Gatsby  seems to think the audience is kind of stupid. Everything must be SPELLED OUT in big, bold letters, underlined three times, with an exclamation point. Not that anyone who’s seen another Baz Luhrmann film might expect layered subtlety, but jayzuz, this Great Gatsby knocks you over the head with every point. Nick Carraway is TELLING THE STORY WITH WORDS. Jay Gatsby is MAGNETIC but makes his money ILLEGALLY. Daisy is SAD about her marriage. Tom is a JERK and CHEATING ON HIS WIFE. Myrtle is a TRAMP who will end TRAGICALLY. This movie HITS YOU OVER THE HEAD with the plot again and again so much I got a headache.

 

It’s interesting to note that both of these film versions of the novel got mixed reviews when they came out. Critics and audiences generally complained about a lack of accuracy to the book and overall entertainment level, though the 1974 adaption is generally considered a good historical costume movie. OK, then, let’s compare the characters in the two Great Gatsby movies, head to head…

 

Jay Gatsby: Robert Redford (1974) vs. Leonardo DiCaprio (2013)

Redford is really the perfect Jay Gatsby. He’s gorgeous, he’s suave, he’s cool (literally, he doesn’t sweat when everyone else does; that’s in the book!), and yet you can tell this Gatsby has come from nothing and did it all for love.  And Robert Redford has that smile that makes you think he “understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.” Redford not only has great chemistry with Mia Farrow’s Daisy, he has good (platonic friendly) chemistry with Sam Waterston’s Nick. Redford in his prime was just that charming. And I already mentioned his suits — he really, really looks the part. He is the ultimate Gatsby, the end.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Money, baby.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Old blue eyes *sigh*

The Great Gatsby 1974

Real men wear pink!

 

Unfortunately, the biggest casting mistake in the 2013 version is undoubtedly Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. Maybe it’s because I don’t get him as an actor. To me, he always looks like the same kid he’s been since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. Except for The Aviator, where they somehow made him resemble Howard Hughes, and DiCaprio rode that line between inspired and crazy quite well. But sorry, all of Luhrmann’s stupid special effects can’t make DiCaprio into the man with “one of those rare smiles.” He’s a nice enough guy, but he doesn’t have genuine magnetism. DiCaprio’s Gatsby is a bit too smarmy and shallow — there are several added scenes explicitly showing Gatsby’s illegal business operations, which are only alluded to in the book. This further undercuts DiCaprio’s performance. He can’t be the smooth guy who made it to the top when we’re constantly reminded how underhanded he really is.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Literal fireworks don’t create charisma, btw.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Smarmy.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Bland pink.

 

Daisy Buchanan: Mia Farrow (1974) vs. Carey Mulligan (2013)

Mia Farrow is almost perfect as Daisy Buchanan. She’s fragile and flighty, indecisive, she has grand passions yet she also wants everything made easy for her. Farrow looks like she’s made of spun glass. Her face even has that doe-eyed 1920s look, so while the makeup is occasionally a bit contemporary on the other women, Farrow still looks like a flapper. And Redford and Farrow make a beautiful couple, so you can see that Jay and Daisy belong together. As in the book, Farrow’s Daisy epitomizes the contradictions of the women of her age, wanting freedom but still feeling the constraints of earlier society. Her actions somehow make sense through Farrow’s performance. In fact, you’re a little surprised that she doesn’t run away with Gatsby in the end.

The Great Gatsby 1974

She fascinates Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Love the period-style fan.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Beautiful hat!

The Great Gatsby 1974

Champagne, darling.

 

As Daisy, pretty little Carey Mulligan is a nonentity. She has all the appeal of wet wallpaper. She’s a languid dress-hanger, not a flighty flapper. It’s funny, her dresses are the most ‘ruffled’ thing about her (geez, did Catherine Martin look at any other 1920s fashion plates?). Mulligan barely gets ruffled up about the turn of events in her life.  She’s not torn up by her choice between Jay and Tom, she vaguely floats from one man to the other. There’s little tension in her face, body, or voice. She doesn’t get excited, she doesn’t much care.

The Great Gatsby 2013

This might be the most period-accurate outfit Mulligan wears.

The Great Gatsby 2013

WTF is it with ruffles?!?

The Great Gatsby 2013

So very 2013.

This leads to another problem with DiCaprio as Gatsby. Because Mulligan is so bland — is it the script or her performance? I can’t tell — DiCaprio’s Gatsby practically mansplains her into the affair and trying to leave her husband. It’s not forceful enough to be bullying, but he has to talk her into it. He talks Nick into it as well. He talks and talks. Shaddup already! We get it, Jay + Daisy 4-ever! Blah blah blah.

As a director, Luhrmann is known for all the crazy camera tricks and effects he relies on (and he does here, pointlessly, they’re an unnecessary crutch), but even worse is his tendency to over-talk a scene. Maybe he thought “it’s a book, there’s interior dialog, I have to PHYSICALLY PUT THAT ON SCREEN,” with voiceovers and actually using print on the screen. As if that makes it more legit. Um, no. How about actors who can convey emotion? That might work.

 

Nick Carraway:  Sam Waterston (1974) vs. Tobey Maguire (2013)

Nick Carraway is well cast with the always-brilliant Sam Waterston. This character is the storyteller, and he reflects back the good and bad aspects of all the other characters’ personalities. It’s a pretty crucial role, and Waterston gets this spot-on. The voiceovers by Waterston include more of Fitzgerald’s text, but they’re not over-used (which Luhrmann does) — they’re just at the right moments to tell things that need telling, not showing. Waterston’s Nick is a believable part of the story. His last line to Gatsby makes me want to cry, it’s that poignant.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Jordan & Nick, not the movie’s great romance.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Casual Nick, keepin’ it real.

But ugh, in The Great Gatsby 2013, why did Baz Luhrmann need to invent a new tale for Nick and stick him in an asylum as an alcoholic, thus painting the whole Gatsby story as some kind of bad dream or drunken fantasy? Did the director/screenwriter think a modern audience couldn’t believe the story otherwise? Aren’t kids in 2013 still assigned The Great Gatsby to read in school, at least? Jayzuz, give me a break. This addition makes Nick into a loser, a fuck-up, and casting  Tobey Maguire as Nick furthers that impression (admittedly, I find Maguire one of his generations’ most boring actors ever). This Nick is so weak and pathetic. He doesn’t have a point of view or a reason for being. He’s supposed to be what holds this story together; instead, he’s an adjunct. I don’t think Luhrmann really understood how Fitzgerald constructed the novel here.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Kid in the big city.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Mr. Rogers sweater.

 

Tom Buchanan: Bruce Dern (1974) vs. Joel Edgerton (2013)

My only casting quibble with The Great Gatsby 1974 is Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan. He’s supposed to be an former polo star, not necessarily burly, but sturdy and a strong contrast to Gatsby. Bruce Dern isn’t as typically handsome as Redford (at least here), but otherwise, Dern’s Tom is just another guy in a tux. That said, his acting is top-notch, especially during the uncomfortable confrontations. Those are straight from the book, and just as intense.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Yep, just another guy in a tux.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Pale blue can’t compare to Gatsby’s pink.

The one thing Luhrmann gets right in the later movie is casting Joel Edgerton as Tom. Finally, a muscular, husky Tom Buchanan as described in the novel. This Aussie actor really fits the role; pity he’s the only one in the 2013 film who does. While he looks the part, he’s not Bruce Dern’s acting equal, or it could be the script or the fact that he’s acting against practically comatose Carey Mulligan.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Sharp-dressed Tom.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Studly Tom is studly.

 

Myrtle Wilson: Karen Black (1974) vs. Isla Fisher (2013)

As Tom’s bit on the side, Karen Black does a fine job showing how Tom keeps his secret from not only his wife but from George Wilson, the mechanic that Tom maintains a fiction of business dealings with. Black’s Myrtle transforms from downtrodden wife (with a touch of ragged ruffles, albeit) to hotsy-totsy party girl and back again believably, which makes her death all that much more tragic. She literally changes costumes to express her personality; again, faithful to the novel.

The Great Gatsby 1974

A little ruffles, that’s all.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Myrtle gussied up at the apartment.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Slow build to her desperate end.

On the other hand, in The Great Gatsby 2013, you have to wonder how George ever married Isla Fisher’s Myrtle. She’s SO flashy and SO over-the-top sexy, yet she’s stuck in that dusty garage. The hell? Also, her outfits are a crazy-town fantasy of 1920s flamenco weirdness (which I’ve mentioned before). Designer Catherine Martin really really likes ruffles, I guess.

2013 The Great Gatsby

When Myrtle starts THIS trampy, there’s nowhere for her to go.

2013 The Great Gatsby

What is this even about?!?

The Great Gatsby 2013

And *bam* she’s done.

 

Jordan Baker: Lois Chiles (1974) vs. Elizabeth Debicki (2013)

Something both movies fail at: Jordan Baker, Daisy’s old friend, is supposed to be a blonde (Fitzgerald describes her as having “autumn-leaf yellow” hair — I know, in movies, it’s easier to have the lead woman with one color hair and the supporting female with a different color hair; audiences will just mix them up otherwise *eyeroll*), and she’s more or less Nick’s girlfriend throughout the novel (he says he’s “half in love with her”).  Admittedly, the book uses Jordan mostly to reveal details about Daisy, past and present, but her character’s actions also give insight into Nick. These episodes are glossed over or completely removed from both films. In the 1974 movie, Jordan is a gossip and a go-between, while in the 2013 one, she’s merely a party girl. Meh. At least in The Great Gatsby 1974, she does wear some excellent ’20s sportswear, appropriate to Jordan’s description as a well-known lady golfer.

The Great Gatsby 1974

1974’s Jordan in a flashback.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Fabulous ’20s daywear.

The Great Gatsby 1974

Calculating & glamorous.

The Great Gatsby 2013

2013’s Jordan wears 2013 Prada, no lie.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Looks more 1930s than ’20s.

 

What do you think of these two adaptions of Fitzgerald’s novel? Do you prefer The Great Gatsby movie from 1974 or 2013?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

12 Responses

  1. Stephani

    This just convinces me more and more that I HAVE to watch the ’74 version. It’s been in my Netflix queue for over a year; I should just pull the trigger. But I dislike Fitzgerald. I did watch the Baz Luhrman version and while I usually love his films (surrealism FTW!), this just seemed like a rehash of every technique and motif he used in Moulin Rouge. The ’20s was flashy enough–he didn’t have to gussy it up even more. It just seemed tired. Not innovative at all. Not even ecstatic like Moulin Rouge’s party scenes–just manic.
    And I also don’t get the casting choices. I’m with you Trystan, I don’t buy Leo DiCaprio in ANY of his romantic-lead roles. I don’t mind him in bad-boy roles. The only not-so-bad bad-boy role I like him in is “Catch Me if You Can” where his little-boy face really helps sell it. But every time I see him I keep thinking “was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape really his best role ever??! I think it might have been.”
    You totally pegged what was bugging me about Carey Mulligan’s Daisy. A total nonentity. Vague. Listless, not just languid. It’s like she’s on a morphine drip. And Toby Maguire needs to pack it in; I haven’t seen anything from him worth the screen time.
    The costumes were very ‘meh’. Daisy’s dresses were pretty, but nothing looked period. I was very disappointed in Baz’s efforts on this one.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I *loved* him in “Catch Me If You Can”! Yeah, that really suited DiCaprio. And “Gatsby” was a total rehash of all Lurhman’s tricks — I enjoyed “Moulin Rouge” & felt all the camera stuff worked there, but it was entirely unnecessary in “Gatsby.”

      Do watch the ’74 version, at the very least bec. it’s more historically accurate. And maybe it’ll help make the book more enjoyable :)

      Reply
  2. Lindsey

    Disclaimer: this is based on just looking at the pictures, because I haven’t seen either movie.

    I feel I don’t like the suits in either adaptation. It does sort of depend what year the movie is exactly set in. Early 20s suits were narrow in the leg and short in the pant length (almost no break at all) and the jackets had a slightly raised waist and buttoned pretty high. Legs got wider and jackets relaxed a bit later in the decade. If it’s 1925, that’s probably ticker because the transition between styles was probably happening then.

    But yeah the ’74 suits look cheesy and 70s to me and the 2013 are close to the early 20s, but still pretty modern looking.

    That said, now I want to watch them both and compare!

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Yeah, I don’t know a lot about the men’s suits except a bit about lapels & waistcoats :) It shows more in the sportswear, which I couldn’t find high-rez pictures of. In the ’74 version, Jay & Nick get more accurate casual clothes, but in the ’13 version, Tom gets more accurate sportswear (to really emphasize he’s a polo player, I guess).

      Reply
  3. Jenn

    I agree with Lindsey, especially on the men’s suits and when I see the 1970s photos, I can totally tell you that movie was made in the 70s, even if you hadn’t told me that. Many of the hats read 1970s, some jewelry pieces, the colors, all say 1970s to me, apart from the tacky 1970s suits. In my opinion, neither one even comes close. I’ve seen neither movie, but I think the pictures give it an accurate feel. I do have to say, OH YUCK for the 2013 Myrtle version. That was just plain bad.

    Reply
    • elsewherevintageristine

      I was just about to post – but Jenn beat me to it. Those wide brim hats are OH so 70’s! In fact… check any early-mid 70s spring/summer weddings and you’ll see the exact same hats. The real ones in the 20s would have been braided horsehair – but you can see that shine of nylon on these.
      Ahhhhh well.

      Reply
  4. Jonathan Belmares

    I did a long ass FB post on the new movie when it came out because of the abortion I feel that it is! If there is one thing I hate its taking a period set movie and giving everyone a misconception that it is period accurate. Which the 2013 movie did!. If you wanted it modern set it in modern times! I love the 70’s version because I have the feeling and you can tell that most of the extras had on real 20’s in the party scenes or at least the women did! Yes the ties and mens suits say 70’s. Yes the widebrims are definitely nylon an some say 70’s more than other but it still looks a hell of lot better than what we see in other movies. Yes some of Mia Farrows looks are not period but that was due to them having to hide her pregnancy during the filming. Jordan’s looks and Mytrles are spot on with there characters all be it 70’s fabics and colors. AND YOU CANT BEAT SAM WATERS AS NICK. He was meant for it. The settings were PERFECT aside from 70’s color shcemes in the décor and the cars being 30’s. With that being said. I HATED PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING ABOUT THE . When I saw that the house’s were CGI I said well I’m done. Gatsbys house is way too gothic wrong wrong wrong. Nicks cottage passable. Tom’s city apartment I could deal with if it weren’t for the ‘shenanigan’s that went on in the rest of that scene. To the actor’s I can deal with Leo being Gatsby, I actually felt that he did it well he was just a smidge to old to be playing him, you can tell where they had to photo shop him to look younger. Joel Edgerton as Tom was spot on even overdone. Don’t get me started on Toby. When it comes to the clothes this movie basically created the silhouette that most off the rack mens wear has followed since it came out (thanks brooks bros not!) to answer the question all the mens wear was off the rack or custom made (either way still not very good) by brooks brothers. When It come’s to the actress’s only Isla Fisher even came close to embodying the character. I couldn’t get past Carey Mulligan’s HAIR to even rate her acting she is not modern so why the hell is she in a super modern bob? short waves would have been much better. With that being said you got it right with that one look coming close to period everything else HORRIBLE, the only thing accurate was her tiffany jewelry that they recreated and is now available in a variety of bad knock offs. I wont go in on Jordan except for that WTF 2013 prada dress get the hell outta here with that! I did notice that some of the show girl costumes from the party had a little Josephine baker vibe but not executed right. The extras all looked horrible ! PERIOD. This movie gave the term Gatsby a bad name. And people use this movie as a costume resource for 20’s parties still 2 years later. AGAIN NO NO NO. This movie should have been aborted and never been allowed to carry to full term.

    Reply
  5. ladylavinia1932

    Whoever said that the men’s suits in the 1974 version is a little too modern, I agree.

    What I love most about this movie is that it’s extremely faithful to the book in both style and story.

    I disagree. The 1974 version is not completely faithful. I have yet to see a completely faithful version of “THE GREAT GATSBY” and I have seen three versions – the two mentioned in this article and the 2000 television version.

    My favorite version is the 2013 adaptation. It was the only version that allowed me to understand Fitzgerald’s tale without me falling asleep.

    Reply
  6. Adam Lid

    The 2013 version seems to be little more than an MTV music video complete. Tries way too hard. The 1974 is not perfect but it’s a lot better even though Mia Farrow can’t act to save her life.

    Reply
  7. Cathy N

    1974! The new version, however, got my son into Gatsby, so I can’t complain. But, I did have to tell him, Robert Redford will always be Gatsby to me.

    Reply
  8. Andrea Somerville

    I usually haven’t liked DiCaprio until he got older & out grew his baby faced looks. The Great Gatsby is one hell of a depressing story, even tho I’m a sucker for depressing period pieces a la Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, etc.

    I didn’t hate the 2013 version, I just was kinda eh about it. Knew what I was going into with it as a Baz Lurhman film, & that didn’t bother me. It’s just not a story that I particularly find enthralling or passionate…LOL, & yes: I had to read it back in high school. Think we had to watch the ’74 version as well in school. I love me some vintage Robert Redford(hello, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid??!!) but was underwhelmed with the ’74 version. It moved a little too slow.

    So, just judging by these 2, I’d go with the 2013 version due to the extreme hotness of Joel Edgerton & its ability to at least make a dull story interesting.

    Lol, for those of y’all who love Fitzgerald, I’ll never understand it…but, I’m more of a Bronte & Tolstoy fan. To each her own :)

    Reply

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