Luhrmann Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age

Published: 2021-08-09 05:25:05
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The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, although it is arguably the most popular. This novel takes place in the Jazz Age in the beautiful summer of 1922, focusing on a group of fictional characters from Long Island, a few years before the Great Depression era. The story primarily follows an extremely wealthy and young, Jay Gatsby, and the exotic parties he throws in order to capture the attention of Daisy Buchanan. The novel is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s that explores themes of love, morality, society, class, and more, in order to serve as a caution to readers. In this essay I will argue that Fitzgerald’s representation of the Jazz Age is more authentic than the film adaptation Baz Luhrmann created in 2013.
Since the publication of Fitzgerald’s novel there have been countless adaptations, including an opera by John Harbison, a Robert Montgomery Presents television episode, and many different films. The 2013 film version directed by Baz Luhrmann sticks to the plot pretty closely, making it a fairly accurate rendering of the novel. Critics gave the film both praises and criticisms, but audiences responded positively overall. To date the film remains Baz Luhrmann’s highest- grossing film, winning both Best Production Design and Best Costume Design at the 86th Academy Awards. Although it is apparent the story is very similar to the original book, there are crucial differences that leave some of Luhrmann’s choices to be questioned. David R. Sumway wrote in his criticism, Gatsby, the Jazz Age, and Luhrmann Land, Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the novel, while presenting a superficially realistic picture of the Jazz Age’, diminishes the narrative’s historical validity through its treatment of narrator Nick Carraway.
Fitzgerald created Carraway to represent both an observer and a participant in the chaos of the time; there is some speculation that he might have related to the character. Fitzgerald was never a simple celebrant of the period, but rather something like a participant observer who made and spent enormous sums of money and drank himself sick but who was able to write about the era with detachment(Shumway). Shumway believes, The observer is Nick Carraway, the novel’s narrator who is characterized by moderation in his behavior as well as in his judgment of what he witnesses. Luhrmann stripped this important dynamic away from the story when he decided to portray Nick in a different light. The representation of the character Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire in the film, is probably the biggest and most significant difference between the movie and the book. Those who have read The Great Gatsby can tell that Luhrmann altered Nick’s character as soon as the movie opens. Nick has checked himself into a sanitarium- diagnosed with alcoholism and, most likely, depression. Nick was never an alcoholic. Fitzgerald specifically wrote Nick as saying, I have been drunk just twice in my life, implying that he is clean cut, but in the film it would appear Nick is a regular partygoer.
In the novel, Nick Carraway begins accounting his tale by first stating that his father says not to criticize others. He asks readers not to judge the characters in his life too harshly, already proclaiming a moral lesson from F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nick moves to West Egg, New York across the bay from his second cousin once removed, Daisy Buchanan. Daisy lives on East Egg with her husband, Tom. Although interested in spending time with his family across the water, his wealthy neighbor who throws extravagant parties next door soon intrigues Carraway. At these roaring parties Gatsby throws almost anything can happen.
Part of Fitzgerald always thought that the swingers of the Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age were corrupt. Part of the reason he wrote The Great Gatsby was to serve as a warning to those he believed didn’t have the right kind of morals. Amy Henderson wrote, The Great Gatsby was the quintessence of this period of his work, and evoked the romanticism and surface allure of his Jazz Age’??”years that began with the end of World War I, the advent of woman’s suffrage, and Prohibition, and collapsed with the Great Crash of 1929??”years awash in bathtub gin and roars of generational rebellion. In the 1920s Americans faced a dramatic political and social revolution. The total wealth of the nation had more than doubled and many Americans left farm life for city life.
In both the book and the movie, it would seem Fitzgerald and Luhrmann only focus on the Jazz Age from the perspective of the upper class. The Great Gatsby shows the giddy good life of America’s more high-rolling citizens (Oja). For example, Fitzgerald wrote that Daisy’s voice is full of money. The characters in the story speak the language of money, but that was not the case for all of America’s citizens during the era. Actually, for manyeven mostpeople in the United States, the 1920s brought more conflict than celebration. However, for a small handful of young people in the nation’s big cities, the 1920s were roaring indeed(History.com). By cutting out Nick’s observant side that Fitzgerald wanted Luhrmann really only shows one side of the culture of the Jazz Age- making his representation not as accurate as the novel.
The symbol most recognizable of the 1920s is the flapper, With her bobbed hair, use of makeup, flashy dress, brash and flamboyant behaviour, love of dancing and jazz music, her eroticism and longing for romance (Burr). In the 1920s the 19th Amendment was finally added to the Constitution, allowing women the right to vote. Millions of women began working and participating in the consumer market. The availability of birth control increased and new technology began to eliminate the daunting amount of housework- giving women even more newfound freedom.
The Jazz Age was also a birth of mass culture. With all the extra money Americans had to spend radios were in most households, people went to the movies almost every week, and cars were no longer a luxury. Although all of these freedoms were expanded, Prohibition was also a big part of Jazz Age culture that was a large source of social tension. Slayton wrote New Yorkers, however, quickly moved to defy the new law. Farm journals told how 17,000 trainloads of grapes arrived early on, with estimates that only 20 percent were consumed as fruit.
Fitzgerald also references the tension that The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North caused during the Jazz Age and Luhrmann does not. The Great Migration took place between 1910 and 1940 when many African Americans resettled in the North hoping to find better employment, housing, and education for their children, and less racial discrimination (Lemak). However, this was not necessarily the case. The North was still full of racial discrimination, and many blacks faced poor housing, mediocre schooling, and hard work. For example, in the novel Tom Buchanan says, It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things. Luhrmann leaves out this crucial part of Jazz Age culture. Millions of white Americans joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. To them, the Klan represented a return to all the values that the fast-paced, city-slicker Roaring Twenties were trampling (History.com).
The party scene that is accurately portrayed in the novel and the film adaptation alike is perhaps not the most important part of the Jazz Age, but the conflicts previously mentioned. Baz Luhrmann likes to show rather than to imply. For parts of the film this is effective, as in the party scenes that burn bright but fast but it’s not enough to make his adaptation as truthful to the 1920s (Mettey). Luhrmann’s representation does not fully and accurately capture the culture of the 1920s like the way Fitzgerald did in his novel. Because Fitzgerald focused on all the aspects of the Jazz Age culture, good and bad, Fitzgerald’s representation of the Jazz Age is more authentic than the film adaptation Baz Luhrmann created in 2013.

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