Monday, May 4, 2009

So we beat on

The other night I watched again the film of The Great
Gatsby made in 1974 by the British director Jack
Clayton. I knew it must have been a good film, because
many images from it had stayed with me since I first
saw it more than 30 years ago; still, having thought it
might have dated, I was pleasantly surprised by how
good it was, and especially by how well Robert Redford
played Gatsby. I seem to remember he came in for some
critical stick at the time, but in fact his performance is
virtually faultless. As is Clayton’s take on Fitzgerald’s
masterpiece: both novel and film capture memorably a
moment in American history—the giddy moment of the
1920s, when war was over and all bets were off. I read
the book again last year: it must surely rank as the finest
short novel in the English language. It works
simultaneously as satire, romance, elegy, tragedy and
travesty. It is infected, like all the great works, with a kind
of madness; a brittle high fever of a book, it yet finds
solid ground to speak from and settle within us. The film
is not quite that good, but for sensitivity to an author's
intentions it's up there with John Huston's The Dead and
the Merchant-Ivory films of E M Forster's novels.
Disappointingly, however, and inexplicably, to me, though
it ends with Fitzgerald's narrator Nick Caraway in
voiceover, it omits the final, unforgettable words of the
book: 'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back
ceaselessly into the past.'

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

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