We arrived in Charleston, the state capital, on Friday afternoon. Dad had to attend a meeting so Mom, sister Pam, and I were on our own. Pam wanted to see THE GREAT GATSBY with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Her high school English class was reading the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic and this was one way of learning the story without reading the book. We drove to the Village Theater in nearby Kanawha City. Tomorrow, I’ll analyze GATSBY from a scholarly perspective. Today, I just want to discuss the emotional ways the movie affected me.
I walked in cold knowing nothing about what it was about or anything about its production history. And then it started and I was transported away. It felt as if I had stepped into a time machine and took a trip back to 1925. I was there. The Oscar-winning costumes, the sets, the cinematography, the cars, Nelson Riddle’s Oscar-winning Irving Berlin-based music, it happened all around me. I was staying up all night at Gatsby’s parties. I was having tea on a hot June afternoon when Gatsby and Daisy reunite. I could feel the weather & the heat & the emotions.
I knew I was seeing something deep. I knew Fitzgerald was saying something profound about American wealth and class and the prices we pay for our dreams. As the screen went dark and the lights came up, I found myself suddenly back in 1974 and I really felt I had taken both a physical and emotional journey. I walked out a lot older and wiser than when I’d gone in. I walked out in love with THE GREAT GATSBY.
Back then, a movie wasn’t available for re-viewing in 6 months on Netflix or On Demand. You never knew when you’d see a film again so I did the next best thing.
I wrote a fan letter to Redford. He never replied. I started calling my friends “old sport” until David Lashhorn threatened to punch me in the face if I called him that again. I asked my mom to make me a white Gatsby suit. She did and I wore it till I outgrew it. I still have it packed away some place.
When movies started coming out on VHS in 1980, my first video rental (from Photomat!) was GATSBY. It was the first time I’d seen the film uninterrupted since 1974. It was just as brilliant as I’d remembered it.
I appreciate that the film is not for everyone. I see as virtues what some see as flaws. But it terms of what it taught me about life and the power of movies, THE GREAT GATSBY remains one the movies that changed my life.
NEXT THURSDAY: MY GREATEST MOVIE WEEKEND: PART II
"What'll I Do?" by Irving Berlin
Because this is the version that opens GATSBY. Because I think it is one of the saddest, most romantic songs I've ever heard.