The Absence of Color (a time-travel romance in the age of The Great Gatsby)

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Fitzgerald's Jordan is a suntanned blonde with gray eyes who takes up important narrative room; she's also a cheat and a liar. In the movie, Elizabeth Debicki as a pale, dark-haired Jordan towers over Tobey Maguire's overwhelmed Nick, and they have no relationship to speak of at all. Strangely, though, I didn't miss Jordan in the movie. I hadn't realized how much time Fitzgerald had devoted to Nick and Jordan, until I saw that space freed up to concentrate on Gatsby and Daisy.

The novel's central love story stands out more clearly, in the movie, and Nick's spared a great deal of confusion. The diminishment of Jordan is a major difference between the book and the movie, but I was surprised by how little I minded it, and, indeed, by what a relief it was.

When Nick is unpacking at his new house on Long Island, he grins as he takes a copy of Ulysses from one of the boxes. Ulysses doesn't appear in Fitzgerald's novel, but James Joyce is a guiding presence in it.

Fitzgerald admired Joyce above most modern writers. For Tobey Maguire to be holding that distinctive big bluebacked book, just published in Paris in February and banned at the time in America, is a perfect touch to make Nick Carraway look like a writer. In the novel, a married couple have a memorable fight at Gatsby's first party. As the venue consists chiefly of married businessmen drinking and cozying up to the dancers, it's a smart, funny use of Fitzgerald's phrase. Race and ethnicity are subtle, important things in the novel. Tom Buchanan is the racist and bigot who disgusts both his wife Daisy and Nick with his comments, but Nick is very disconcerted himself by Meyer Wolfshiem.

Nick's Midwestern prejudices and repressions are reflected in his comments on Wolfshiem -- who, in fairness to Nick, shocks and puts off Nick less because he's Jewish than because he's the mobster who's fixed the World Series.

The Great Gatsby / by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Luhrmann's choice of the elegant, excellent Amitabh Bachchan as Wolfshiem complicates easy, snap definitions of ethnicity, skin color and religion in a way that echoes the novel's resistance to such definitions, too. Wolfshiem carries much weight in the movie, as he embodies the explanation for where Gatsby's money has come from and what his "business" dealings are. As Wolfshiem says in his first line, Gatsby's "my boy. It's a theme of the novel.

Car wrecks abound in the book: This rather reflects both Fitzgeralds' driving styles; while they were living in Great Neck, NY, Scott once put a car in a pond, and Zelda cheerfully told friends about "de-intestining" a car on a fireplug. Luhrmann's movie is similarly full of bad-driving moments. Careening cars spill partygoers over the sides, Owl Eyes makes a spectacular wreck after Gatsby's first party, a drag race happens between Tom and Gatsby that's not in the book at all but reflects automotively the competition between the men , and of course there's Myrtle Wilson's terrible death.

When Daisy and Gatsby meet again for the first time in five years, at Nick's house, Gatsby nervously bumps his head on a broken mantelpiece clock, which tilts dangerously but doesn't fall. Gatsby catches it "with trembling fingers" and rights it, apologizing. Nick says, "idiotically," that it's an old clock, and reflects in the deep embarrassment of the moment: It's quite Gatsby to insist he'll send someone over immediately to repair the clock, to try to force the little row of bells and broken wooden posts back into the top of the clock with a rough, and trembling, hand.

In Fitzgerald's surviving manuscript drafts of the novel, there were two green lights at the end of Daisy's dock, and they didn't play much of symbolic role in the book. That all changed by publication time, when one of the most iconic moments in American literature was born. Reading this on a mobile? Click here to view.

The Great Gatsby From Book to Movie: My Top 20 Faithful Things, Part One

All this, and Baz Luhrmann, too: Leonardo DiCaprio will play the hopeful hero with a shady past, and Carey Mulligan is Daisy, the shallow woman he adores. Gatsby has been filmed four times to date, but it has been nearly 40 years since the last big-screen adaptation, Jack Clayton's version , with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby. It was the first version to be filmed in colour. Luhrmann's taste for extravaganza seems to most people to suit Gatsby perfectly, although it is in fact a far more tightly controlled novel than it seems, and Luhrmann is not known for his restraint.

Previews suggest a film of decadent, epicurean extravagance and debauchery. Its reputation for revelries aside, Fitzgerald's novel in fact features just three parties, and only one of these offers paeans to its own splendours. The first party is the sordid little gathering in the flat of Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan's mistress, when Tom breaks Myrtle's nose for merely mentioning his wife Daisy's name.

The third and final party is at Gatsby's mansion, but Fitzgerald uses it to shift the story's mood definitively from enchantment to disenchantment: Daisy and Tom attend, and their contempt for Gatsby's world exposes its tawdriness, its tinsel wrappings. Only the second party, with Nick as lyrical witness to its glories, features the magical prose that lingers in readers' minds — the girls floating among the whisperings and the moths and the champagne, yellow cocktail music rising over the blue gardens, the opera of voices pitching a key higher — and even that party has little of the saturnalia that seems to characterise Luhrmann's vision.

Although colour is central to the novel, the first surviving film version is a black-and-white noir thriller from starring Alan Ladd.

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Twenty years before the noir Gatsby was the first cinematic version, a silent film from that has been lost, although the academic Anne Margaret Daniel recently revealed in the Huffington Post that a letter in the Fitzgerald archives shows that Scott and Zelda attended a screening of the film in Whether Fitzgerald would have enjoyed any of the subsequent stage and film versions any better is open to some question.

Gatsby is about the superiority of imagination over reality, which makes it very difficult to dramatise well. It is a novel of layered projections: Gatsby projects his fantasies on to Daisy, and we can't be certain whether Nick is projecting his fantasies on to Gatsby, or is instead the only person to see past Gatsby's facade to the grandeur of the real man. Among the dismissive early reviews of the novel was one by the influential critic HL Mencken, who called Gatsby little more than "a glorified anecdote". Understandably frustrated at the general failure of critical acumen all around him, Fitzgerald wrote to his friend Edmund Wilson: But, beyond question, Fitzgerald would have been delighted at the adulation his masterpiece has long inspired.

When he composed The Great Gatsby , Fitzgerald was one of the most successful writers of his era, among the decade's highest-paid writers of magazine fiction.

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He had been young, brash, ambitious; when he became his own success story he won Alabama belle Zelda Sayre and the pair rapidly became legendary for their revels, incarnating the "flappers and philosophers" who populated the jazz age — the name Fitzgerald himself bestowed upon the era he and Zelda still embody. But Fitzgerald also had serious artistic ambitions, and when he began The Great Gatsby he set out to write "a consciously artistic achievement". From beginning to end this is a story about capability, about our reach exceeding our grasp. What made Gatsby emphatically "new" was not its focus upon modern life, however: Fitzgerald had written of nothing else since the start of his career.

And one of the reasons that most of its early readers couldn't see Gatsby 's greatness was because it, too, seemed merely to report on their modern world. What they couldn't yet appreciate was that this insider's guide to the enchantments of the jazz age was also an uncanny glimpse into the world to come. To take just one example, in The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald wrote one of the most glamorous novels in history, which has itself become a kind of glittering celebrity novel.

But it also demolishes the workings of celebrity, parsing the way that gossip becomes currency in the fame business, rumour a gauge of spurious greatness. Today, more often than not any artistic work itself is subordinated to the "vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty" that is celebrity culture, but Gatsby 's pleasures transcend the pleasure-seeking world that it indicted.

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It was a world few understood better than the Fitzgeralds. When the 20s started to roar, Scott and Zelda grabbed a drink and jumped into the centre of the stage, where they stayed until , when the centrifugal force of their lives suddenly sent them both reeling into extremity. Until then, the Fitzgeralds were the life and soul of the prohibition party, and he was its greatest chronicler. As the spree kicked off, Fitzgerald found that "a fresh picture of life in America began to form before my eyes". By , he was painting an indelible picture of that new life, setting his new novel in just after the "general decision to be amused that began with the cocktail parties of " , in order to tell of "a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure".

The party had begun, and all of America was invited. Wealth remained a social barrier, but it was no longer impenetrable. Speakeasies were breaking down old social barriers by creating spaces where the upper crust rubbed shoulders with the lower orders. At the same time, the new money from bootlegging and its related enterprises, and from an almost totally unregulated stock market, enabled the rapid rise of energetic men — and some women — prepared to break a law or two: Corruption was rife, law-breaking suddenly a way of life.

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But even amid the boom, poverty lingered: Fitzgerald understood early that the party couldn't last for ever. Fitzgerald began to reflect on the age he had come to epitomise in a series of great essays — "My Lost City," "Echoes of the Jazz Age," "Early Success," and the largely forgotten "My Generation" — and stories, including the haunting "Babylon Revisited". The jazz age may have ended, but the age of advertisement had begun, and in Gatsby Fitzgerald wrote one of the earliest indictments of a nation in thrall to the false gods of the marketplace.

Nearly a century later, his cautionary tale has returned to haunt us, warning again of the perils of boom and bust, holding a mirror up to our tarnished world. Fitzgerald's hero, the poor farm boy named Jimmy Gatz who reinvents himself as Jay Gatsby, who "sprang from a Platonic conception of himself", epitomises the self-made man.

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But Gatsby is also unmade by his faith in America's myths and lies: The historical irony is that Gatsby is destroyed because in his world money did not make everything possible — but in our world it increasingly does. Today the illusion of Jay Gatsby would not have shattered like glass against Tom Buchanan's "hard malice": Gatsby's money would have insulated him and guaranteed triumph — an outcome that Fitzgerald would have deplored more than anyone.

Attempting to pass himself off as a patrician, Gatsby tries too hard, his every gesture and word a dead giveaway to the people around him. Gatsby is not merely a fake, he is an obvious fake. But the novel works in the opposite direction. Its performance is almost perfect: It is a novel of ellipses: