Day 299: The Great Gatsby (1974)

81UmyTUTxWL._SL1500_The main thing the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby has going for it is Robert Redford in the titular role.

That’s really about it.

Redford makes a dashing Gatsby, sporting more of an emotional palette than Alan Ladd was able to muster.

This film – with script by Francis Ford Coppola – has a kind of shimmering, dreamy quality to it. It’s much better than the 1949 version starring Ladd. But it still just kind of lies there, unfolding like petals wilting off a rose.

Again, the cast is competent, even somewhat fascinating:

Robert Redford … Jay Gatsby
Mia Farrow … Daisy Buchanan
Bruce Dern … Tom Buchanan
Karen Black … Myrtle Wilson
Scott Wilson … George Wilson
Sam Waterston … Nick Carraway
Lois Chiles … Jordan Baker
Howard Da Silva … Meyer Wolfsheim
Roberts Blossom … Mr. Gatz
Edward Herrmann … Klipspringer

I’ve never really liked Mia Farrow. And I don’t think she’s a good fit in her role as Daisy, either. She seems like such a ditz, an airy woman that is more of an obsession for Gatsby than anything he’d actually enjoy once he obtained. But maybe that’s it. Gatsby hasn’t obtained her, and he’s wanted to all these years – to the point that Daisy becomes a fixation.

I like Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, and I especially like the use of narration to begin the film. I think that adds substance to the movie.

Edward Hermann, one of my favorite character actors, appears in the movie as Continue reading

Day 282: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Beethoven190Good-bye Beethoven.

Hello F. Scott.

This leg of my three-year journey through the works of the world’s greatest composers, authors, filmmakers, musicians, and actors is a three-week assessment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel The Great Gatsby.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald that follows a cast of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession for the beautiful debutante Daisy Buchanan. Considered to be Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess, creating a portrait of the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream.

Fitzgerald, inspired by the parties he had attended while visiting Long Island’s north shore, began planning the novel in 1923 desiring to produce, in his words, “something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” Progress was slow with Fitzgerald completing his first draft following a move to the French Riviera in 1924. His editor, Maxwell Perkins, felt the book was too vague and convinced the author to revise over the next winter. Fitzgerald was ambivalent about the book’s title, at various times wishing to re-title the novel Trimalchio in West Egg.

And that’s where my journey begins – with Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby.

Over the course of the next 24 days, I’ll read Trimalchio, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s novel that became the basis for a bunch of film versions…and then watch all four said movies (a 1925 silent adaptation is a lost film):

1949 – starring Alan Ladd, Betty Field and Shelley Winters
1974 – starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston
2000 – starring Paul Rudd, Mira Sorvino and Toby Stephens
2013 – starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire

And then compare and contrast them (as my college professors asked me to do on exams).

I’m not sure how I’ll keep the blog, though.

It’s one thing to listen to a CD every day and write about it. It’s another thing to read a book and…what? Do I write how many pages I read? What I’m thinking as I read it?

I’ll figure it out.

I’m a big boy.

Day 173: Husbands and Wives

518V6SXNJ1LHusbands and Wives, Woody’s 22nd turn behind the camera, is a terrible movie, on par with Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask*.

Maybe worse.

For one thing, this 1992 documentary-like film is the most foul-mouthed Woody Allen movie to date. Lots of F-words.

Lots. Of. F. Words.

For another, Husbands and Wives uses my most despised cinematic technique: hand-held camera work. It’s the most pretentious, pseudo-envelope-pushing gimmick in the book. Words can’t express how much I despise this way of filming a movie.

The ends result is a film that’s like seeing the world from a swift-moving roller coaster. Sloshes from side to side, extreme closeups, slow (or fast) zooms…It makes me nauseous.

I’ve walked out of movies with cinematography this shitty, and I’m likely to walk out of this one.

Finally, the subject matter of Husbands and Wives is the most Continue reading

Day 172: Shadows and Fog

51MJ3DB536LShadows and Fog, the 21st movie Woody Allen directed, boasts another huge cast.

And a very strange plot.

And Mia Farrow, who was in every one of Woody’s movies since 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.

According to its entry on Wikipedia,

Shadows and Fog (1991) is a black-and-white film directed by Woody Allen and based on his one-act play Death. It stars Allen, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Madonna, and Kenneth Mars. It was filmed on a 26,000-square-foot (2,400 m2) set at Kaufman Astoria Studios, which holds the distinction of being the biggest set ever built in New York. It was also his last film for Orion Pictures.

Shadows and Fog is an homage to German Expressionist filmmakers Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau in its visual presentation, and to the writer Franz Kafka in theme.

Shadows and Fog is almost absurdist in its execution. Lots of misunderstandings, non sequitur dialogue, and bizarre characters.

All wandering around a city at night, in the fog, with a killer Continue reading

Day 171: Alice

4177KJJNZ3LAlice, the 20th film Woody Allen directed, is about – what a shock! – relationships, infidelity, love, etc.

The plot can be found on its Wiki page.

Alice is an okay film.

The movie seems overlong, though.

And, by Woody standards, it is. His movies are usually about 90 minutes in length. At one hour and 46 minutes, Alice is is creeping up on two hours.

It’s possible the cast was just so big that he had to keep writing to accommodate everyone.

Check it out: Continue reading

Day 169: New York Stories

513334WT37LNew York Stories is not strictly a Woody Allen movie. It’s actually three famous directors – Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola – creating a trilogy of movies about their beloved New York City.

So each director gets, roughly, 1/3 of this 1989 movie’s two-hour length, give or take.

The first movie is “Life Lessons,” directed by Martin Scorsese, is about an abstract painter (Nick Nolte, 1941- ), who is obsessed by a pretty young ex-girlfriend (played by the very sexy Rosanna Arquette, 1959- ) and Procol Harum, whose music (especially “A Whiter Shade of Pale“) provides much of the soundtrack.

The second movie is “Life without Zoe” by Francis Ford Coppola. According to its entry on Wikipedia, “Life Without Zoe” is about,

Zoë (Heather McComb) is a schoolgirl who lives in a luxury hotel. She helps return to an Arab princess a valuable piece of jewelry that the princess had given to Zoë’s father (Giancarlo Giannini) and had been subsequently stolen and recovered. Zoë tries to reconcile her divorced mother, a photographer (Talia Shire), and father, a flute soloist.

Woody Allen’s segment of New York Stories is called “Oedipus Wrecks.”

According to Continue reading

Day 168: Another Woman

510CBVA0W0LAnother Woman, Woody’s 17th turn behind the camera, is another film about relationships.

And infidelity.

And awkward, uncomfortable moments.

The movie opens with the shot of the inside of a house, a corridor. Empty.

Then, voice-over narration – this time, from a woman, whom we discover is Marion (Gena Rowlands, 1930- ), a professor of philosophy on sabbatical writing a book. Marion’s apartment butts up against the office of a psychiatrist and she discovers that she can hear the sessions going on next door.

One voice from the psychiatrist’s office – sounds like Mia Farrow to me – causes Marion to listen more intently, and then begin to question her own life’s choices.

The cast is amazing:

Gena Rowlands … Marion
Mia Farrow … Hope
Ian Holm … Ken
Blythe Danner … Lydia
Gene Hackman … Larry
Betty Buckley … Kathy
Martha Plimpton … Laura
John Houseman … Marion’s Father
Sandy Dennis … Claire
David Ogden Stiers … Young Marion’s Father

But this is another very intense film about break-ups and regrets and living lives of quiet desperation, usually with the wrong person, that requires Continue reading

Day 167: September

41QX6GHNP2LSeptember, the 16th movie Woody Allen Directed, opens with a push in shot of the interior of a home.

Then, we hear two people – a man and a woman – speaking French.

The two people are revealed to be Howard (Denholm Elliott) and Stephanie (Dianne Wiest), sitting on a couch. Howard is teaching Stephanie the language.

According to its entry on IMDB, this is what September is about:

At a summer house in Vermont, neighbor Howard falls in love with Lane, who’s in a relationship with Peter, who’s falling for Stephanie, who’s married with children.

Sounds like typical Woody Allen.

It’s a great cast, one that includes some of my favorite actors:

Denholm Elliott (1922–1992) … Howard
Dianne Wiest (1948- ) … Stephanie
Mia Farrow (1945- ) … Lane
Elaine Stritch (1925- ) … Diane
Sam Waterston (1940- ) … Peter
Jack Warden (1920-2006) … Lloyd

I wasn’t familiar with Elaine Stritch prior to September. So I looked her up. Here’s what her bio says about her:

A brash, incorrigible scene-stealer now entering her sixth decade in a career that has had many highs and lows, veteran Elaine Stritch certainly lives up to the Stephen Sondheim song “I’m Still Here”. Having stolen so many moments on stage that she could be convicted of grand larceny, this tough old broad broaching 80 with the still-shapely legs, puffy blonde hairdo and deep, whiskey voice isn’t quitting anytime soon – or so it seems.

Why haven’t I seen her in anything else? Born in 1925 in Detroit, Elaine was Continue reading

Day 166: Radio Days

41E6BFRBHMLRadio Days, the 1987 movie written and directed by Woody Allen, is “one big stroll down memory lane” (my wife’s words) told through witty and poignant voice-over narration provided by Woody, and visuals of a young boy growing up in the years just before and during World War II whose constant companion is the radio.

There are many guest stars in Radio Days, some of whom appeared in previous Woody movies.

This is an interesting movie from a nostalgia perspective. But I couldn’t get wrapped up in the story.

Radio Days isn’t a bad film. It’s just not one of my favorites.

Next up: September.

Day 164: The Purple Rose of Cairo

41WAWC1EV0LThe Purple Rose of Cairo, the 14th film directed by Woody Allen, is my third favorite movie by this American icon.

When Jeff Daniels visited our city 6-7 years ago to promote his latest CD, I brought the insert from the DVD for him to sign.

He did.

Haydn231The Purple Rose of Cairo is an incredibly inventive film within a film – a movie about a movie named “The Purple Rose of Cairo” that Cecilia (Farrow) watches with such awe and reverence and longing that the characters on the screen come to life for her and one – Tom Baxter (Daniels) – steps off the screen to rescue her from her brutish husband Monk (Aiello), from whom she escapes by watching romantic movies.

Eventually, the other characters in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” movie who are on the screen (in black and white because it’s supposedly an old Hollywood movie) find themselves off script, and even talking to the audience.


The movie features some of my favorite actors (Daniels, Herrmann, Wood, for example), including several from Hollywood’s Golden Age Continue reading