Wednesday night was glamour night: Tiffany & Co, and Warner Bros invited a few hundred people to a pre-screening of The Great Gatsby to coincide with the screening that night of the film on the opening night of Cannes. I thoroughly enjoyed the camp exuberance of Moulin Rouge and was intrigued to see how Baz Luhrmann’s splicing of modern filmmaking techniques and soundtracks with the narrative of a classic – and much-loved – novel would work.
The pre-party was at The Criterion on Piccadilly Circus, filled with orchids, twinkly lights and a party list of socials, editors and Tiffany clients. The restaurant used to be at the heart of literary London: Oscar Wilde ate here, and Conan Doyle even set the first meeting between Holmes and Watson beneath its Byzantine mosaic ceiling, so it was a perfect setting to celebrate the film of Fitzgerald’s book.
As darling Brigitte and I met – and cemented our friendship – in New York, she was the perfect person to bring as my guest. We sipped Champagne in fabulous saucers, and caught up with friends from both work and home. We managed to miss the 20s themed dress-up photo booth, but I don’t think we could have looked anywhere as near as gorgeous as Milla and Dom.
Then it was a quick march down Haymarket to the cinema, where we found popcorn and 3D glasses on each seat.
So the film itself…any good? Well, no, not really. Tiffany & Co should be thrilled: the jewels in the film are ravishing, stars in themselves, and Catherine Martin’s costumes, in a collaboration with Prada, are, as usual, absolutely glorious, but I can’t help thinking that a novel like The Great Gatsby didn’t need the whizz bangs of a Baz Luhrmann production to make its point.
What the viewer experiences feels like two films sandwiched together: the razzamataz of the party scenes, (the parts you’ve seen in the trailers), all high octane Moulin Rouge-style extravaganzas, and then the straight acting parts that drive the story forward. But those are tainted not just by the exaggeration of, well, everything, but by the horror of the 3D effects, which become intensely irritating as the film progresses, trivialising Fitzgerald’s message, as type bursts out of the screen.*
I find myself agreeing with Sarah Churchwell, author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby who said, tactfully, on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row that Leonardo di Caprio’s acting would have won awards – in a different kind of film. Luhrmann’s version of Gatsby is the ultimate triumph of style over substance.
Go see the movie because it’s part of the cultural conversation, admire the extraordinary and often brilliant production design, and dream of owning diamonds like Daisy’s. And, if your budget stretches that far, consider buying your own £155,000 Tiffany & Co Savoy Headpiece. Ahem.
*(The film is showing in 2D too: try to seek it out, as the 3D is appalling.)