How was your weekend? I've recently been giving great and deep consideration to a topic near and dear to my heart, and thought I might spill it all out for you kids-- guys, the Fitzgeralds. No, seriously, the Fitzgeralds. Let's talk.
In spite of deep and abiding distaste for the film career of Baz Luhrman, I'm glad he's re-made The Great Gatsby for a modern audience for one very important reason. All the hubbub surrounding a 3D, twenty-first century version of THE great American novel means a resurgence in interest in one of my own biggest interests-- the lives and love of F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
I may be misjudging Luhrman right-out-of-the-gate without having seen the movie yet. As a biography-thumping Bowie fan, I was deeply disappointed in the movie Velvet Goldmine, and held a grudge against writer/director Todd Haynes for something like ten years. How could he get glam rock so wrong? Who did he think he was to misinterpret something that was fun and edgy and camp and silly and provocative as something gothic and tortured and b-o-r-i-n-g? Had he done any research beyond flipping through the album sleeves in his local record shop? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I was mad, folks. So a few years back, when I heard he was remaking James M. Cain's pulp noir masterpiece Mildred Pierce for HBO, I was all ready to put on my comfortable shoes and my good lipstick to get in the picket line against his performing another travesty upon the hallowed halls of "Things I Love". Oops, though. My bad. With the exception of not-having-Joan-Crawford in it, the 2011 mini series was engrossing, beautifully adapted and shot, and actual better-in-some-ways than the 1945 Curtiz production. Act like that does not actually burn my tongue to say it, but it's true.
|Yes, and no, respectively. That's all we need to say about that.|
So, for all I know, this movie could be another judge-not parable for me to ad to my scrapbook of times I was wrong (a slim volume, or wouldn't I like to think it was, haha). Keep in mind, however, that the only thing I loved in my formative years more than David Bowie circa 1972 was the fair-haired young man of letters Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald circa 1918. You can see where my heart might beat with a tiny tremolo of fear at thinking of Fitzgerald's delicate, sensitive storytelling in the hands of such a bombastic, overwrought director. Moulin Rouge is one of the only movies I've ever walked out of in the theater. I had that same dreadful feeling I did when I accidentally went into a toy store in a mall on vacation, thinking maybe I could score some out of print 3D puzzle of the Biltmore, or whatever, only to realize it was a store specifically dedicated to selling wind-up toys. Everything in the entire freaking room hissed and popped and writhed and swizzled at me until I ended up just walking back out directly. I didn't care much more for Romeo + Juliet. The soundtrack to that movie was in the floorboard of probably every friend's car I ever rode in my high school years, but the sis! boom! BANG! of the directing style leaves me cold, cold, cold.
Would it be too much to ask that Gatsby be sold to the Downtown Abbey crowd? Or the Mad Men crowd? Or even the Boardwalk Empire crowd. People who are truly interested in a historically and emotionally accurate rendering of a time period that's complicated and exciting and by virtue of the passing of time, getting to be almost unfathomably remote? Wouldn't I like to understand the time period and the motivations of the people therein from the context of that time period, without any gimmicks or fancy plaster underpinnings to make it more palatable to everyone?
My interest in the Fitzgeralds was sparked by a chance reading of Zelda by Nancy Mitford maybe around 10th grade. The Mitford book itself is dry as toast but the STORY, folks, the STORY! Was it not the most thrilling discovery of my young life up until that moment to find that the romance of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby was biographically moored to FSF's own experiences in meeting, wooing, losing, and then triumphantly marrying a wild and beautiful Southern girl, the former Zelda Sayre? Trying to imagine a dashing but disadvantaged Fitzgerald in his Brooks Brothers army uniform (see above-- he'd specially ordered it) going after the most vivacious girl in Montgomery, Alabama, year of our Lord 1918, put stars in my eyes. The chance of it all... that he happened to be stationed there, that she allowed herself to be wrested from the many local beaux she held favor with by an essentially prospect-less writer who'd flunked out Princeton... all the little quirks of fate that put the two of them together. If the book on their lives ended in 1920, with the publication of This Side of Paradise, you'd have thought every dream had come true. Fitzgerald got the girl, became an important name in literary circles, sold a blue million copies of the first book of the "Jazz Age", and was practically bathing in champagne down at the Ritz, spending his new money on cars, clothes, and good times.
The Capote quote, "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones" seems to be a fitting epitaph to the Fitzgerald marriage, however. Their very glamorous early 1920's lives fizzled out like a Roman candle in a ten year cascade of mutual recriminations, lost hopes, hangovers. While This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned were wildly successful, as were some collections of his short stories, more mature works such as The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night did not receive the critical or popular acceptance they may have deserved. Fitzgerald found himself cranking out short romances and comic sketches for the Saturday Evening Post and other popular periodicals to pay their ever-mounting bills. In Cap d'Antibes, as they spent the summer with the famous Sara and Gerald Murphy, Zelda fell into an infatuation with a Spanish aviator, and Scott spend a lot of time trailing a teenage silent film star, both viciously jealous of the other's flirtations. Back in America, Zelda was institutionalized in 1932 and spent the rest of her life in various mental hospitals on the east coast, while a broken FSF headed west in a mostly unsuccessful bid to write for the movies. The momentum with which "things went bad" at the end of their relationship is just heart-rending.
In spite of how things resolved themselves, I love the idea of, again and again, Fitzgerald writing and re-writing their lives. Every face in every one of his books would have been familiar to him, as they were almost all based on real life people and events, artfully rearranged to suit a narrative plot. There was a lot of scholarly ink put to paper in the seventies' about whether or not Zelda was the "true" writer in the couple, as her now-lost diaries were incorporated into many of her husband's books and her autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, showed a real gift for imagery. I'm not sure how much I can invest into a conspiracy theory of what one might have done, in different circumstances, versus what FSF actually did, but reading their love affair continually unfolding and going to cinders throughout the course of Fitzgerald's novels is one of the most compelling text-to-biography comparisons in all of twentieth century American literature.
So! Wouldn't that make a fascinating movie/mini-series/something? Wouldn't that, in your mind, hold the interest of the movie-going public without adding baroque visuals and extra-noise? Why can't they make one movie that is just pitch-perfectly what-it-was? I've lived through the TNT teledrama Zelda, in which Natasha Richardson and Timothy Hutton speed through a soft-focus-lens Cliff Notes of the Fitzgerald's lives...through Mira Sorvino (?!?) as Daisy in a USA network adaptation of Gatsby... but my dearest hope is that with renewed interest in the Jazz Age, someone at HBO will plunk down some real Hollywood money on a real version of a compelling, true story of these tragic figures. Is that so much to ask?
What are your impressions of the Fitzgeralds? Did you snooze through Gatsby in high school, or did the lure of the green light at the end of the Buchanan's pier mesmerize you as much as it did me? Read anything on the Fitzs outside of an American Lit class? Did you see the new movie yet? What did you think? Let's talk!Oh, and if you're interested in more biographical information on the Fitzgeralds, there's an AMAZING resource in scans of (and get your hands on a copy of it if you can, it's marvelous) the book The Romantic Egoists here. Enjoy!
Ah, that's all the self-righteous indignation/rambling I can do for one day. More tomorrow! Til then.