Last year’s Baz Luhrmann movie, The Great Gatsby was a bit of a dud but what made it sink? Was it the acting or the script? The costume and set design rocked so that wasn’t it. We’re sure Jay-Z is blaming the script but what about the music? Was it smart to do a movie about the Jazz age sans the Jazz?
There’s been a number of movie version of the Great Gatsby. Robert Redford was in one from the 70’s and it didn’t inspire much adoration either. It could be that this is a case where the novel’s strengths can’t be translated to the big screen very well. There’s no real hero in the story which also doesn’t help. This review sums up the hero problem well
The music doesn’t help because it’s distracting. Did we really need Jay-Z’s rapping and supervision on the soundtrack? Just because he’s talented and ambitious (probably thinking of himself as a modern day Gatsby) does that mean you hand him the reins to the music of a different era and let him make a soundtrack that amounts to hip hop with dashes of 1920’s styling here and there?
What Baz Luhrmann, the filmmaker, disregards is that in any era, especially the 20’s, the music, fashion and cultural happenings all worked together. If you take one aspect out, in this case the music, then the dancing doesn’t quite sync up, as well as the cadence of how people spoke. For lovers of the deliciously jaunty music of the 1920’s there can be nothing but profound disappointment with this soundtrack.
When Luhrmann does use period music, such when we first see Leo DiCaprio as Gatsby at one of his parties, it has a wonderful power thanks to Rhapsody in Blue's soaring crescendo. We certainly don't feel like we've lost anything going backward. Indeed, we gained something special. Luhrmann has used modern music in period movies before such as Romeo & Juliet and the Moulin Rouge but in those movies it created a flavor that added to the overall effect. In the Great Gatsby, the distraction is more jarring and hence seems to draw out other deficiencies in the movie.
To hear the best tune in the soundtrack, you have to wait until the credits when Sia's Kill and Run finally plays. This song elevates the precedings to high drama. Sia’s performance and the song’s arrangement would have also been right at home as a centerpiece in a James Bond movie. Sia here commands the vocal treatment, indeed, like a young Shirley Bassey.