I saw the new Gatsby movie with my son and daughter, ages 21 and 17. They had both read the book, and my daughter, the 17-year-old, heard from her teacher that the movie’s excesses were in keeping with the novel’s own excesses at the time it was published in 1925—the bootleg liquor, “yellow cocktail music,” and very lethal cars that were new in American literature. The movie had to be made timely for us, so the bar on excess had to rise.
When the Klipspringer character debuts his “Jazz History of the World,” the score plays George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and it sounds great. Right on. Then the score breaks into a rap by Jay-Z, and my two children broke into loud laughs. There is appropriate excess, and then there is pandering. That the movie was in 3D, which is usually intended for a young audience, I thought was bad enough, and a real misunderstanding of who’d be going to see it. Know any 12-year-olds who’ve read Fitzgerald? But Jay-Z, the final credits inform us, is also the movie’s executive producer. And that’s that, an answer to all the other questions that come up.
Hip-hop is here to stay, but “the Jazz age” is Fitzgerald’s own phrase and his Gatsby is definitive of its moment. I was so proud of my kids, whose laughter was also definitive.