I saw The Great Gatsby on Monday night and woke up on Tuesday thinking – ‘wow, I really remember nothing about that movie.’ Given the prevalent backlash against Luhrman’s interpretation of the novel, I thought I’d at least be somewhat moved to either share the sense of ritual indignation (yes, I love the book) or revel in a perverse, counter-intuitive appreciation of the film. I didn’t expect to feel lukewarm, but that’s exactly how I find myself. I wouldn’t recommend TGG, but I don’t really care about the problems of the execution enough to give it it’s own review.
On Tuesday night I saw Spring Breakers, and while I know this is not an original sentiment, seeing the films back to back really strengthened the argument that SB is the more effective adaptation of Gatsby. James Franco’s Alien, showing off his ‘shorts in every colour’ and CK colognes is a much more convincing play for the Gatsby story than TGG‘s hyper-literal rendition of the Gatsby’s beautiful shirts. The orgy of Brooks Brothers shirts in 3D reminded me of those ads for factory clearance sales (‘Shirts, shirts, shirts!! You want blue shirts?! We’ve got blue shirts!! Shirts, shirts! Pink shirts, yellow shirts, white shirts, purple shirts. Out they go…’) and really rammed home how wrong the tone of the movie was.
I don’t want to say that either film is a critique of excess, or the moral vacuum in which late capitalism conducts its daily business. I just can’t be bothered… Anyway, I paid my ticket price for both viewings – here’s what I got:
Spring Breakers is an unironic and beautifully pagan study in fertility ritual, set in a sparse atemporal world that only vaguely recalls the one we live in. It’s a melancholic tribute to the one burst of transcendent power a young woman comes, or breaks into – the intermezzo moment between childhood and, at least in pre-modern times, child rearing. In life this power is subject to duration and may quickly fade but through the duration of the cinematic medium this moment can be made to last. Watching the film you feel very aware that Korine is very aware of this magical paradox of his medium – but this knowingness is somehow refreshing and never derivative. The use of Britney Spears – who in her prime was the exemplar of sinless sexuality – is, and I’m not being unserious – elevating and unlike TGG, totally unforgettable. Watching the piano scene in which Franco plays Spears’ ‘Everytime’ while the girls dance around wearing pink balaclavas and bearing uzis, I thought of Cassavetes’ Opening Night, where Myrtle, the brilliant but aging and troubled star of the theatre remarks in voiceover, ‘When I was 17, I could do anything.’ It’s a credit to Spring Breakers that we never see the girls waver in the shadow of consequence; the viewer is permitted to see, undiluted, what being a young woman, and the omnipotent sense being able to do anything, looks like. It is terrifying and very, very beautiful.