Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1148, 16 - 22 may 2013
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1148, 16 - 22 may 2013

Ahram Weekly

Limelight: Great Scott

Al-Ahram Weekly

It is a story of failure!  No, this is not a reference to the Arab spring or the present Egyptian government.  It is a description of a dream-ridden romantic who would prolong the adolescent incapacity to distinguish between dream and reality, “between the terms demanded of life and the terms offered”. It is the story of the successes and failures of one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, F. Scott Fitzgerald, (1895-1940).
“I talk with the authority of failure,” he said, “Ernest Hemingway talks with the authority of success”. Yet, in 1999 the Modern American Library conducted a survey among scholars, critics and authors as to the greatest 100 novels of the last century. James Joyce’s “Ulysses” came 1st, and Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” ranked 2nd, while Hemingway’s “The Sun also Rises” ranked 45th and his “Farewell to Arms”, 74th
Scott was a member of what was called “The Lost Generation” of the 1920s, and he headed the list. His chum and drinking companion, Hemingway said that Fitzgerald had 3 strikes against him, his wife Zelda, alcohol and the ‘Great Depression’. Scott wrote only 4 ½ novels, numerous magazine stories and several Hollywood scripts.  His 3rd novel “Gatsby” is considered an undisputed classic of modern literature.  Always drawn to the classics, Hollywood has adapted Gatsby not once, not twice but 6 times for stage, TV and screen, since its publication in 1925.
 The story revolves around a mysterious young millionaire, Jay Gatsby and his ‘quixotic’ passion for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan.  The book explores themes of decadence, idealism and excess. Creating a portrait of the Roaring 20s, or what Scott himself nicknamed ‘The Jazz Age”, which tragically ended in 1929 with the Great Depression  The Great Gatsby is described as a cautionary tale, regarding the “endorsement” and “indictment” of the American dream.
A sumptuous film adaptation of this masterful work was released to a new generation of viewers last week in the US and Australia.  Furthermore it launched the opening of the Cannes Film Festival last night, with Aussie director Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge, 2001), famous for his visual spectacles and glitzy settings. After a dedicated effort that overcame endless obstacles, Luhrman was proud as Punch parading his stellar cast, Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey McGuire and Carey Mulligan on the famous Cannes red carpet. The crowds’ oohs and aahs echoed throughout the French Riviera, and the rest of the Mediterranean.
 They were the best of times to many, the worst of times to all.  The Roaring Twenties was the age of success and excess, but wisdom dictates that nothing lasts, and wisdom was glaringly absent. A war had just ended, (WWI), Jazz was invented, womanhood was redefined, the female vote was a reality, the stock market was booming and everyone was buying automobiles, telephones, vacuum cleaners and washing machines.  The French called it “Les Annees Folles”, and so they were, crazy….. crazy for Flappers and speakeasies, for the Fox-Trot, the Tango, the Charleston and the Lindy hop, amongst other social, artistic and cultural dynamism.
The stakes for which they played were high and unattainable, and Scott Fitzgerald was a victim of it all.
A man of notable good looks, his physical image eclipsed the more important image of the artist within.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born to an upper-class Irish-American family at 599 Summit Avenue on Cathedral Hill-----a beautiful location with opulent mansions up and down the avenue.  He attended the exclusive St. Paul Academy and later Princeton University, where he wrote many musical comedies.  He found fame with his first novel “This Side of Paradise”, (1920) and his second, “The Beautiful and the Damned”, (1921). His third novel was not as well received, but it turned out to be his magnum opus. The Great Gatsby, (1925), was followed by “Tender is the Night”, a semi-autobiography of life with Zelda and many American expatriates, like Hemingway.  It is set mainly between Paris and the French Riviera. Glamorous as they were, these were the years of his decline, of his failure.
His final effort, “The Last Tycoon”, about life in tinsel-town, Hollywood, which he deeply disliked, was unfinished at his early death at age 44.
On his death the New York Times editorial summed his life thus:” He was better than he knew, for, in fact, and in a literary sense, he created a generation” He was the moral conscience of a decadent age, but he died believing himself to be a failure. “The Great Gatsby” is now required reading in high school and has sold over 20 million copies. No other novel has received similar accolades.
“There is no such thing as a flawless novel” wrote Don Birnam, “but if there is, this is it”
 Richard Yates, called Gatsby :“The multi-nourishing novel --- miracle of a talent, a triumph of technique”.
Like Fitzgerald we see our noble freedom, “threatened with destruction”.  We too long for a world of restored sanity of order and calm, of morality and decency, not of disillusion and confusion, not of dissension and terror.   
 The idea of adapting classics is not only to watch an entertaining movie, but to reconnect with the extraordinary work of a great talent!
“The Great Gatsby” is consistently ranked as the greatest work of American literature of all time.  Is it possible that Baz Luhrman may have produced the Greatest Gatsby of all time!

“The truth is that the public has done one of those startling and amazing things that they do, once in a hundred years.  They’ve seized an idea”
                                 F. Scott Fitzgerald

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