Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Ghastly

Robert Redford as Gatsby with a Rolls-Royce, 1974

Yet another remake of "The Great Gatsby," the timeless Twenties novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald about star-crossed romance, longing, and bootlegging, opened this week to decidedly mixed reviews. This time, the film is an over the top vulgarpocalypse, by director Baz Luhrmann who is either ignorant of history, unable to read the book upon which his film is based, or just guilty of directorial malpractice.

The yellow Rolls-Royce Phantom I from the 1974 film

Let me give you a revelation- the Twenties were not the Thirties. The Twenties were a whoopee decade, with a soaring stock market, endless prosperity, and paradoxically, prohibition. The Thirties were the hangover that followed the drunken excesses of the decade that preceded it. Depression, joblessness, poverty for millions of people. Gatsby is set in the Twenties. The story falls apart in the Thirties.

1933 Auburn Speedster and Duesenberg replica in the 2013 film (Warner Bros)

Automobiles play a very important role in Gatsby. Fitzgerald specified a yellow Rolls-Royce Tourer for Gastby, and a roadster for Jordan Baker. So how did Baz come up with a Duesenberg Model J for Gastby? They even weren't introduced until the 1929 model year and were made through 1937. And who thought they could put Jordan Baker in a 1933 Auburn Speedster? This isn't rocket science, guys. There weren't Duesenberg Model Js and Auburn Speedsters in 1922. So are you telling a 1922 story with cars that won't be made for seven to ten years, or have you moved the story to the Thirties and hoped we wouldn't notice?

The Duesenberg replica in the 2013 film (Warner Bros)
Time impossibility aside, there's still another major problem with this- Gatsby would NEVER have chosen a Duesenberg J, even if it existed- it had the wrong image. The Mighty J was indeed a powerful and impressive car, but it was far too flashy and vulgar for Gatsby. Gatsby WAS nouveau riche, and desperately wanted to be a blue blood.

Chrome plated exhaust pipes snaking out of the hood were simply not the path to old money. The Rolls-Royce was the blue blood choice- very expensive, but more understated and more accepted in high society. For Gatsby, The Rolls-Royce was the only choice. Fitzgerald didn't just pluck the name out of a hat- he knew what he was doing.

A pair of Duesenberg convertibles from the 1949 version

It's not the first time that this mistake has been made. The 1949 Elliott Nugent version starred Alan Ladd and a pair of Duesenberg Rollston SJ convertible coupes- but this inaccuracy was corrected in the 1974 Robert Redford film directed by Jack Clayton. The 1974 version starred a Rolls-Royce Phantom I that, while slightly newer than the story, was of the correct era and most closely fitted Fitzgerald's vision of any of the film versions So Baz unlearned what had been learned and somehow this is progress.

And then there's the snicker when I noticed that the Duesenberg in question was a knockoff. Call it a replica, call it a tribute, I call it a fake. It's a pile of fiberglass on a Ford F-150 truck frame, and oddly that's slightly comforting to me. I admit that I'm critical of cars in period films, but it seems like someone other than just myself should have asked what the hell they were doing. Call me a car snob, you can't remake "The Love Bug" with a Prius or "Smokey and the Bandit" with a Camry. I don't know what movie Baz made with his plastic faux Duesenberg, but it wasn't "The Great Gatsby." "The Great Ghastly" is more like it.


  1. The car-nalysis of the Luhrmann film. Fascinating and well done.

  2. Buz "Gatsby" is a big Opera, swimming in fantastic opulent pictures. There was simply no car in the twenties who brings the same presence as this yellow Duesenberg. The style of this movie needs a Duesenberg. This movie is not for people who search in Crumbs. This movie is for People which can absorb some of the Pictures.

  3. Whatever this dreadful movie is, it is NOT The Great Gatsby. I am not interested in Mr. Luhmrmann's debauched orgiastic fantasies.

  4. Just wrote about this myself.

    I realised the Duesenberg was older (I actually thought 1930s). The insight into the Rolls Royce vs Duesenberg is interesting. He's trying to convince everyone he's a blue blood.

    Sounds like I need to see the original :)

  5. Stork is truly a crumb cruncher. Curious isn't it that Motor Authority says the Deusie is a $3M genuine item on loan from a museum? Personally I think the Auburn, (again nonexistent during the period) would have been better suited as Gatsby's car. All that said, maybe the movie isn't an accurate portrayal of the book or the period, but SO WHAT! It was an entertaining movie. If you can't sit back and enjoy the ride WHY BOTHER!

  6. It's not my fault that neither Motor Authority nor yourself know a real Duesenberg from a fake, but I do. May I suggest focusing on the Ford F-150 front suspension and sealed beam headlamps behind the reproduction Duesenberg lenses as a starting point?

    It's been said that a man that can't tell chicken shit from chicken salad can be served either. This may account for your comfort level, but I am not that person and don't care to be.

    That's not a faux photo of me accepting Best Duesenberg at Pebble Beach- I know the Duesenberg car and stand 100% behind my comments.