Tag Archives: The Great Gatsby

Karen Black Countdown

Karen Black launched her career in the iconic American road picture Easy Rider, though fans of cheaply made horror know her for other reasons. Whether she was being possessed by her new house (Burnt Offerings), mothering a monster (It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive), or a family of monsters (House of 1000 Corpses), Black lent her skills to scores of genre flicks. These were mostly terrible (Plan 10 from Outer Space? Come on!), and they unfortunately drew attention from some of the impressive roles that exemplified her genuine talent over her five decade career. Here’s a quick reminder of why we love Karen Black.

Five Easy Pieces (1970)

Black stuns as Jack Nicholson’s white trash girlfriend in one of the great flicks of the American Seventies. Her Oscar nominated performance proved her mettle in animating a low rent sensuality that would mark her entire career.

The Great Gatsby (1974)

Black injects the uptight world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby with a little destructive vulgarity, winning a Golden Globe for her excellent turn as blue collar temptress Myrtle Wilson.

Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

Although Robert Altman’s adaptation of Ed Graczyk’s stage play offered Cher an opportunity to prove herself, Black’s performance as a transsexual James Dean fan served as a reminder of the talent we’d always suspected.

Nashville (1975)

A country singer in Altman’s microcosmic epic, Black held her own in an impressive ensemble and also earned a Grammy nomination for the song she penned and sang.


Rubin and Ed (1991)

The great eccentric buddy picture brought forth Howard Hessman’s best-ever performance, the character that would get Crispin Glover kicked off Letterman, and an opportunity for Karen  Black to shine again as a loser’s irritated ex-wife.


Gatsby? What Gatsby?

The Great Gatsby

By Hope Madden

A Moulin Rouge spin on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of decadence, longing, and the brutal carelessness of the wealthy could have been awesome. Isn’t that what we kind of expected when Rouge helmsman Baz Luhrmann signed on to direct The Great Gatsby, especially when he unveiled his hip hop and jazz soundtrack? What better way to bridge the gap between eras, to help today’s audience fathom the indulgent lifestyle of the filthy rich in the roaring Twenties?

Somehow, though, Luhrmann can’t quite pull it off.

It isn’t his cast. A more perfect actor-to-character match is hard to imagine. Though some may miss Robert Redford’s stiff, humorless Gatsby, Leo DiCaprio fills the screen with the vulnerability, flash and charm that made the character leap off Fitzgerald’s page. Likewise, the ever wide-eyed Tobey Maguire wanders amiably through Gatsby’s world as though he was born into Nick Carraway’s life.

Not surprisingly, it’s the great Carey Mulligan who almost effortlessly steals the film. Her voice full of money, her languid flirtations both lovely and sad, Mulligan’s marvelous Daisy Buchanan becomes so human, she’s probably more sympathetic than the character deserves to be.

Even with a strong concept, brilliant source material and a perfect cast, Luhrmann stumbles. He just tries too hard. One of the most efficiently written, perfectly crafted novels ever penned, clocking in at barely 300 pages, morphs in to a 143 minute film? Why? Needless complications.

For instance, co-writing the adaptation with frequent collaborator Craig Pearce (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge), Lurhmann opens the film on a depressed, alcoholic, insomniac Nick Carraway telling the sad tale of his neighbor Jay Gatsby to his shrink at the sanitarium.



But the film’s greatest misstep is probably the overwrought, surprisingly lifeless style. Luhrmann aims to mirror the gaudy, hopelessly shallow glamour of the era. He succeeds in spurts, but his approach is so heavy handed it overwhelms the film. Gimmicky and uninspired, the directorial vision serves mostly to draw your attention away from all that’s right about his picture.

It doesn’t kill the effort so much as undermine it. Luhrmann had something really remarkable to start with. He just needed to be a little more trusting of his cast and source material and a little less self-indulgent.

So, The Great Gatsby remains a lesson in the evils of self indulgence. Too bad, because it could have been a good movie instead.