The Great Gatsby Fever

The Great Gatsby fever took over London in May. Which other department store than Harrods could have been more perfect for pulling off a Gatsby themed shopping window?
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 9

I first came across with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book ‘The Great Gatsby’ at school where it was part of the reading list for my English class. Fitzgerald’s story about the American Dream and its perils were so detached from my simple schoolgirl’s life in Finland. The Finnish life teaching says ‘Happiness is a red cottage and a potato patch’ (‘Onni on punainen tupa ja perunamaa’ in Finnish) which basically teaches Finns to aim towards an uncomplicated existence where all you need is a modest home and means to provide supper for your family. So, forget about diamonds and fame, they are not needed for happiness!

Despite my cultural upbringing I got somehow drawn into the story of Gatsby. Are we Finns silly of just repeating the fortune of our previous generations and not realising that greater things are possible for everyone? Why not try to create yourself from nothing and become immersed into a world which you didn’t know existed before. Besides the grand villas and opulent parties of Gatsby’s life sounded much more fun than some spuds and countryside. Well, this was until I reached the tragic events at the end of the book. Loneliness, obsession and tragedy seemed to infest the American Dream. Perhaps the Finnish saying was right after all…

The Great Gatsby fever in London reminded me of Fitzgerald’s work and I was lucky to see the book played out both as a ballet production and Baz Luhrmann’s 3D extravaganza in May. Northern Ballet’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby in Sadler’s Wells was an absolute triumph! See a Youtube clip of their majestic performance. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to find ways to tell the complex story between Gatsby and Daisy, not to mention the numerous other intertwined relationships between characters of Fitzgerald’s novel through dance, but Nothern Ballet did it so well. The contrasts they created between Gatsby and Daisy as young lovers vs. their first encounter after Gatsby had created his wealth, the careless parties of the mistress of Daisy’s husband vs. the luxurious festivities held at Gatsby’s house were done with great skill. So were the scenes involving the famous yellow car accident through the lens of inventive staging. I loved the dancing, the outfits, the atmosphere, everything. Such a shame that the Northern Ballet only came to London for a few days but for their next return I’m sure to be booking early.

After the ballet it was time to see Baz Luhrmann’s awaited The Great Gatsby starred by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. Such an event deserved a special cinema and I headed over to the Everyman Belsize Park with some girlfriends. On a side note, Everyman Cinemas are in my opinion the best cinemas in the world. Small, intimate screens, comfy sofas perfect for cuddling or relaxing, drinks and snacks served to your seat and above all the best selection of independent cinema in London. Everyman Cinema was also dressed up to impress with Gatsby themed gold accessories and sumptuous cocktails which created a good start for the 2 hour visual spectacle we were about to see.

I know that the film has been criticised for its emphasis on glitz rather than the delicacy of the story and depth of its characters. Others have also doomed it inappropriate in bringing too many characters of today’s world to the scenes rather than solely respecting the 1920s etiquette. On the contrary, I thought that Luhrmann had created a film that works in many levels. Partly you could watch it as a superficial piece and enjoy the glamour of the lives of the wealthy and grief the sadness of their destiny. Or you could watch it to marvel at the latest film technology where 3D creates a new cinema experience where the viewer can almost get inside the mad excess and thumbing energy of the film. Or you could watch it as a piece that makes a very good attempt in capturing Fitzgerald’s genius book. The detailed grooming of the film, the fantastic actors who bring to life Fitzgerald’s tragic characters, the respect that Luhrmann gives to the important turning points of the storyline but also the uniqueness of his own stamp with freshness and youthfulness very much alike in his earlier favourite, Romeo & Juliet… I loved the music choices by Luhrmann as well. Lana Del Rey’s ‘Young and Beautiful’ is my new favourite. I suppose the only aspect that I didn’t like was the choice to use Nick Carraway’s narrator role via discussions in psychiatrist encounters. I thought these were unnecessary breaks to the great story and didn’t feel very believable additions to The Great Gatsby prose.

After such heart-beating experiences, it’s hard to make up my mind, should I continue to strive for the Finnish simplicity or the American extravaganza.  After some consideration, I don’t think they are in the end so far apart as both tell the story about searching for the same thing, which is love. We all just have our own, flawed ways of going about it.

Everyman Cinema in Belsize Park was dressed up to the Gatsby theme welcoming guests to enter a world of gold, glitz and luxury
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 9


Sadler’s Wells London Dance House

Rosebery Avenue, Islington, London, EC1R 4TN, United Kingdom

Everyman Cinema Belsize Park
203 Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park, London, NW3 4QG

(c) Nordic Odyssey 2013. All Rights Reserved.


5 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby Fever

  1. This is such a thoughtful post Kristiina, I really enjoyed reading it. Interesting to hear your take on the film, and the ballet performance sounds wonderful! I haven’t been to the Everyman chain of cinemas, will have to check them out when I’m next home.xx

    1. Thank you so much Elly! And yes, you must go to an Everyman cinema when you are next in London. I’ve also been to the ones in Angel and Hampstead and they are fabulous too. xx

  2. Kristiina, what a wonderful narrative! I love how you have compared two different views on life and achievement and then brought them back together at the end (and would love to hear more about the Finnish view). Thanks for reminding me of the amazing Northern ballet experience and I will have to try out the cinema soon!

    1. Thank you, Oksana, for your nice words! I had such lovely time with you and the other girls at the ballet. Very memorable experience. I’m glad you found the contrast between the Finnish and American point of views interesting. I think it is very fascinating how we all get raised in very different ways, yet we meet now in London in quite similar circumstances… The best meeting point for different people from all walks of life!

  3. I’m good at speaking my mind, but not so good at expressing my thoughts in written words. You are good at writing as proven through reading your article. I enjoyed reading your very informative article.

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