Marvin’s Room:1996: This is a great film, under-appreciated in my opinion. It stars Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep as two sisters who are coming together after years of estrangement when Keaton discovers she has cancer. The ultimate moment of truth comes when a dying Keaton tells her frivolous and self-centered sister, Streep that her greatest reward in caring for her elderly parents was the fact that she was able to love THEM so much…it was a love based not on what she gave, but the love she received. This was a turning point in the film for Streep. DiCaprio plays the estanged son of Meryl Streep, and is very good in this role, a pivotal moment in his career where he stepped away from more juvenile parts to play more mature, leading man roles.
The Man in the Iron Mask: 1998- A remake of the classic tale by Alexandre Dumas. The plot revolves around twin royal brothers with vastly different personalities. DiCaprio plays the spoilt, narcissistic and pampered King Louis XIV and also the worthy twin who has been imprisoned in the iron mask for so many years.
Blood Diamond, 2006- Danny Archer: One of his best roles to date. He plays a cavalier and insouciant man who falls for a young woman he meets after unwittingly becoming involved in the smuggling of a prized diamond mined in Africa.…The focus of the film is on the brutality surrounding the African diamond trade. DiCaprio was up for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
The Departed: 2006- Billy Costigan Jr. Remake of a 2002 film from Hong Kong entitled Infernal Affairs. This is a nihilistic and dark version of the mean streets. It features great performances not only by DiCaprio, but by Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg as well.
The Aviator-2004: One of his outstanding collaborations with Martin Scorsese, this film explores the dark side of Hughes. DiCaprio has a way of finding the dark vein and mining it with a charismatic style that was reminiscent of Howard Hughes himself… As with many brilliant actors in years past, Leonardo DiCaprio has found a wellstone of inspiring material through his collaborations with a gifted director. In this case, Scorsese has tapped a gold mine by developing a successful working relationship not only with Robert De Niro, but in recent years, with DiCaprio.
American Graffiti-Bob Falfa-1973. Ford has a small role in this film. This was an important breakthrough film for Harrison Ford , as it brought him to the attention of George Lucas: Before the hype surrounding Star Wars, there was this small part in the coming of age movie that stands the test of time well without seeming too dated. It was a nostalgic look at a bygone era, and is still effective as a nostalgic look back almost forty years later!
Bladerunner:Rick Deckard-1982-Harrison Ford was a pivotal force in creating the illusory and remarkable world contained in Bladerunner. He portrayed a man who doesn’t seem to care anymore, and his revelation through pain and redemption-the theme that guides the film-what is real/what is the definition of a human?….is explored and continues to haunt us partly because of his performance. Ford was very involved in developing the character of Deckard, particularly when we find that he didn’t want to wear the hat (a la Indiana Jones), but instead chose to fashion a short, cropped haircut that conveys the angst and almost dark and prison-like air that surrounds this set. He also insisted that Darryl Hannah stick her fingers in his nose during the pivotal fight scene, and the graphic reality brings the physical fight home to us in a way that nothing else could in this instance.
The Frisco Kid-1979.This is a gem-one of those films that got away. Gene Wilder is hilarious as a Jewish rabbi who teams up with an unlikely partner, a cowboy/robber played by Ford. They end up in an Indian encampment, where Wilder shouts, “Watch that lady!…I think that lady is a Jewish Indian!”.as Ford watches him in mild bemusement. Somehow the plot moves them into a monastery where the effusive Wilder is hard-pressed to abide by the laws of silence governing a monastery. This unlikely duo makes for a very different kind of buddy comedy. Ford proves himself to be extremely charming in this light comic role.
Witness:1985-Detective Captin John Book- One of the staples surrounding long-term leading man success in Hollywood is the actor’s ability to convince audiences he is that character. In this part, the essence of a straight-forward cop who will not swerve from the path of justice is tailor-made for the slightly grumpy Ford persona. The nature of the love story between the Amish girl and the cynical, big-city cop makes for an enduring film.
Working Girl: 1988-Jack Trainer-Ford has a chance, once again, to show us his vulnerable, funny side. He is charming with Melanie Griffith in this still funny comedy from Director Mike Nichols.
Indiana Jones and the Search for the Holy Grail: These films got better over time. They seemed to sputter at first, with nothing surrounding the character but a sweeping theme song and a “fly by the seat of our pants” attitude towards plot. But, in the end, this character endures in part, not only because of the enthusiastic direction of Spielberg,but also the persona of Ford. He becomes Indiana Jones and embraces the role in a way no-one else could touch, as so many great actors have been able to inhabit their signature characters for all time. ( Some examples that come to mind: Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Jimmy Stewart as Harvey, Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump). With the addition of his father, played by Sean Connery, this makes for a great twist on the buddy pictures of years past.
The Great Gatsby has been made into a movie. Again. For the fifth time. I remember the last time they made this film as a big budget production back in the seventies. That filmed version featured Robert Redford as Gatsby. This one has Leonardo DiCaprio. Both of these men are great actors. But the problem might be that the material remains the same.
Can it be that one of the quintessential books of the twentieth century, one of the Great American Novels, is just not good movie material? That’s what I’m thinking….
Here are the two closing paragraphs from Fitzgerald’s book, “The Great Gatsby”
“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.”
In the short story, The Rich Boy, Fitzgerald expands upon this theme of the rich as careless and consciously embracing class warfare with this famous passage: (It contains the sentence which his biographer, Bruccoli, calls Fitzgerald’s “most promiscuously misquoted sentence”:
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves”
The two stories, The Great Gatsby and The Rich Boy, both deal with the careless rich; those who have plenty. Fitzgerald manages to hold up a ruthlessly accurate looking glass to the lives and psyche of the very rich. A quote from Fitzgerald himself says it all, “I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich…”
Sadly, one of the take-aways from the life of Fitzgerald may be that he himself was the ultimate model for Gatsby. The character of Gatsby met a tragic end and died in obscurity. The Golden Girl that was Daisy was shown to be little more than a callous and shallow object of desire, unworthy of such intense devotion.
In reality, Zelda Fitzgerald, a lionized symbol of the age of flappers and the newly-emancipated woman, died in a fire after enduring years of treatment for mental illness. And Fitzgerald died in Hollywood, an alcoholic who was living in relative obscurity after being feted as one of the golden darlings of the Jazz Age and the Modern Era of Literature .
As stated earlier, Gatsby has been filmed before. This will be the fifth film, the first one starting out as a silent picture. Zelda said of that first movie: “It’s rotten and awful and terrible and we left. (Hollywood).” In the seventies I recall also that the big budget spectacle with Redford and Mia Farrow was panned as a fairly rotten and awful disaster. This time around, again some of Hollywood’s elite players have gathered together to tell this simple story that defies the cinematic art form.
Could it be that the Great American Novel was never meant to become the Great American Film? I believe the honorary title of “Great American Film” goes to “The Godfather”. The original Godfather, or to be precise the trio of films surrounding Coppola’s masterpiece, gets to the heart of the American Dream far faster and much more effectively than does this beautifully written novel.
Fitzgerald is telling a tragic tale about the limits and capacities of the American Dream. In The Godfather, there is no moral compass and no limits beyond the immediate family. Gatsby kept a list of resolves as a young man that serves to illustrate his transformation. In The Godfather, the head of the Corleone family simply puts forth offers that no-one can refuse. Both men, Gatsby and Corleone, operate outside the law. Both are bootleggers and lawbreakers. In Gatsby’s world, there is an unspoken code that doesn’t allow vulgar new money to infiltrate the ranks. In The Godfather, the family unit is the only boundary that is found to be worthy of protection. Michael Corleone shields his wife and children when the bullets infiltrate the walls of his home. With Gatsby’s death, the violence is swept under the carpet and he is simply brushed aside.
In Gatsby’s world, there is the green light. In The Godfather, the light has been shattered. We identify with those who fashion their own destinies in The Godfather. Much as Lawrence of Arabia glowingly decreed a decade earlier. “Nothing is written” and as Americans, we know we must shape our destiny. This was the theme of The Godfather. In The Great Gatsby, the will is crushed, the memory is swept away and there is no justice or retribution. We are left as helpless bystanders without hope. With Gatsby, there is not the overwhelming feeling of power shown on screen in which we feel this new immigrants (the Corleone’s) need to shape destiny. That is not found in the film or in the book version of The Great Gatsby.(Gatsby is not a new immigrant, but he is infiltrating a different class)
Fitzgerald had it about right when he spoke of the rich. In the same sense, we have seen the abuses of power and money that have taken its toll on our society in the last decade. However, the films that endure are the ones that suggest hope, or at the very least, they project hopelessness in a manner we relate to as Americans and/or as a cog in the wheel of society, i.e., the middle class.
In Gatsby, we see a world of privilege, a glimpse of helplessness and a wave of despair. There is no “there” there for us. That may be the biggest problem. No matter what, it always turns out the same. The green light still shines brightly for no apparent reason. We need a reason to believe in the green light.
From the upcoming book “6 Degrees of Film” by M.L. Johnson
F. Scott Fitzgerald, as with all great writers in Hollywood, was part myth and part reality. He tried his luck several times in California, accompanied on his first trip by his equally colorful wife Zelda. Their attitude was condescending, to say the least, as Fitzgerald wrote, “I honestly believed that with no effort on my part I was a sort of magician with words.” Fitzgerald said he felt he “was doing Hollywood a favor.” Their tenure was short and ended badly, with Zelda writing of the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, “It’s rotten and awful and terrible and we left.”
On his second trip, Fitzgerald embarrassed himself at a party held by famed producer Irving Thalberg. Thereafter, Fitzgerald sought the ever-confident Thalberg’s approval. His need “to conquer Thalberg, to make the man recognize their essential kinship, was mysterious and powerful enough to override even the most contemptuous rebuffs.” All in all, Fitzgerald made three trips to Hollywood. During the third, in 1940, he died from a heart attack. He was forty-four.
Fitzgerald had just about finished his career by advertising many of his greatest shortcomings in the short story The Crack Up. Fitzgerald writes in the story, “As long past as 1930, I had a hunch that the talkies would make even the best-selling novelist as archaic as silent pictures.” After this appeared, a rather devastating article was printed in the New York Post describing Fitzgerald as “jittery, restless” and a novelist “whose twitching face … bore the pitiful expression of a cruelly beaten child.”
Of Hollywood, Fitzgerald wrote, “I hate the place like poison. I should consider it only as an emergency measure.” And yet Fitzgerald was implored by his agent to return. He wrote a (surprisingly) measured, thoughtful response, saying, “No single man with a serious literary reputation has made good there” (Bruccoli XXXX, pg).
Gore Vidal wrote that Fitzgerald was “enough of an artist or romantic egotist to want to create movies.” In “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star,” Vidal wrote:
Fitzgerald thought the way to conquer Hollywood might have been to know the enemy and study their weaknesses. He had sat for hours watching all of MGM’s hit movies from the last fifteen years; [collecting] hundreds of file cards listing tricks of the trade, noting the strengths and weaknesses of individual stars, itemizing well-tried plot lines.
Fitzgerald’s third trip to Hollywood began with the attitude that this time he was determined not to mess it up. But by that time, Fitzgerald was a known entity: a drinker, difficult to work with. Nevertheless, he had a champion among the studio elites in Edwin Knopf, who hired him for a Gary Cooper picture, Three Comrades.
Joe Mankiewicz and Fitzgerald sparred throughout the writing process. Fitzgerald railed against the director’s ttampering with the ending and cutting his dialogue and scenes. Yet, when the two scripts are compared, it’s very hard to see what all the fuss was about; they were actually very similar. Fitzgerald’s dialogue, if anything, was a bit less wordy and pretentious than the script with Mankiewicz’s alterations. Still The Three Comrades was a hit when it opened in 1938, the only script for which Fitzgerald was actually given credit.
I personally have been attacked as if I had spat on the American flag because it happened once that I rewrote some dialogue by F. Scott Fitzgerald. But indeed, it needed it! The actors … absolutely could not read the lines. It was very literary dialogue, novelistic dialogue that lacked all the qualities required for screen dialogue. The latter must be “spoken.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote very bad spoken dialogue.
Fitzgerald’s Final Days
After The Three Comrades, Fitzgerald’s contract was not renewed. He wrote, “Baby, am I glad to get out! I’ve hated the place since Monkeybitch [Mankiewicz] rewrote 3 Comrades,” to Harold Ober in the book As Ever.
He had lasted eighteen months and was exhausted—emotionally and physically. He’d given it his best shot and come up short. He had given lavishly of his most valuable obsessions, namely his superior drinking-problem heroes, beautiful doomed girls, and dreams that were either squandered or destroyed.
He’d hardly touched alcohol—a major feat for him—but in the end, Fitzgerald had failed to deliver the goods. In February 1939, he went freelance, the writer’s code that indicated “desperate for work.” He also went on a drinking spree with a twenty-five-year-old named Budd Schulberg,* which was described as his biggest, saddest, and most destructive spree.
Desperate for money, Fitzgerald had hit rock bottom. (At the time of Fitzgerald’s death, none of his major novels were even in print.) Darryl Zanuck gave him a chance in 1940 on a play adaptation. But once again, Fitzgerald was taken off the picture, and this time, Nunnally Johnson was called in to doctor the script. In November of that year, at Schwab’s drugstore, Fitzgerald had a heart attack and died a month later.
“Poor son of a bitch,” was the statement Dorothy Parker made at his funeral. The irony was not lost on her that few in Hollywood knew she was quoting directly from The Great Gatsby!