Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Where Does Gatsby Live?

West Egg.
In a mansion designed to look old, but is brand spanking new.  Isn't that the way of the noveau riche, to want  modern conveniences hiding behind a classical facade, making it appear as if they have lived in wealth forever?  And when someone comments upon the house they'd love to say "oh this old thing? Been in the family for ages."
Gatsby's house is described as  "a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden."

The author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, uses his descriptions of the 3 houses of the protagonists (Gatsby, Nick, and Tom an Daisy) to personify those that dwell within.

Tom and Daisy live in a Colonial-style mansion that has a quaint yet luxurious feel to it, a place that you would assume a happy family dwells (much like the appearance of Tom and Daisy's ideal relationship that is actually an unhappy sham). Described as a "cheerful red and white Georgian colonial mansion", the house that inspired Fitzgerald for the Buchanan residence stood.
Built in 1902 on Sands Point, Long Island, this beauty is now crumbling and is costly to maintain, and as no one would put up the $30 million they wanted for it, they're going to demolish it. 
This was the sprawling, dignified manor that had the green light at the end of the dock that Gatsby would gaze at.
Isn't it heartbreaking to know what it once was--the setting for lavish parties hosting the Marx brothers and Winston Churchill--and see it being taken down brick by brick?  I'm sure Fitzgerald would have something clever and metaphorical to say about a once fine thing being worn down and finally collapsed under its own grand weight.

This is what is looks like today:

I don't know what is more sad-- that you can see precisely where the house was, or that the water once washing up on the beach so close to the house has receded....
All that remains is the swimming pool.

Nick's house is the opposite of both Gatsby's and the Buchanan's; he lives in a modest bungalow.

It is in between 2 mansions (Gatsby's and another) and it reminds me of when developers tear up most of a neighborhood to build new monstrosities, but there is always the one house or two that lingers and looks so small, shabby, and out of place; Nick's place in the book is described as a "weather-beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month." It is tucked away and sits there quietly, just like Nick-- the observer in the story that acts as narrator.

It is always fascinating to see how people interpret and depict Gatsby's house.
In the novel it is clear that is place is a ridiculously large castle, flashy and stupendous, just like him.
In the 1974 film rendition, 2 houses, both Gilded Age mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, were used.
The house was quite the backdrop in this movie, and they contrasted it quite a bit with Nick's "eye sore" of a house next door.

Both houses used have heavy Greek and French influences (and remind me of Versailles).  Here, Gatsby's house is depicted as grandiose and clean (all that white marble) which I see as imagery referring to him trying to get a clean slate if you will, to overcome his past.
It is an interesting choice, but I personally don't see the Jay Gatsby I know from the book picking a place like this.  The roof is too flat.

The house used for the 2000 Gatsby is in Montreal, Quebec, but I can't find any pictures of it!
I felt that the house in that rendition was not emphasized as much (they focused more on the characters and used rather simple sets), but as it is in Montreal, you once again feel the French architectural influence.

So both of these earlier films of Gatsby kind of capture the French influence that Fitzgerald described, but not as wholeheartedly and emphatically as in the novel (where the house is so omnipresent and influential it is practically a character itself, particularly in the party scenes).
To understand where Fitzgerald was coming from, we need to grasp his inspiration for the house, which is debatable.  Some believe it was Oheka Castle (pictured right).
Oheka was used as inspiration for the new Great Gatsby movie, particularly the grounds--but more on that in a minute.

Although Oheka Castle is undeniably beautiful and no doubt could serve as home to the extravagant James Gatz, I think the true inspiration behind FItzgerald's tale was Alva Vanderbilt's Beacon Towers on Long Island.
This castle was built circa 1917, overlooking the Long Island Sound (below).

In the late 1920s, the famous (or infamous) William Randolph Hearst bought it and made it even more opulent ! Unfortunately, it was demolished in the early 1940s (what a short life span for a castle like that).
Talk about Gothic fantasy! This place had more than 160 rooms, swimming pool, tennis courts, and it was right on the beach (like Gatsby's place, naturally).

Shall we compare it to some of Fitzgerald's description of Gatsby's house?
This mansion too has "a tower to one side" and the extensive grounds that he wrote of.

He beautifully described the house in this passage:
"In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam..."

So onto the really exciting matter here---
How are they going to depict the mansion in the new Great Gatsby being released this week???
Based on the shots from the trailer, it is a beauty more excessive and towering than any of the previous films have portrayed.

They have clearly made everything BIGGER and more stylized for this new version.  The house you see in the trailer (the polo player galloping up to) is Tom and Daisy's colonial Georgian.

For Gatsby's house, the interior and grounds were entirely built from scratch for this movie set, and the exterior shots are a conglomeration of St. Patrick's Seminary in Sydney, and CG.

So here is St. Patrick's, an old Gothic college...

And then they added turrets with computer graphics and it looks otherworldly.

I particularly love the pool as well.  Being a critical element of the novel, I haven't been a big fan of the way the pool was depicted so simply and offhandedly in the other films.
Here it is a centerpiece and captures the lavishness of Gatsby the man, who never swims in it, except for that one day before they drain it, when he is killed.
I love his initials being at the center of the very Art Deco tile, and the vivid turquoise of it.

It seems that the rest of Gatsby's house is done very Art Deco as well, with dark shining wood and clean crisp lines.
Much of the design is very accurately turn-of-the-century style with a lot of gold filigree and crystal chandeliers.
It is clear he is new money and although the exterior is more classical, the inside is all extremely modern (for the 1920s), which contrasts heavily with Nick's simplistic, old Long Island vibe, and Daisy and Tom's classic old money tone.

The Great Gatsby captured the insatiable opulence of its age, but compared with the ludicrous luxury (and faux wealth) of today, a lot of people don't get it.  All they know about the story is some guy that throws crazy parties and gets popped in the end.
So I'm glad Baz Luhrmann brought it to this explosive, magnified scale to compete with modern society and hammer it into their heads that Gatsby still applies and is a microcosm of our world today.

The contemporary soundtrack should help in that vein as well.

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