Moulin Rouge vs. The Great Gatsby, in musical terms

moulin rougeAbout a week ago (or so), Cassie and I watched Moulin Rouge, a strange, incredibly unique stage-like story, entirely full of covers of popular songs from the 70s, 80s, 90s. It had a lot of heart and was entertaining above all else.

Today, on a bus ride back from Minneapolis (where I went this weekend, which was fun except for the Husker game!), The Great Gatsby, the new one, was playing. Which was… interesting.

In the first five minutes of Gatsby, we’re transported inside one of the wild parties, which you would expect to have some vaguely familiar music playing in the background! Jazz, big band, swing, anything remotely 1900-1940s would have been appropriate for a roaring twenties movie.

Nope. The first song is Jay-Z. Jay-Z.

In fact, the entire movie soundtrack (or at least everything I remember) is modern rap and hip-hop songs. Which is really really jarring. This is where the comparison comes in. Where Moulin Rouge is so overly surreal, every song they sing feels like a stage performer winking at the audience. Where Gatsby is so completely a “stereotypical” early-1900s movie, the completely blatant modern music kills the mood and prevents the movie itself from being a classic in any sense.

I always liked The Great Gatsby, the book. Or at least, I liked the story, until I had to analyze it to death in my English class. After that I fell out of touch with it, but here I am some years later, and I was willing to listen again. I like the story. It’s interesting and wild and coincidental and fun.

gatsby character mapAnd truth be told, the rest of the movie does well. Tobey Maguire, who is kind of a dork, is the main character, who is…kind of a dork. Leonardo DiCaprio, who is a good actor and a good portrayer of semi-villains, is Gatsby, who is both of those things. The fact that Leonardo delivers a more convincing performance than Tobey is itself reflective of the two characters in the movie. Which I really liked. (This is similar to John Travolta’s performance in Pulp Fiction, where the actor himself brings power to a role.)

Bottom line, Gatsby has exactly one surprise, and it ruins quite a bit, but everything around that isn’t a bad show. Also Moulin Rouge is a menagerie of art, and worth a watching.

[an edit: something that was brought up later was that if Gatsby wanted to use modern music, it really ought to have gone whole hog and just been a modern remake, akin to Romeo + Juliet (which was a very weird movie). It wasn’t until I was looking up more information about these three films that I realized, of course they made me think of each other: they’re all directed by Baz Luhrmann. What an interesting guy.]

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