I shall need another two deep readings of the book to armour myself completely against the grievances I expect the movie will do to it.
I think Gatsby is the Great American Novel, even though it slipped out of fashion and out of print for decades (like Moby Dick and lots of Faulkner), and even though its author, no matter his achievement, is somehow assuredly not the Great American Novelist. The Great American Novel never makes for the Great American Movie. The latter rarely derives from the former. The Godfather was based on a pulp smash, Vertigo on a Gallic-noir potboiler, and Casablanca was written by committee.
There is no best movie from a Scott Fitzgerald novel. There was the sumptuous but leaden 1974 adaptation with the Coppola screenplay; the unfinished The Last Tycoon became the utterly inert 1976 swansong of a fading Elia Kazan; Tender Is The Night was filmed fairly horribly in 1962, with Jason Robards, who at least was right for the drinking bits and Jennifer Jones, under the limp direction of Henry King (his last movie, too; does Fitzgerald castrate directors?). The 1949 Gatsby is ineptly cast: Betty Field, incredibly, replaced the luminous Gene Tierney as Daisy Buchanan.
You may film the masterpieces of American literature and expect Oscars to flow, but more likely you'll get Martin Ritt's incoherent 1959 version of Faulkner's The Sound And The Fury, starring a hirsute Yul Brynner. The best Hemingway adaptation, Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point (1950), was adapted from his worst novel, To Have And Have Not, which had been filmed six years earlier after director Howard Hawks dared Hemingway to name "the worst piece of shit you ever wrote" and wagered he could make it a hit movie (he won).
But there's no more reason to film Gatsby again than there is to film any of the masterpieces of American literature of 1925. Do we need hip-hop versions of Manhattan Transfer or An American Tragedy? The great themes of Gatsby are so quintessentially American that they recur endlessly throughout the nation's art anyway: Don Draper, with his occluded origins, unconquerable solitude and loveless prosperity, is Gatsby 1968; Sunset Boulevard grants Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis precisely the same delusions about recovering the past as are shared by Gatsby and Carraway; and the criminal origin of respectable fortunes is a time-worn narrative trope (The Godfather again). The Great Gatsby's core emotions – loneliness, emptiness, misplaced nostalgia – are the core American emotions; you can never get out from under them.
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