Theo Kalomirakis: Classics, Cannes & the Not-So-Great “Gatsby”
The restored print of the ’60s epic Cleopatra that was recently screened at New York’s Walter Reed Theater in Lincoln Center is scheduled to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, which starts today, May 15. When it opened in 1963, Cleopatra got an avalanche of press because of the romance between its stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and the runaway costs of producing it. But it was a colossal failure at the box office and it nearly bankrupted its studio, 20th Century Fox.
Seeing the movie today, one is impressed by the spectacle and the sheer size of the production. You can see in every frame the fortune that was spent making it. What is just as impressive is seeing a real cast of thousands versus computer-generated crowd scenes. There is no way that such spectacle can be recreated today without spending a billion dollars. The sheer impact of Cleopatra’s entry into Rome needs to be seen to be believed. The Cannes audience is in for a treat.
As I read in a report from Cannes my friend Robert Hallam of Creation Seating sent me, there are more treats in store for aficionados of classic movies. The restored version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo is also scheduled to be screened and so is Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor—in 3-D no less!
The festival’s opening attraction is Buz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which just opened in New York and which I saw over the weekend. I was prepared to like it. Others find Luhrmann’s hyperkinetic approach to directing offensive. I find it appealingly different. At a time when the style of most directors working in Hollywood is homogenized and bland, it is refreshing to see someone who is unafraid to flaunt his flair for directing whether the subject matter warrants it or not. For Scott F. Fitzgerald’s purists (and I am not one of them), Lurhmann’s style may be seen as a betrayal of the author’s spirit. However, nobody can argue with how vividly he recreates the excesses and the anything-goes spirit of the 1920s.
Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy The Great Gatsby for a reason that had nothing to do with the director or the movie itself. It was the quality of the digital presentation that put me off. I saw the movie in 3-D at BAM Cinemateck in Brooklyn. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. In an era when we are spoiled seeing movies on Blu-ray in spectacular sharpness and color fidelity, The Great Gatsby looked bland and fuzzy on the big screen. There was no contrast whatsoever and every object that was supposed to be black was a washed-out grey.
I don’t go out to the movies very often, but this is the third time in the last six months that I had to leave a screening halfway through because of how insufferably bad the projection was. It happened with the Life of Pi, it happened with The Hobbit, and now it happened again with The Great Gatsby. Memo to myself: Unless it is a 35mm presentation, do not bother going out to see a movie in digital—at least in my neighborhood theater. Wait until the movie comes out on Blu-ray and enjoy it in the glory that is home theater.