BBC Video // 2013 // 49 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 18th, 2013
Give this a pass, old sport.
Remember the first time you read The Great Gatsby? Remember your middle school (or high school, or college) teacher chomping at the bit to give you their over-thought analysis of the material and its literary...and social...and personal...and cosmic...and factual...and fictional significance? Well, sit right down and get ready to revisit those pre-exam nightmare lectures as the BBC (in a clear commercial cash grab to tie in with Baz Luhrmann's recent adaptation of "The Great American Novel") offers up Midnight in Manhattan, a series of scholarly recollections -- and a few personal anecdotes -- on the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald's insanely popular third novel and the interpretative brouhaha that continues to surround it.
Actually an episode of the popular UK series Omnibus, we are treated to some stories by the alcoholic author's former secretary (looking spry in her late 80s) as well as his granddaughter. But the majority of this minor 42 minute overview is taken up with writers such as Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City), George Plimpton (Paper Lion), Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and the late, great Christopher Hitchens, among others extolling the virtues, and the variables, in approaching Fitzgerald's life and his work.
We don't learn anything new. His former assistant discusses his raging alcoholism. His granddaughter explains the doomed relationship with the crazy Zelda. His college career is given another once over, while his friendship with Hemingway (which becomes the basis for the DVDs only bonus content) is discussed. In between, we get examinations of the self-made man, old wealth vs. new money, the Jazz age anxieties and that social order chestnut-how Prohibition didn't work. We also experience expressionistic recreations of some of the book's key moments (the green light, the infamous optometrist's "eyes") while talking heads do what they do best.
Of course, it's great to see dead icons like Hitchens and Thompson, but they are frequently overshadowed by those who have made their career out of caring about Fitzgerald. Their uncompromising praise grows a bit weary after a while. Of course, in a scant three-quarters of an hour no one expects depth, but without it, The Great Gatsby: Midnight in Manhattan has the feel of a failed PR move, a tired tie-in that can be dragged out thanks to a crazed Australian auteur and his desire to tackle a known piece of classic literature.
As for the disc, the image looks very good. It's anamorphic, and lacking any real defects. Since the project dates from 2000, there is a definitely digital feel to everything. As for the sound, the simple Dolby Digital Stereo mix is effective, although less than engaging. We can hear everyone okay, but the desire by the makers to mimic the speakeasy feel with various ambient noises, nods, and scoring cues can grow tiresome (this usually happens in the narration, not when the important people speak).
Finally, the sole piece of added content is a BBC production of the play Private Affairs: A Dream of Living. Taken from a 1975 broadcast and starring David Hemmings (Blow-up) as Fitzgerald, Annie Lambert (Space: 1999) as Zelda, and Charles Keating (Brideshead Revisited) as Hemingway, it shows how the authors' relationship influenced Gatsby's creation. It's interesting, but not inherently worthwhile. It's fiction, after all. Visually, it looks its age. The video is faded and the look overly soft, especially by DVD standards and the sound has its locational mic issues. Still, it's interesting.
For the most part, The Great Gatsby: Midnight in Manhattan has nothing truly revelatory to offer to those who are already familiar with the Fitzgerald mythos. Newbies may enjoy it. All others should steer clear, like a boat against the current.
Guilty. Ten years out of date and definitely not linked to the new Baz
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 49 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: Omnibus
* IMDb: Private Affairs: A Dream of Living