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Immersed in Movies: Designer Catherine Martin Talks 'Gatsby's' 3-D Glide and Lasting Appeal (TRAILER)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood May 10, 2013 at 2:35PM

Like him or not, there's no denying that Baz Lurhmann is a talented showman who knows how to dazzle and get under our skin. With "The Great Gatsby," he's managed to capture the poetic spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald like no other prior movie adaptation. And the secret was 3-D. In fact, like "Avatar," "Hugo," and "Life of Pi," "The Great Gatsby" is a movie about 3-D.
'The Great Gatsby'
'The Great Gatsby'

Like her husband, Luhrmann, Martin believes costumes are merely an extension of the sets. "When you think about 30% of a film being close-ups, it's all about what's going on around the actors, and so to me sets and costumes are indivisible: they create a synthesis which allows you to tell the story as effectively as you can. It's like a wave that never seems to be coming until it's almost on top of you and then it's far too big for you to ride. Working for an ambitious visualist like Baz is high-stakes. It's difficult but there are a lot of resources for the art department and costume department because Baz cares about what the actors need in terms of clothes and props and environment. He needs the environment as well to get into the feeling of the world."

But Martin had difficulty getting into Daisy at first, bred to be a hothouse flower and a vivacious trophy wife. "You realize that Daisy is not a fool and understands that this life is completely empty. But there is nothing else. She's a careless person because she has no other skills; she has not been prepared to live a life other than a gilded bird in a cage."

For the designer, the nervous reunion between Gatsby and Daisy over tea at Nick's cottage is her favorite moment but was also the most nerve wracking. That's because it was the first scene they shot."Are there too many flowers? Are there not enough? Is the set too small? Is this lavender dress going to work?"

It's an uncomfortable romantic triangle and provides Gatsby's most vulnerable moment when he reverts to being a scared child again. "I don't think he ever grows up -- he's trapped in his childish hope," Martin offers. "He's never gone beyond who he was. Someone said something very intelligent the other day: 'Gatsby is the result of his 17-year-old imagination.'"

But making the movie has made Martin see her own Gatsby-like qualities in the sense that she too believes in the green light. "That's one of the things that draws me to the story and possibly Baz too," she reveals."Both of us are romantics in that late 18th century, early 19th century way, which is we love the adventure of the story, the ephemeral, insane idea becoming a reality in moviemaking or anything. And we do believe in optimism and hope and in celebrating the human condition. It's the green light that keeps you going and keeps you moving forward because it's an unattainable romantic goal."

And therein lies the lasting appeal of "Gatsby."

This article is related to: The Great Gatsby, Immersed In Movies, Baz Luhrmann, Awards

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.