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'The Great Gatsby' Launches Cannes, Luhrmann Reveals Wrangling with Warners

Thompson on Hollywood By Brian Brooks | Thompson on Hollywood May 15, 2013 at 11:58AM

After a solid opening in wide release Stateside, grossing over $50 million in over 3,500 theaters, Baz Luhrmann took his "The Great Gatsby" on the road to officially open the Cannes Film Festival. It is the first film in recent memory to open what is arguably the world's most important film event after a theatrical roll out in the U.S., but judging by the rush of press for the morning screening here and the pile-up to get into the press conference afterwards, enthusiasm for the film has only grown.
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Leonardo DiCaprio in Cannes
Leonardo DiCaprio in Cannes

One potential critic he apparently did win over was a granddaughter of Fitzgerald himself. Without revealing her name, Luhrmann said that a "regal woman" had come out of the crowd at the film's U.S. premiere saying she had come from Vermont to "see what you've done with my grandfather's book." Luhrmann said he immediately "went cold," but was quickly relieved. "I think Scott would be proud of this film," Luhrmann quoted her as saying, using an accent that faintly resembled Katherine Hepburn. He also noted that she said she "loved the music."

Rapper/hip hop artist Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter provided tracks for the film and served as an executive producer. If there was one particular point that Luhrmann wanted to get across today it was that he strongly feels Fitzgerald intended "The Great Gatsby" to be as modern and of the day as possible, including what at the time was the new jazz, which resulted in criticism at that time. "He wanted [the novel] to be right here, right now," said Luhrmann. "So I wanted hip hop in [the film] because that's right here, right now."

Leonardo DiCaprio picked up on the relevance theme, saying Gatsby is a story that resonates nearly 90 years after its publication. "In the U.S., 'The Great Gatsby' is essential reading and I remember picking up the novel as a youth and being entertained, but not grabbing the existential power Fitzgerald had," said DiCaprio. "It took on a great new meaning when I read it again years later. What's great about 'Gatsby' is what's edited out and left to interpretation, and that was incredibly important to us because you have to be much more specific in a movie."

Luhrmann hailed DiCaprio, who plays the title character, as a "great detective" in finding the "hidden kernels of Jay Gatsby" and for bringing the character into the present day. "Gatsby is the American 'Hamlet'. He's always relevant at the right time." Luhrmann appeared to acknowledge the film's mixed reaction from critics and insiders here in Cannes, closing out the press conference expressing a collective sigh of relief. "It was a very nervous weekend for all of us and we're just very grateful to the audience."

Next up: Will Luhrmann outdo his unforgettable Cannes opening night bash for "Moulin Rouge"?

This article is related to: The Great Gatsby, Cannes Film Festival, Leonardo DiCaprio, Baz Luhrmann


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.