Baz Luhrmann recently announced that Jay Z will be producing and collaborating on the Soundtrack to Luhrmann's mysteriously delayed interpretation of "The Great Gatsby."
Grammy Award-winning musical artist Shawn “JAY Z” Carter has collaborated with writer/producer/director Baz Luhrmann on “The Great Gatsby”—in the capacity of Executive Producer—to bring the modern “Jazz Age” energy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original text to the big screen, procuring, performing, producing and arranging for a soundtrack featuring some of the world’s top musical artists
JAY Z’s contributions, woven amongst a score by long-time Luhrmann collaborator, composer Craig Armstrong, drive Gatsby’s champagne-infused dance floors, rumble in New York’s illegal speakeasies, and foreshadow the tragedy behind Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift for hope.” To articulate the film’s “1920s-Meets-Now” sound, JAY Z also comes to “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack as a performer and contributor of original music.
"The Great Gatsby" is an American classic that tells the tale of Nick Carraway and his introduction to high society via his relocation to the East Coast in 1922. Through venues of naivete, old money vs. new, prohibitionism and valor it also speaks of the decline of morality, and the rise of opulence, greed, and empty pleasure.
Luhrmann's "then meets now" epics have done well both critically and financially (although sometimes not simultaneously), and in previous instances the modernizations were fresh-eyed and innovative. But does Gatsby really need a modernization? Are the themes of division hidden under societies' parties not still wildly applicable today? I appreciate the visual style that's evidenced in the trailer but wonder if any further modernization will hinder or enhance the film's tone, or the novel's intent.
At the same time, what better genre to represent the film's themes than hip-hop? Often telling stories of money from nothing, dissent from within, and class warfare, these musicians and their visions are speaking the American Dream as it really was in the Jazz Age at the same time they show us how that Dream has been achieved by only a few almost 100 years later. The cynicism that Fitzgerald employed is still wholly relevant to the generations who are still reading his book, so why not encompass their music as well?
Luhrmann's interpretations have always been hit or miss for me, but taking contemporary artists to cover period music would have been way too easy, and I appreciate that that is simply not his style. We are meant to see Gatsby's parties as Nick would have - foreign, overwhelming, and debaucherous. Macy Gray covering "Carolina in the Morning" would not achieve the same effect as a disorienting, era-free piece of new music.
Luhrmann calls the collaboration with JAY Z “a credible and natural fit. Fitzgerald was a pioneer, famed and controversial for using the then-new and explosive sound called jazz in his novels and short stories—not just as decoration, but to actively tell story using the immediacy of pop culture. He coined the phrase ‘the Jazz Age.’ So, the question for me in approaching Gatsby was how to elicit from our audience the same level of excitement and pop-cultural immediacy toward the world that Fitzgerald did for his audience? And in our age, the energy of jazz is caught in the energy of hip-hop. Not only is JAY Z a great artist, full stop, but I had heard that he was a great collaborator. Leonardo and I were lucky enough to be present in a recording session over two years ago as JAY Z was recording ‘No Church in the Wild,’ and the collaboration grew from there.”
I suppose, that like Gatsby, I have an extraordinary gift for hope, and can see how this collaboration has the possibility to stun audiences. As long as my hope isn't as ill fated as the titular character's, Luhrmann's newest epic might very well turn out to be his best.