The Great Gatsby: Why the Harsh Criticism of Luhrmann’s Film is Undeserved

18 May

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Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ has received some harsh criticism over the past week. Perhaps the film could never meet the wild expectations that were set following the tremendous hype in the build up to its release. Moreover, as a contender for The Great American Novel, a film of such a highly regarded book is bound to take criticism. However, the scathing reviews are unfair and somewhat short sighted. Here’s why.

Firstly, many damning reviews agree upon the idea that Luhrmann sacrifices all the subtlety of the original book’ (1). This is true insofar as the novel’s implicit theme by which Gatsby is associated with corruption is made very explicit in the film. Moreover, some of the symbols are explained during the film in detail when there is no need to, such as the binary opposition between old money and new money. Having said this, I think the explicit nature of the film adds to its accessibility; particularly given the film’s international appeal.

Secondly, according to several reviews, Luhrmann ‘never gets round to serving the meat of the novel’ in his ‘shallow spectacle’ (1). This criticism demonstrates a misunderstanding of the text and of the director himself. Luhrmann’s kitsch style helps convey Gatsby’s tackiness and new money lifestyle that Fitzgerald intended to make evident; from his ‘circus wagon’ yellow car to his pink suit. As a ‘connoisseur of kitsch’ (1), Luhrmann excellently conveys the façade that Gatsby has built himself through his new money lifestyle, complementing the idea that Gatsby is unable to grasp the old money grail that is Daisy. Additionally, Luhrmann is very faithful to the text. The dialogue only occasionally strays from Fitzgerald’s novel, and all the key quotes are included. Luhrmann’s over the top, kitsch style, coupled with his faithfulness to the text, more than adequately serve the meat of the novel.

Another area of criticism has been the soundtrack to the film. One review states, ‘the musical choices here – by Luhrmann himself and rapper Jay-Z – don’t work. The incorporation of modern hip-hop undermines the sense of period and distances the audience.’ (2) This is true to an extent. The novel forebodes the Wall Street crash in 1929, as the immorality of a hedonistic society cannot survive beneath the omniscient eyes of God (or T J Eckleburg). In this sense, the modern music of the film does not capture the mood of the period. However, this overlooks the crucial point that ‘The Great Gatsby’ surpasses the realms of a finite period to reach a timeless position that may reflect any historical period, particularly today – a point which Luhrmann picks up on. ‘The Great Gatsby’ has re-emerged with great popularity in popular culture today. Theatre productions, radio programmes and now a film about Fitzgerald’s text demonstrate this. This is because ‘The Great Gatsby’ reflects today’s society. We live in an age of indulgence, materialism, selfishness, Facebook ‘likes’, social network sites, and prioritizing ourselves before others. Just as in 1920’s America, the cyclical signs of a generation destroying itself are evident, as well as the signs of a world crisis, echoed by the current financial crisis. Hip-hop is relevant today in being one of the most popular music genres, and through its lyrical debauchery about guns, women and money. To say the soundtrack does not fit the film shows a misunderstanding of ‘The Great Gatsby’. Moreover, this statement disregards fantastic tracks such as Lana del Rey’s ‘Young and Beautiful’, which aptly frames the film where the protagonist battles ceaselessly against the current of time to recreate the past (Gatsby: “Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can”).

One review states that Luhrmann is ‘tone-deaf’ (2) when dealing with tragedy. Another complete oversight. Luhrmann is the opposite of tone-deaf. He understands the tragedy of Gatsby and underlines it. Firstly, he includes frequent shots of space and the stars as a symbol of a supernatural, absolute being watching down on the events of the story. The omniscient eyes of T J Eckleberg reflect this as they watch over the barren wasteland of the immoral characters and Gatsby’s tragic downfall until his eventual death. Secondly, Luhrmann shows an understanding of the typical structure of tragedy. He recognises Aristotle’s concept of tragedy as being universal in which a supernatural power is essential to highlight the futility of mankind. The presence of the supernatural in famous tragedies throughout history supports this – for example King Lear, Blood Wedding, and Oedipus. So to state that Luhrmann does not adequately represent the tragedy is problematic.

Many strengths of the film are also overlooked in these negative reviews. Luhrmann makes the film his own with original structural elements. The framing device of Carraway narrating the story in a Doctor’s office shows the negative impact that the immorality of the ‘rotten crowd’ and the death of his friend Gatsby have had on him. Carraway also writes the novel in the film and adds the words ‘The Great’ above the original title of ‘Gatsby’ in the final scene. Through this, Luhrmann highlights a key theme in making the partiality and reliability of the narrator a more obvious question to the audience. Has his friendship with Gatsby affected the way in which the story has been told? Has anything been omitted or hyperbolized? Another strength of Luhrmann direction is Gatsby’s final scene. The protagonist rises out of the swimming pool towards the green light at end of Daisy’s pier, seeming ‘so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it’. But when he receives the fatal gunshot, he falls slowly backwards, away from his dream of Daisy that was always unattainable.

On a final note, the film has a great cast who successfully convey the qualities of the fictional characters that one would imagine Fitzgerald was trying to portray. Gatsby, Carraway, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan are all represented faithfully.

So do not be put off by people telling you that ‘The Great Gatsby’ has had bad reviews. See it for yourself and then decide. Don’t let the negative opinions of some mar your viewing of what I believe to be a fantastic film.

(1): http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/may/14/great-gatsby-review-cannes

(2): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/reviews/article-2325782/The-Great-Gatsby-review-Baz-Luhrmanns-film-shallow-spilt-champagne.html#ixzz2TUwNekCz

Communicating as a Student: How the Current Generation Compares to the Previous

23 Apr

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     I’ve recently returned to University after a long Easter break. I used my time off wisely; catching up with mates, watching House of Cards and becoming increasingly creative in my Snapchat videos. The latter got me thinking about the changing way in which students communicate. But it wasn’t until I got back to Uni that I observed the magnitude of this change. A mate said to me just the other day, “The last 5 times I’ve gone out, I’ve organized my plans by sending photos to people”. Now this may not surprise many people. After all, anyone who doesn’t have Whatsapp, iMessage, BBM, Snapchat, or all 4 is a bit socially inept. But the funny thing about this recent social evolution is that only one generation ago things were so, so different.

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     My Dad recounted how, in his University days (30 years back), he would have to wait in line once every three weeks for over an hour to reach the pay phone in order to contact his parents. By comparison, most students’ parents now have Skype and can check on their children anytime, anywhere. Relentlessly.

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     For the first few weeks of this year, my housemates and I experienced somewhat of a step back into the past when our Internet didn’t work. We all sat around building better friendships, sharing intimate stories, and playing Backgammon. It was awful. Conversation wore thin and the absence of online entertainment was harrowing.

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     In a few years time, I don’t doubt that the emerging generations will seriously question how our parents and even ourselves once lived without the internet and today’s technology – how it was actually possible to live without being able to tweet daily or consult Wikipedia for an essay. The idea that the previous generation communicated by letters rather than through email is even today quite a crazy thought. Likewise, it would not surprise me to hear our grandchildren tell their friends, “You know when my Grandad was younger they used to actually cut down trees and wrote on this stuff called paper!?” People will discuss the pre-internet age as if recalling an ancient historical period.

The Democratisation of Professional Photography

8 Apr

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Earlier today Newcastle United beat Fulham 1-0, with a last minute goal from Papiss Cissé. The above photograph of the striker celebrating his winning goal was tweeted by @taylorsfistpump after the match. It was subsequently shared through various online platforms, retweeted by numerous celebrities (including Gary Lineker & Cissé himself), and caused the original tweeter to later exclaim, “Since I uploaded that photo I have gained 1,000 followers.” Above all, however, was the fact that the Mail Online used this photo for their official match report – the image captured on a phone was chosen as the principal image for the most popular national news website in the UK over any photographs taken by professional cameramen who were working at the game. And I won’t be surprised to see the same image of Cissé used by numerous printed national newspapers on the shelves tomorrow morning!

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The photograph of Cissé was taken on an iPhone 5 and drew my attention because, not only am I a Newcastle fan and an admirer of superb action pictures, it got me thinking about the power of smartphones. They allow anyone to take amazing quality photographs and gain the same amount of traction through social media as a professional photographer would get for sitting on an uncomfortable plastic chair by the side of the pitch staring through the camera lens to hopefully obtain one perfect shot which will set him apart from the many other photographers scattered about pitch side – well, now he’s competing with thousands of other ‘professionals’ due to the democratisation of professional photography.

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Smartphones are damaging the profession of photography as a legitimate career but they’re giving everyone the chance to be a professional, which is no bad thing. In the past capturing a good photograph meant hard work and skill, but now with the quality of the camera on smartphones and the effects that one can apply to photos, such as Instagram filters or iPhoto editing, anyone can be a professional photographer.

Top 10 Must Have iPhone Apps of 2013

28 Mar

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 1. PhotoSynth/Cycloramic – anyone can be a photographer now with an iPhone. These 2 brilliant photo apps allow the user to create 360 degree panoramic pictures by stitching together a number of shots. The Cycloramic app has another cool feature only available for iPhone 5 – it automatically spins your phone to capture a 360 degree photo or video without the user having to touch it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brfr7–6ESc)!
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 2. Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest – obvious but essential.
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 3. Viber – this iOS app allows users to make free calls, send free texts and free photo messages to other Viber users. It’s similar to Skype, except you don’t have to awkwardly stare someone in the face!
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 4. Evernote – a very popular note-taking platform, which can be installed on all Apple devices and notes will automatically be synced between them. So you can make notes on your iPhone in class and when you get home they will already be available to read on your macbook. Other cool things include a ‘record audio’ function to add audio notes, and the ease with which one can add images, documents & web pages to notes.
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 5. Fancy – this is basically an app of cool things. Scroll down the never-ending list of amazing goods and beautiful places until your heart’s content. You will never be bored again!
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 6. Snapchat – the latest craze to be imported from the US. Send free photos & videos, which will disappear forever once viewed; far more amusing than texts! Plus you can edit the messages with text or multi-coloured free-hand pen.
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 7. Spotify – I highly recommend this app because it essentially means any free music, anywhere. I can listen to, create, and edit my playlists whilst sitting in a lecture or on the bus. Slight negative is that if you want the uninterrupted service then you will have to pay for Spotify Premium; but it’s very cheap and totally worth it!
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 8. MapMyRun – one of my favourite apps that records your workout, whether it is a run, road cycle, mountain bike or walk, by using GPS route mapping to show the exact speed, distance, and route that you have gone. If you’re looking to get in shape, this is the app to get!
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 9. Sleep Cycle – this is one recommended to be by many friends. It uses sensors in the iPhone to detect your movements as you sleep and creates a graph displaying how well you slept (e.g. ‘slept quality: 73%, time in bed: 8:09’). It also uses this information to wake you up with a soothing alarm at any time in a half an hour window of your choice when you are at your ‘lightest sleep’ so you wake up feeling fresh and ready for the day!
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 10. 8tracks – for those unfamiliar with this popular free music platform, 8tracks labels itself as ‘handcrafted internet radio’ – you can listen to great free music playlists tailored to your music taste. Works brilliantly as an iPhone app – recommended for use in the Gym or whilst travelling.
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The Future of the High Street Retailer: How Technology is Changing the Way We Shop

28 Mar

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            I read an article earlier today about an Australian shop that has decided to charge its customers $5 for “just looking” at their goods. The explanation given is that too many people are using the store as a ‘reference’ before going to buy the products elsewhere (http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/27/store-charging-patrons-5-for-just-looking-to-offset-losses-from-internet-shoppers/). I must admit that I am guilty of this and am sympathetic to the shop owner’s concern. The root of the problem? Technology. Not only does technology enable one to instantly compare prices between different high street retailers, it also means that the consumer can take a note or a photo of a product on their phone, scurry off home, and purchase it at a reduced price online – that is, of course, if they don’t use the internet on their phones to buy the cheaper product online whilst trying on the garment in the store changing room!
          Coincidentally, last night, during one of my entrepreneurial pub sessions, in which myself and a friend talk long into the night over what new ideas might make us rich, we discussed the future of the high street shop. My friend came up with an idea that rather than going into shops to try on clothes before purchasing, we could upload a photo online of our own bodies and drag different items of clothing onto the model of ourselves to see whether they look good. I was initially excited by this thought; I’d never have to leave my house again! But as my mind ran on, I imagined a future in which this was the case, and I began to view the idea with contempt. I saw a world where high street retailers had disappeared altogether as customers received all their purchases via a courier service to their front door. After all, how can shop owners’ compete when the consumer is able to purchase the same product but at a similar or cheaper price from the comfort of their own living rooms? As a consequence, the necessity for shop employees will become obsolete as the self-service machines take over; we will be less familiar with human interaction and more accustomed to the phrase “please collect your items from the bagging area”!
          This ties in with the increasing desire for efficiency, made possible by developments in technology. In the western world, the majority view technology as a revolutionary way of establishing a more efficient society. I would agree with this and I embrace technology with open arms. I am aware of the copious opportunities one can explore through technology, and would never wish it away. However, efficiency can often be confused with a necessity to get things done faster. As British poet Matthew Arnold put it, the “strange disease of modern life (is) its sick hurry”. Our time is apparently too precious to wait in shop queues because we must rush to get as much as we can done each day!
           I do not agree with the $5 charge for “just looking” at a store’s goods. However, I very much admire the sentiment and feel that high street shops must adopt radical ways to maintain customer loyalty, before we are all swallowed by the necessity of an ultra-efficient society and high street retailers disappear.

The Nature of American Politics and How it Compares with Britain

27 Mar

I’ve recently become addicted to the new Netflix series ‘House of Cards’. Kevin Spacey is fantastic as Chief Whip and the audience gets a great insight into the manipulative, harsh nature of politics inside the US government. This got me thinking about how politics in America differs from that of the UK; exemplified through the recent presidential election.

I went to stay with a friend who attends George Washington University in Washington DC during the Presidential Election, won by Barack Obama who has been re-elected for another 4 years. Washington DC is the capital and home to the White House, so inevitably politics is a popular topic of conversation. However, I live in DC’s British equivalent London, and was taken aback by the amount of people from every age group who were politically charged and held a resilient political stance towards the election. Moreover, I was surprised by the number of students with convincing arguments for voting either Republican or Democrat – I rarely partake in political discussions, governmental issues don’t seem to be a particular priority to students in the UK.

The atmosphere for the election was akin to a sports fixture, Romney vs. Obama – support was passionate and, at times, aggressive, with antagonistic gloating after the results came through. You might be thinking that the hyperbolic, competitive nature of US politics should be expected in a nation where over the top sports rhetoric and public displays of emotion are omnipresent in society. But, for me, it seemed that the true meaning of democracy was in effect in the USA during this election battle – getting heavily involved in political discussions and providing reason, even if erroneous, to support your decision for Obama or Romney. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that US politics are more polarised whereas in the UK there is little difference between the main political parties, but it seemed that the majority of American voters I came across were profoundly concerned with the outcome of their presidential candidate. The strong emphasis by both parties to ‘Get Out The Vote’ certainly had a positive effect on the nation, as everyone was fired up and keen to vote as if their individual ballot would change the course of the whole race, even outside the key battleground regions dubbed ‘swing-states’.  

In the UK, however, the US election was viewed negatively; perhaps related to a subconscious need to feel superior to our friends across the pond by playing down the credibility of their presidential candidates. Throughout social media in Britain, Mitt Romney was being slammed by everyone – Facebook was strewn with videos of Mitt Romney ‘debating himself’ or with his controversial views towards same-sex marriage. Leeds Student writer, John Briggs, echoed this by stating, ‘Obama will almost certainly win, because who in their right mind would vote for a man like Mitt Romney?’ Clive Martin  describes in his Vice article, 5 Things You Won’t Have To Endure Now Obama’s Back, that Americans end up as ‘easy fodder for smug Oxbridge comics to sneer at on QI’ – they may be more powerful than us but they’re fat, all eat Twinkies and accidentally shoot each other in the face occasionally.

So what now? The nation has shifted significantly towards the right and there is a marked negative difference in unified support for the President compared to four years ago.

Hopefully, America is on the path to a peaceful, fairer, and more prosperous future. However, the country is divided and, with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, it is unlikely that Obama will be able to implement any drastic changes. The only thing that is certain is that the inclusive, in-your-face, competitive nature of American politics has got everyone in the US involved in the future of their nation – and I think we should follow their example.

The Future of Higher Education: Technology is Finally Poised to Disrupt How People Learn

27 Mar

The education systems of the UK and US have been under scrutiny in the current economic climate. The recent rise in University fees in Britain sparked angry protest that higher education is becoming more elitist. Forbes recently branded the US education system out-dated and inefficient. But what can be done? For me, it is a question of developing higher education and changing the approach towards University study.

 This development is materialising thanks to technology and the tools available online. The emergence of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) will be the key to a successful education reform. These are online courses open to anyone via the Internet, which are generally free and have large-scale participation. MOOCs’ highlight the out-dated, current structure of University and the need for change. After all, why would I go to a lecture if I can watch it for free online from the comfort of my own desk? I could pause or rewind it, and wouldn’t miss any information if I needed to take a break.  

Moreover, MOOCs’ are taught by some of the most inspirational and knowledgeable people in the world. For example, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor and co-inventor of Google’s self-driving car, pioneered the creation of the rapidly growing online education platform ‘Udacity’, in which he teaches several interactive courses for free. In the UK there are many examples of educators from top Universities providing MOOCs to anyone, anywhere – a popular online photography course at Coventry University called ‘#phonar’ attracted as many as 35, 000 students per week in 2012. Similarly, professors from the University of Edinburgh and the University of London provide free lectures on another increasingly popular education website, ‘Coursera.org’.

Some would say that there have been similar attempts to disrupt the current structure of education previously and therefore why should now be different. However, for the disruption to be successful, several things were needed that until this decade hadn’t materialized: widespread broadband, low content costs, a new digital generation, and rapidly proliferating mobile devices. For these reasons we must take the current developments in online education seriously. This was exemplified at the end of last year when Salman Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, the most popular free educational organisation to emerge recently, adorned the front cover of Forbes’ December 2012 issue. The subsequent article by Michael Noer entitled, ‘One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education’ discusses the growing success of the democratisation of education in the US.

Of course one must take into account the live learning environment that lectures at University provide. However, if we reduce the passive, textbook-style learning of lectures and learn this information through MOOCs, we can replace lectures with more seminars and tutorials. Through this, the live learning environment becomes not just more personal, but more creative and productive.

I am not saying we should get rid of lectures because there are many advantages to them. You have a dedicated period to concentrate on work without any Facebook-esque distractions. I’m sure many students would find it difficult to motivate themselves if left to their own devices with online courses. Having said this, MOOCs would separate those who aren’t sufficiently interested in learning and those passionate about acquiring knowledge – employers would easily be able to choose the more motivated, ambitious candidate.

MOOCs’ taught by teachers at the top of their academic field have to and will be upheld in the same academic regard to actual University study in the near future. There is evidence of this taking place in 2013; Sebastian Thrun recently announced that Udacity has formed a partnership with San Jose State University to pilot three courses available purely online for college credit.  

By embracing the technologies available to develop the current education system, we can disrupt the out-dated, inefficient nature of higher education evident today. Through MOOCs’, anyone can take a class of University quality in any subject area whenever and wherever they please.