It’s sad. I watch Boardwalk Empire every Tuesday or Wednesday (I never watch it live, because Breaking Bad and the NFL dominate my Sunday evening, and I can’t bother to pay for HBO, yet) and I’m mesmerized by the storytelling, the acting, and the writing… but, it never gets my blood curdling in a truly visceral way, unless it’s the final scene of Season 3 where Richard Harrow busts into the whorehouse and kills, like, 30 bad guys. Or, the end of Season 2, where Nucky Thompson offs his former sidekick Jimmy Darmody. Apparently, creator Terence Winter got his second chance to kill ‘Christopher’ from The Sopranos as early as everyone thought he would the first time around.
I like Boardwalk because I’m supposed to – and because it’s a damn fine show – and I’ve convinced myself I enjoy it, so now I do.
But, in a flipped-over weird way, I watched The Great Gatsby in May and enjoyed it for every reason literary loyalists aren’t supposed to. While enjoying it – the glitz, the glamour, and the HD-ification of The Great American novel – and all its indulgences, I also couldn’t help but notice its failings or, at the very least, the moments and reasons I knew it would be hated critically.
I realized right then and there, the only possible solution for either Boardwalk or Gatsby would have been for the two of them to have a baby, but it was already too late and Martin Scorsese – who’s an executive producer for Boardwalk in the same way Wahlberg’s an exec for Entourage – already played that Gatsby card in the Season 5 finale of said Wahlberg show.
(Remember when Vinny was supposed to play Nick Carraway? Didn’t it seem a little convenient at the time? Well, Tobey Maguire needed that role, too, but he drew Baz Luhrmann, not the director of Raging Bull.)
Gatsby failed for the same reasons it’s so loved.
People get confused by the book, mostly because they haven’t read it. It’s a tragedy and a dark comedy, not a GQ fashion spread. It’s meant to be depressing – to let you know that money and wealth and the desperate pursuit of a woman (or man) who only loves those two things will leave you with nothing but a funeral unattended by nobody but your one close friend – but it leaves the exact opposite impression. Instead, people see the word Gatsby and they think of the fancy linen shirts and the yellow Rolls.
Luhrmann knew this, but it didn’t matter what he did or how he did it, because people would only see what they wanted to see. They would see Moulin Rouge, no matter the title and no matter the era. As soon as they saw the trailers and the Jay-Z/Lana Del Rey/Jack White/Florence and the Machine soundtrack, they knew they were in for a theme park ride, not a carefully constructed tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.
(Speaking of Luhrmann, Gatsby was his second film with Leonardo DiCaprio, their first being Romeo & Juliet, and I find that photo at the top to be pretty appropriate. Everyone in that photo – including Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire – are searching for the role of their careers, maybe the one they’ve always wanted. Daisy and Nick are literary royalty, but I couldn’t help feel Leo was just swinging by. Just playing Gatsby because he could. Like he just rolled in with nicer clothes and a financially sound future and he just said, “I’m Leo”, then dropped the mic and walked off stage. It wasn’t a star-making role for him like it was for Mulligan, or a career-reviver like it could have been for Maguire. It was just another role, and another big one.)
Still, the movie could have been darker. It could have been a real tale – a true re-imagining – and it could have been much, much better for everyone. It needed to be patient. It never deserved to be told in such a short amount of time, even if the book is pretty darn short.
Gatsby should have been what Boardwalk Empire is, and Boardwalk could use a shot of adrenaline or ecstasy.
The show is so perfect because it completely strips the 1920’s of all its rumours of love and lemon bleach. A few people get rich off booze, but it’s pretty darn dangerous to try. You barely see Wall Street. You barely see the real rich – except for that one fool in Season 1 who fell for Charles Ponzi’s Ponzi Scheme.
In Boardwalk Empire, the majority of the players don’t even know they’re supposed to be having the time of their lives. They don’t know this is the best it will ever get. They have no idea a Depression is coming full-bore right around the corner.
Boardwalk is humbling, which makes it difficult to always enjoy – like Schindler’s List or Mystic River.
But, Gatsby was The Dukes of Hazzard. It was the original Miami Vice. It was popcorn and neon lights, and it deserved a better fate.
Then again, most movies – and TV shows – do.