Whether you love or hate director Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic spectacle, there’s no arguing that the man knows how to create buzz around stories and topics that usually never find mainstream audiences. From Romeo + Juliet to Moulin Rouge!, Luhrmann got younger audiences interested in what Hollywood considers “moldy” genres like Shakespeare adaptations and musicals with his in-your-face visual aesthetic and his now signature use of contemporary music and mash-ups in period stories.
The Australian showman is at it again with his glittering adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ode to Roaring '20s excess, The Great Gatsby. Starring Leo DiCaprio as wealthy Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as his forbidden romantic muse Daisy Buchanan, Luhrmann’s Gatsby is attempting to transform the high school required reading novel back into the pulsing cautionary tale that places today’s audiences into the glory and glamour of the day. Whether you like the film or not, there’s still a strong argument in favor of what Luhrmann is always attempting through his work: bridging the generation gap between artistic mediums and time periods so contemporary audiences see older works in a new light. That’s a good thing, right?
The Great Gatsby got us thinking about a few other literary classics that could do with some Luhrmann razzle-dazzle and perhaps inspire the director’s “to do” list…
George Orwell’s classic dystopian look at a future society that takes away our basic human rights and privacies via Big Brother is more relevant than ever some 60 years after its original publication. While the book can be a dry read at times, there’s so much that can be adapted dynamically through visuals… Luhrmann’s forte. Imagine that classic “1984” Apple commercial and then think about how much stranger, disturbing and compelling it could be in long form with Luhrmann’s brain.
East of Eden
John Steinbeck’s Cain and Able-esque tale of two Salinas Valley family’s intertwined destinies is chock-full of the kinds of themes Luhrmann loves: familial dysfunction, secrets, grandiose tragedy, sex and love. Fifty-eight years later, James Dean is still synonymous with the celluloid version of tortured Cal Trask, and as great as he was, we think this story could use a contemporary shakeout. Luhrmann knows how to wrestle all of the drama out of even small stories (boy meets girl, especially) and East of Eden features some terrific surprising twists he would milk for all their worth.
Luhrmann definitely needs to go back to the Shakespeare well and why not with the Scottish play? Yes, it’s not the most romantic of the Bard’s catalog but it’s got ambition, sex, manipulation and murder – everything you need to go big and bold visually. We envision an operatic twist on the story with big pop musical numbers (Queen, .fun, etc…) not unlike what Baz did for Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! framing Macbeth’s path to madness.
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Forget the cheese of 50 Shades of Grey and go back to the master - D. H. Lawrence – and his scandalous 1928 novel about an upper-class married woman who engages in an explicit affair with a working-class gamekeeper. If there’s something Luhrmann knows how to translate on-screen, it’s passion. Frankly all of his films are dripping with it, and Lady Chatterley's Lover plays right to his sweet spot. Just imagining who he might cast as lovers Constance and Oliver gets us infinitely more excited than the fan-casting for that soccer-mom fan-fiction adaptation.
War and Peace
Mention Leo Tolstoy’s epically long Russian masterpiece and most people will roll their eyes and admit they never finished it. But Baz considers the 1968 Soviet film adaptation of the novel one of his all-time favorite films. The story recounts the lives of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys during the French invasion of Russia and it’s got big wars, big costumes, big loves and big deceit. What better auteur to rework such a story perceived as overlong and boring into something cinematic, grand and boisterous?
Alice in Wonderland
We know Tim Burton just redid Lewis Carroll’s book, but it’s not shocking to say that was a disappointing affair all around. Alice in Wonderland needs not only arresting visuals but it needs a pastiche of chaos that Luhrmann knows how to do so well. From his weird camera angles to his penchant for BIG performances, Wonderland via Baz would be a dream come true. As Alice wanders the insanity through the looking glass, you should feel the bewildering assault on everything she knows – visually and especially musically. If there was ever a story and characters begging for bizarre contemporary musical mash-ups the Baz way, it’s Alice in Wonderland. Let the Burton taint fade a few years and give it to Luhrmann.
George Bernard Shaw’s tale of a street-urchin woman transformed into a society darling has been done with period pageantry in My Fair Lady and as a contemporary hooker with a heart-of-gold twist in Pretty Woman. We think Luhrmann could bridge the gap between those two very different versions - keeping the pageantry and glitz, yet staging it with contemporary music – to make the story relevant today. It’s not a corporate-merger world anymore. It’s a 1%, 99% star-crossed landscape and there’s a lot Baz could do with that timeless transformation story set today.