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On why “Gatsby” is so great, and why you should see it twice.

Published May 17, 2013 by mandileighbean

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Well, I suppose I have put it off long enough; upon seeing the film twice, it is long overdue for me to share my thoughts on the most recent cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby.  However, before I discuss the movie, I must make it known that there are spoilers abound and that I am – as one student charged me – almost unhealthily obsessed with the novel.  I read it every summer and have particular passages committed to memory.  The novel changed my life in the sense that it helped me to decide that I wanted to be a writer and while I struggled in that endeavor I would teach high school English.  The novel also confirmed in my mind that I could be hopelessly romantic and naïve in a dignified sort of way that made me more of a heroine than a sap.

That being said, I left the theater the first time with an uneasy kind of feeling.  I was not sure how I felt about what I had just seen, other than that it was visually stunning and somewhat emotionally moving as I was dabbing at my eyes behind my 3D glasses.  Was it the 3D component of the film which left me unsettled and uncertain about my level of enjoyment resulting from the viewing experience?  I actually tend to avoid movies in 3D as I find them incredibly hokey – call me a snob, but for me, 3D movies lack artistic integrity and forsake story and structure for the almighty dollar.  3D is a gimmick that unfortunately seems here to stay.  Like I said, I am being a total snob and robbing a medium of all of its merit because it does not suit my particular taste, and though doing so is unfair, it is what it is and I will not apologize.  I will, however, advise my readers to take everything I write with a grain of salt, considering the extremities of some of my artistic prejudices.

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But allow me to hobble off my soapbox to contradict myself and explain how the 3D worked so well in the movie.  The scenes that depicted Gatsby’s lavish parties and outrageous lifestyle had to be filmed in 3D, I now realize in retrospect.  Consider the adjectives I just employed; lavish and outrageous.  What better way to convey such excess than through the 3D element?  It did look as if the confetti were raining down upon me, and so helped create the illusion that I was simply another Nick Carraway, within and without in the vast mansion, reveling and sneering at the reckless, careless behavior unfolding all around.  Though Nick did not have to pay for his admission ($13.25?!  Really?!), I believe my doing so was completely worth it – and mind you, I did so twice.  The 3D party scenes helped to create an almost tangible sensation of claustrophobia.  As Nick squeezed through Gatsby’s front doors in an impressive throng of strangers, and as tensions soared and tempers flared with the heat in that cruelly cramped room at the Plaza Hotel, I felt smothered and that I was too close.  Like Nick, I had had enough of everyone.  The way the 3D manipulated my emotions and even level of physical comfortableness was both complete and masterful.  I was impressed.

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So why was I so undecided after the first viewing?  I considered this as my second viewing began, and thought maybe the casting did not quite sit right with me.  However, when Leonardo DiCaprio is first shown in the film, when he turns and offers that glorious smile that Gatsby gave Nick and so impressed him with in the novel, I am smiling and smiling so that my muscles are sore and I am seemingly incapable of stopping.  I must admit though that I have always been enthralled with the idea of DiCaprio playing Gatsby.  Conversely, I was thoroughly disappointed with Tobey Maguire being cast as Nick Carraway, hoping for a larger personality, an actor more likeable.  But I noticed that when Maguire plays Nick as disoriented, disappointed, disillusioned, or drained, I felt the same.  Though I love Jay Gatsby in a way that only a complete and total lonely, melodramatic bookworm can, I was frustrated and disgusted with him when Nick was in the film – performing a complete 180, as they say – and I can only contribute that to Maguire’s performance.  When I read the novel, I am staunchly loyal to Gatsby in an irrational kind of way.  For Maguire to prompt me to question that loyalty after years and years of nothing but is a testament to his talent, and I was too harsh when I first judged his casting.  Joel Edgerton as Tom was flawless and Carey Mulligan played Daisy brilliantly, although I did not find her able to create a more sympathetic character; she was just as repugnant to me on screen as on the page, but I think that is a matter of personal taste.

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Then was it the incorporation of the modern music?  Though many of my students complained about the anachronistic soundtrack and score – which greatly surprised me as I believed it, was engineered with them specifically in mind – I rather enjoyed it.  I love art and I love style and the music aided in putting the film over the top in both respects.  I love the thought behind it, using modern day music of another generation of excess to show the universal, transcendent dangers behind such thoughtless, selfish behavior.  The novel is timeless, so the music does become an inconsequential detail, but to drive that point home with the very same music as the vehicle is genius and daring, and I cannot help but be impressed.  I also compulsively listen to the majority of the soundtrack which means I must enjoy it (unless it is only for its connection to the novel, which is stretched and strained to be honest).

So if it was not the inclusion of 3D nor the cast nor the music, then why was I less than impressed upon the initial viewing?  How could I fall so completely in love with the film after watching it a second time?  Are not first impressions the most important?  Upon pondering these questions, I am left with only one conclusion: my mood.  What had been going on with me?  What had been different about the second night?

I cannot remember being so excited for a theatrical release.  I bought my tickets early online and like a child at Christmas, could hardly sleep the night before.  The day of the film dawned and I was ecstatic.  I wore my shirt with pearls to school, falling short of the zeitgeist aura I was going for, but the students appreciated it, especially the sophomores who had read the novel with me earlier in the year.  They knew that Friday was “Gatsby Day,” and that I had planned my lessons accordingly.  We watched the trailers, noted the visual and auditory symbolism, and tried to decide if Baz Luhrmann assumed those viewing the film had read the book.  I was so captivated I even cheated – for lack of a better term – and showed the trailers to my freshmen classes to inspire them to see the film, read the book, or do both.  I barely survived my weekly hour of home instruction, excitedly and breathlessly discussing my plans for the evening with the student’s mother.  I went to the spring concert for chorus and band at the high school because of a promise to my students, and they seemed genuinely excited to see me and I was genuinely proud of them.  I was beaming and sad to leave a little early, but one student even said to me as I was on my way out, “Aren’t you seeing the movie tonight?”  I was pumped.

The movie started at 9:30PM, but I had planned to arrive at the theater around 9:00PM to avoid crowds, buy snacks and to avoid any anxiety.  I made these plans with my viewing companion whose name has been stricken from the record to prevent any kind of social faux pas.  So when it was 8:45PM, I left the concert (missing the last song, mind you) and called my viewing companion, fully prepared to meet this individual at the theater.  However, I was somewhat perturbed to learn that at 8:45PM, mere minutes before show time, the individual was at CVS with plans to continue on to Wawa.  I let it go though, because I realized that everything was within minutes from home and that I may have been overzealous in planning.  There was no guarantee the theater would be mobbed and purchasing snacks beforehand would be cheaper and would save time.  I relaxed and my viewing companion decided to meet at home just past 9:00PM.  I headed home and waited with juvenile excited.

9:00PM came and went … as did 9:05PM … as did 9:10PM … as did 9:15PM … as did 9:20PM.  We did not head to the theater until 9:30PM.  I was furious, seething.  Having planned meticulously and purchased the tickets, I could not fathom how someone could be so absolutely thoughtless.  To make matters worse, upon arriving at the theater, we had to wait on a lengthy line for our tickets despite being already purchased, and then I was charged twice (but I was handed a cash refund, so really, I can’t complain).  By the time we are actually inside our designated theater, the previews have started and the screen is malfunctioning.  It seemed that nothing could go my way.  Perhaps at that point I did not want to enjoy the movie to aggravate my viewing companion who, ironically, enjoyed it very much.  But that would be cutting of my nose to spite my face, wouldn’t it?

The second time around, my viewing companion who is named Raina, was not only on time, but early!  We went to an absolutely gorgeous dine-in theater in Edison.  We had a drink each, a delicious entrée and shared a delightfully sinful dessert.  Despite the food, I was more aware of my response and involvement in the film, my changing emotions that never failed to match those of the narrator and the way I ached for Gatsby and despised Tom and Daisy.  I felt as though I had taken a long, hard look at myself and those around me.  I was Nick Carraway – observing, within and without – but I wanted to be Gatsby, unfailingly hopeful and tragically romantic.  When I told Raina that I was Gatsby, she agreed without hesitation.  My first viewing companion actually turned back to me as we walked along and said, “You really want to be romantically tragic, and like a hero in a story, don’t you?”

Of course.  That being said, go see “The Great Gatsby.”  And do yourself a favor: see it twice.

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On being worse than teenage poetry.

Published April 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

I teach twelfth grade English at the local high school. I interact with teenagers every day, bearing witness to the comedies and tragedies that fill the hallways, cause lockers to slam angrily, demand hall passes and fill their little worlds right up. I enjoy being an audience member to one thousand mini-melodramas five days a week, and to be honest, I find it fascinating. I don’t think teenagers should be ridiculed and lectured on the importance of perspective because as we age, we lose the passion we once had. I think perspective should only be mentioned when comforting the distressed, and I definitely do not believe that one should be admonished or feel ashamed because they reacted passionately to an event, a person or an idea they felt strongly about. We should forever be passionate.

That being said, I’ve decided to share some of my “teenage poetry.” The following poems were written when I was in high school. Feel free to judge them harshly 😛

“Untitled” (Actually, the title of this poem was the name of the boy I liked at the time, but names have been changed to protect the innocent 😉 )
Even though the words are awkward
And I don’t know what to write,
I’m sure there’s something I need to say
so that I can set everything right.
Sipping liquids that are too hot,
Willing them to burn your tongue,
Feeling a thousand years older
And now wishing you were young.
Sitting at a lonely table
In a coffee shop in the mall
On your hands and knees, I beg you.
I am daring you to crawl
Back to the ones that loved you
Back to me who still does
And maybe now we can share that drink
That never was

Apparently, one of my friends saw this beloved boy of mine at the Starbucks in the local mall, and commented that he was alone, drinking coffee. I loved this image of him – I romanticized his loneliness, enhanced my own desires and wistfulness. That boy was everything to me when I was fifteen and if I am being completely honest, I still think about him a lot. Is it because he’s the one who got away? Is it because things ended so badly? Is it because I feel so stunted emotionally? Who knows?

“Untitled” (This one really didn’t have a title, I promise)
The lines on the page start to blur.
The pain shoots up my spine.
The sweat drops off my forehead.
There’s a pounding in my mind.

One pill, two pills, three pills, four
I took the whole bottle with regret
I downed a whole bottle of vodka
So many things I just had to regret

My body’s shaking and I can’t see
I trip and stumble until I hit the floor
I raise my weary, pounding head
There’s no redeeming light behind that door

There’s no saving grace, no second chance
Someone lied to you, it’s okay to give up
I was close to the edge and I decided to jump
Life was hell, enough was enough

I convulse on the floor, puking in pain
I took my own life without regret
Life was shit so I’m moving on
I openly welcome death

This poem is embarrassingly juvenile; I realize that. Suicide is NEVER a viable option, let alone the answer. The hopelessness that pervades the poem is unnerving- were things really that bad less than a decade ago? They weren’t, but I’m sure they felt like they were. I am not ashamed of this poem, or that I have several suicide-themed poems in my arsenal, because the writing helped me to express all my feelings into something positive, into a creation. The writing saved my life.

“Untitled” (There was a time when I totally titled my poems … this just wasn’t that time, apparently)
fix the seams of all my parts
starting with my broken heart
make me whole, make me complete
get me back out on my feet
but take me by my trembling hand
and help me to fully understand
how your needles and your thread
brought me back from the dead
you breathed new life into me
made me whole, happy and healthy
i owe you every breath i take
thank you every time i wake
because you’ve saved me
you’ve ressurected me
because you love me
i can be
healthy
whole
and happy

There are notes from a math class besides the poem – clearly, I wasn’t paying attention and I need to send an apology to Mr. Savitsky. Not only did I not understand anything that was happening in math class, but I did not understand real heartbreak or recovering from heartbreak. Writing is all about writing what you know and experience. I had very little experience with anything at fifteen – other than the social microcosm of high school – and now, at twenty-three, I feel the same. I have yet to travel, to have a full-time job with benefits, to live on my own, or to experience a whirlwind romance. I crave these things every day, and they do find their way into my writings, but then the writing comes off as cheap and not genuine.

My friend Brandi and my mentor both told me to start living; to finally begin my journey. I vowed to you that I would.

But have I?

On getting back up.

Published April 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay – I know I promised myself that I would run while on vacation, and watch what I ate, and write every day. I also know that I did nothing of the sort. I am angry with myself, and I readily acknowledge that I am weak. But I simultaneously acknowledge that being weak is acceptable as long as I am not defined by my weakness. So here I am, trying again and for that, I am allowing myself a proverbial pat on the back.

Vacation was wonderful. I love my family and the time we spend together. I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my younger brother and was enamored with the theme park. My younger brother was a trooper, taking pictures and following me around as I flitted from attraction to attraction. He allowed me to be a nerdy, immature young woman and I love him for it. Clearly, the day we spent together was my favorite part of the entire vacation.

I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert at Madison Square Garden on Monday, April 9th. It was exhilarating, and most likely the closest I’ll ever come to having a religious experience. It inspired me to start work on a story involving an older musician coming to terms with his mortality despite the protests of his young lover and indifference of his numbed wife. What do you think? The inspiration is obvious, but I’m still working with the characters and themes, trying to twist them into something new, original and thrilling.

I was the candidate chosen for the maternity leave at the high school. I’m teaching senior English, and one section of creative writing. It is amazing, and I am incredibly excited. It hasn’t truly sunk in yet, and I need to be more disciplined in my lesson planning and classroom management. I’ve been so busy and tired that I’ve been letting things slide; for example, my first day in the classroom was yesterday, and immediately after school I had a final interview with the superintendent at the Board of Education office, then home instruction and then Confirmation practice with my younger brother. I did not get home until 8:00PM. Today, I taught, attended the faculty meeting, home instructed and now here I am, ready to write.

🙂

I hope you enjoy it.

PROMPT: “Inspiring Books.”
As writers, we all love to read good books for inspiration. What book inspired you as a writer and why?

PIECE:
I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the tenth grade, when I was fifteen-years-old. I had never experienced love that was reciprocated, but it was the only thing I wanted and something that I still yearn for. I would do anything, be anyone and commit any crime to have a hand reach for mine out of desire. I thought I had that my sophomore year, but it all came crashing down around me the way things seem to do in high school. The boy didn’t like me; he just liked the attention that I freely gave. When I read Fitzgerald’s classic, I totally empathized with Jay Gatsby and intrinsically believed that novel was written specifically for me. It was that universality – though it is a dangerous term to use – that helped me to realize that I was not crazy or melodramatic, but human and that is a story worth telling. I gained so much confidence and comfort in Gatsby’s desperation and heartbreak and demise, and fell in love with the craft because of its possibilities as presented in The Great Gatsby. It truly is the great American novel.

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