Jay-Z | $100 Bill
Thus begins my love-hate relationship with Baz Luhrmann’s ear.
One of the things I loved the most about Romeo+Juliet was the soundtrack. The idea that Romeo Montague is hanging at Verona Beach in his Hawaiian shirt with his boys and songs from Everclear and The Cardigans are radio favourites made the experience of watching an already anachronistic adaptation of a play I was almost perfectly familiar with bizarre and lovely. It fit. It didn’t feel too out of place to ruin the experience, because the experience was crafted a certain way.
Now… The Great Gatsby, though… it still fits, yeah. What best to put in a story about how money and influence corrupts than a rap song performed from a man with so much money and clout that he can ask the US President for permission to do something fundamentally illegal? If his hip-hop biography of his youth is to be believed, as far as money is concerned, Jay-Z is West Egg. (Anyone, then, find it weird that his stage name’s Jay?)
But then again, we’re talking about the magnum opus of the man who coined the phrase ‘The Jazz Age’, how we define the sound of the Roaring Twenties. Jay is the most vulgar offender of anachronism on the soundtrack for the film, which is part of its charm, of course - making reference to the 2010s and awkwardly dating the movie, even among hearing DiCaprio’s Gatsby say that Daisy Buchanan’s “voice is full of money”, even above its existence as a musical genre Fitzgerald himself had never heard and would probably only faintly liken to the sounds he must hear in his head when he re-reads his own work, if at all, on the premise of the drums and the vocal delivery alone. One cannot deny the jazz-esque nature of hip-hop.
There are places where even this can fit, I think. It will, in some scenes, still feel jarring without feeling irreverent, still shock you into being aware of “… wait… is that fuckin’ Jay-Z?” without being removed from, well, the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men. I think that’s what Luhrmann always wants when he tells a story - that by any means you are constantly aware of the dissonance without it being too harsh; that you can watch it as a peculiar but still true-to-form adaptation, or as a Frankenstein monster of discordant parts; as something either appealing as a whole dish or appealing because every morsel is something you like, even if the arrangement throws you off.
If this plays in the film, a lot of people will be put off. Depending on how, I will be too. But I’ll still love it.