Great Gatsby Reboot?

This December, a new movie version of The Great Gatsby will be released, directed by Baz Lurhmann (Moulin Rouge!) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Why?  This will be the fifth time the novel has been filmed.

Is this a series in need of a reboot?  Has the Gatsby franchise gone stale?  Was there some innovative new breakthrough in our understanding of the 1920s recently that demanded a revised vision of the story’s Jazz Age style? Will this portrait of post-WWI decadence somehow feature stunning CGI graphics?

This bugs me for the same reason I’m irked every time a publisher releases a new edition of Shakespeare or a revised algebra textbook.  What’s the point?  Nothing has changed.

Unless…the new Gatsby movie will be altered to suit a Gen Y audience…putting Kanye West on the soundtrack, adding a few car chases, etc.  Remembering what Luhrmann did with Romeo + Juliet (also, come to think of it, starring DiCaprio), that might not be too far off.

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Serendipitous Relevance and American Lit

I like to show how the books we study in school have left a lasting legacy to contemporary society.  If nothing else, when students complain how boring and outdated the books are, I can either try to elicit some open mindedness by showing them that P. Diddy consciously imitates The Great Gatsby, or I can at least argue that their recalcitrance is in opposition to the popular culture with which they’re enthralled. 

This year has been an especially good one for that.  I started the year off with The Scarlet Letter, just as a teen comedy loosely based on it, Easy A, hit theaters.  When we read Moby Dick, I was able to show them the recent Blackberry ad about the novel (many students told me that the ad made much more sense afterwards!).  We finished Huckleberry Finn last month and now, as we review the semester, there’s a national controversy brewing about a new, censored version of the text. 

Near the end of this year, when I try to wrestle some Faulkner into my students, I’ll be able to tell them that Hollywood hunk James Franco is directing a new film of Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying

Now if only I could find a more recent reference for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea than a second season episode of The Simpsons

Quirky, Perky, Goofy, Nerdy: New Videos Make Classic Lit Fun

Last night before an English 101 class, I grabbed a complimentary copy of USA Today off of a newsstand.  I thought I’d have a few minutes to kill near the end of class while the students did some peer editing, and I wanted to do a crossword puzzle.  The newsstand was out of the New York Times.

But when the time came and I was looking for the puzzle, I never got to it.  I found an article instead about a new Web site that had just launched.  I went to check it out and was both amused and impressed.

Our hostess is a quirky, perky, goofy, nerdy young lit major named Jenny, who takes viewers on a whirlwind tour of classic literature in a series of bite-sized videos.  The site, 60secondrecap.com, is a Cliff’s Notes for the text messaging generation.  They just got up and running, so their library will start building over time.  I looked at two of The Great Gatsby videos last night, and liked them enough to plan to use them in my high school classes for a fun review (if the overzealous school district server doesn’t block it first).  Hopefully she’ll get The Scarlet Letter and Lord of the Flies up by the time I’ll need them in a few weeks.

And Jenny, since your site says you take requests, any chance you’d consider doing something by Cormac McCarthy?

Style Imitation Exercise

As the year winds down in American Lit, I assign a style imitation exercise to review the major works we’ve read and the styles of some important authors.  The students’ job is to write a brief version of any four stories, each in the style of a different author.  Either the story or the author has to be one we studied in class. 

Here are two examples I gave them (I know, neither Shakespeare nor Star Wars is American Lit, but I had the idea and couldn’t resist):

The Empire Strikes Back, as written by William Shakespeare

VADER:  Fair young apprentice, it is I who am the father of thy fleshly tabernacle!

LUKE:  Oh, forswear it, vile wretch!

Never shall the days come when I shall agree

To partake of the black compact thou hast proposed.

The very seraphs of heav’n shall blow their mighty trumps

Ere I rule the galaxy with thee!

Napoleon Dynamite, as written by Emily Dickinson 

Alas and woe is me,

For bereft of the sweet tots am I.

My lily-white palm reaches–

Out–to cast away the button of

The flippin idiot who–

Votes for Summer in place of Pedro–

My heart drops and yearns for…

Ninja skills!

They came up with some pretty impressive stuff.  Here are some ideas, just to give you a sense for their creativity:

  • Twilight, by Mark Twain (he highlights the pathetic flaws in every character by sarcastically mocking their lame, emo worldview)
  • William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by Herman Melville (a sixteen-word poem becomes a stark, 1000-page epic: “So very much of the innermost intensity of our eternal, ethereal souls depends upon the minutest particularities of crimson hue inherently blasted, seared into the fibre of the side of the wheelbarrow…” etc, etc)
  • A Walk To Remember, by Edgar Allan Poe  (The way it was meant to be–less corny romance, more gory phantasms torturing the dark secrets hidden inside us all.  The girl still dies.)
  • William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” by Dr. Seuss  (“I would not, could not with a corpse…well, maybe I could.”)
  • The Crucible, by Dorothy Parker (the men accuse all of the women of witchcraft because they’re neurotic and needy–the women tartly retort at first, but end up agreeing and hanging themselves.)
  • Moby Dick, by Stephen King (Ahab can’t kill the whale because it’s a psychic, flying alien!  But Ahab turns out to be a vampire from another dimension!  Now we’ve got a story.)
  • The Great Gatsby, by Mr. Huston (everybody dies on page 2)