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Gatsby director embraced 3D to bring outsized vison to life

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From left, Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan take direction from Baz Luhrmann on the set of The Great Gatsby.

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From left, Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan take direction from Baz Luhrmann on the set of The Great Gatsby.

TORONTO -- Finding more time is a constant battle for director Baz Luhrmann.

Consider the frantic hand-wringing that surrounds him during a day of media interviews at a Toronto hotel; the schedule is shot thanks to various delays, not the least of which is the loquacious Luhrmann's willingness to extend each interview by a few minutes here, a few minutes there.

When the subject at hand is his ostentatious spectacle The Great Gatsby, one quickly gets the sense there's never enough time, or enough words, for the Australian director to express the life-changing impact of his latest creation: "It was definitely not just another movie," Luhrmann declares twice during a brief interview.

The silver-haired filmmaker makes the best of his limited time with rapid-fire declarations on the genesis of his adaptation, outlining his vision with infectious excitement.

"I actually thought after my last film, 'I think I'll just do something simple and small,"' he says, referring to his sweeping historical romance, Australia.

Luhrmann initially envisioned The Great Gatsby as "a sort of drawing-room drama set mainly in rooms with people talking."

But as he delved deeper into F. Scott Fitzgerald's book of thwarted love and American excess, early musings on melodrama and manners were overtaken by grand fantasies of a dazzling cityscape, grotesque wastelands and 1920s jazz-fuelled mirages.

"I mean just the sheer scales of it (overwhelmed)," he says, punctuating a brief account of his eureka moment with an animated shriek.

"Suddenly, I'm going like, 'Oh my God, I'm making an emotional epic.' And a physical epic as well."

As if it could be anything less.

Luhrmann's brash experiments with Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet and Strictly Ballroom virtually established his own genre, thanks to liberal sampling from the worlds of theatre, opera and pop culture to create distinctive heightened realities.

It's no surprise then, that he gushes over the visual wallop offered by 3D technology, which he uses in The Great Gatsby to propel confetti, sequins and fireworks toward the screen in richly hued party scenes.

If only such technology were available to him when he was making his 2001 musical Moulin Rouge, he notes.

"Someone said to me: You were trying to make a 3D movie with 2D," he says of that swirling romance, set in a Belle Epoque Paris. "And I think actually I was. Because I'm always trying to immerse the audience."

After seeing what the eye-popping effects did for The Great Gatsby, the director says he's keen to apply added dimension to Moulin Rouge.

Now that technology is finally starting to catch up to the images he could only conceive of in his mind, Luhrmann hints at a swell of new ambitions.

"This 3D medium -- as a director you kind of got to get on board with it because we're just scratching the surface. It's like the invention of sound," he says while handlers hover nearby fretting over whether he can make an evening flight.

As for his cast, Luhrmann refers to them as collaborators rather than mere actors.

He boasts of watching Leonardo DiCaprio, who stars as the tragic romantic hero Jay Gatsby, grow from a boy into a man after they first worked together in Romeo + Juliet. Of Tobey Maguire, who portrays Gatsby confidant and the film's narrator Nick Carraway, he says "we were a team."

Behind the scenes, the tight bonds continue with Luhrmann's wife Catherine Martin serving as costume and production designer, his good friend Miuccia Prada supplying ornate fashion pieces for Carey Mulligan's moneyed Daisy and other female characters, and rap giant Jay-Z earning the title of "majestic" for a score featuring Beyonce, Andre 3000, Lana Del Rey, The xx and Florence + the Machine.

Expectations are already high for The Great Gatsby, which was initially slated to open Dec. 25, 2012.

Instead, it kicks off the Cannes Film Festival on May 15, just days after a theatrical release in North America this Friday.

Luhrmann knows the prestigious Cannes berth will draw especially intense scrutiny. He's sanguine about likely cementing his reputation for over-the-top spectacle with this no-holds-barred outing.

"I'm just stuck with it," he says of being known for a brazen style that has divided critics. "I don't think about expectations. Everything I did in this work, everything we did, the focus was to try and reveal the novel."

Anyway, it's hard to be too extravagant when recreating an era known for reckless opulence.

He notes that the tale here is set during a gilded era of unprecedented wealth, boozy hysteria and decaying moral and social values.

"The novel wasn't set in a period called the Minimal '20s. It was called the Roaring '20s. So it had to roar," he says, pointing to Gatsby's lavish parties which drew "swirling, whirling eddies of people."

"I mean, the entire nation was participating in a hypocrisy called prohibition and governors were with gangsters. It confused everyone."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2013 D6

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