Is Modernity Needed for Connection?

the great gatsby movie posterDear Reader,

Once again late on the boat, I just now saw The Great Gatsby (my first 2013 film) and was struck the most by the visuals and the soundtrack. This was a Baz Luhrmann film so, of course, the music was essential. (If you have seen Moulin Rouge!, the 2001 version, then you have seen a Baz Luhrmann movie, which is probably the largest example of how vital music is for his productions.) Similar to how current 2001 music played an essential role to Moulin Rouge!, the music of Luhrmann’s adaption of The Great Gatsby evokes similar territory. The wild, roaring twenties parties are met with the sounds of Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Sia Fuller, Florence + The Machine, Beyonce, Andre 3000, and others. When these scenes go on, there is a wild pump to them, a thrill of energy that would be familiar to anyone who has ever attended (or watched) a party set in this century. The music also comes at quieter moments, such as when the characters are swimming and need atmospheric music to play in the background (in which case Lana Del Rey makes a fine example). I wouldn’t say that the music is distracting from the rest of the picture, but it is noticeable, particularly considering that this is supposed to be the 1920s and not the 2010s.

Yet is this needed? Obviously part of this seems to be a message that the director wants to get out about how Gatsby is a story that connects with viewers of all generations and that the themes of the twenties can still be applied today. At least, that’s what I assume. Most films that apply this technique mean to have this message. That message does come across in the film quite clearly. And for viewers who listen to these artists, the scenes will become more familiar than if the film’s soundtrack was only filled with, say, Gershwin. But does that distort the message? Is modernity needed to connect to the past? Can the past be the past without the need to connect it to the future? Or does the technique Luhrmann use serve a universal purpose? As humans, are we only able to truly connect with what we know in our present life?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.


Jumbled Writer

*Photo Courtesy of


18 Responses to Is Modernity Needed for Connection?

  1. I haven’t seen Gatsby yet, but I have seen a movie with a similar context in the musical score…Knight’s Tale. Some people complained about a medieval movie playing We Will Rock You. But for me, it showed a modern audience very clearly what jousting was to the people of that age by connecting though the same music we hear at major sporting events today. Considering I wasn’t thrilled with Gatsby when I read it in school, I’m hoping this version may give me some insight into why many people think the story is better than sliced bread by showing me with music.

    • Very interesting. I will have to rent Knight’s Tale to see how it compares. I have seen both the 1974 version and the 2013 version of Gatsby and find that they tell similar tales, but the 2013 definitely feels like an interpretation more than the 1974 film does.

  2. I agree that modern music can further the understanding of historical film because like you say – we need something to understand. But it shouldn’t distract from the story. I have heard people say they don’t like Lord of the Rings because it’s so different than what they are able to understand, – the whole world is so different. I personally think it’s the greatest fantasy every written and if we just ‘go into’ their world it’s a wonderful experience.

  3. I’ve seen other movies do this and I find it jarring. I like to immerse myself in the historical period or fantasy world in the film and using modern music pulls me right out of that world.

    • Very interesting to hear your perspective. This method does not work for all. Sometimes it can be just too “out there”.

  4. From my observations, many Americans don’t do vicariousness. I might be able to draw parallels from ancient books, such as Politics by Aristotle, but others relate through what they’ve experienced better. Appealing to the masses might need such an update.

    • Using personal experience is definitely key to drawing connections and further enhancing the journey of watching/reading/listening to the story.

    • Great point to bring in. I do believe it is possible to connect with the past without using items from the present to do so. Dickens is a fine example of this. If we still read him, something must be clicking with us modern readers.

  5. Whilst I believe that having contemporary music within period films can be very effective as is having modern music; lana del Reys voice fits the period an scholar jay-z is not quite 1920s his score for the film does fit in with the pace of the story. I think done well it can work but it is a risk however one I believe baz luhrman overcomes 🙂

  6. I haven’t seen The Great Gatsby, just the trailer. But I think, like how all major-Hollywood-movie trailers do, the producers wanted to add that element of ‘attitude’ to the period’s decadence. What better way to do that than to use Jay-Z and the music of today? Though I think it makes it unnecessarily melodramatic, a feeling of trying-too-hard. You might find this amusing, from a fellow blogger:
    Thanks for the Like, by the way 🙂

    • Very interesting link. Hopefully more thought went into it than that. I agree that the music of Jay-Z does present with it a certain amount of attitude and possible rebellion.

    • And Jay-Z communicates pure decadence very well. Rap is the most bling-centered musical genre. I think it’s a good fit for the decade.

      • I haven’t really listened to the music of Jay-Z, but I have listened to rap that displays those same characteristics you mention. A very good point to bring up. For a movie about the 1920s, music inspired by excess is welcome.

  7. I had a similar experience viewing it: the Gershwin was so precisely perfect for the film and is so familiar today that more contemporary music wasn’t needed, I thought.

    • Indeed, I really enjoyed the Gershwin for the little bit that it was in the film. Then the “modern” music came on and things took a bit of a turn. Thanks for stopping by!

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