F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Movie Adaptations

Movies based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's works have been made since the early 1920s, i.e. since shortly after his first novel This Side of Paradise became a national bestseller. In fact, at that time producers had approached Scott and Zelda with a plan to have them themselves star in the movie adaptation (which, perhaps unfortunately, was never realized). While none of the silent movies based on Fitzgerald's works are available on BluRay today, most of the later adaptations are.

2013: The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann

Don't let Jay-Z's contemporary soundtrack and the spectacular 3D effects fool you: Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is another adaptation that is so respectful to the details of the novel that it completely misses its point. It's how Fitzgerald uses language, precise, yet brimming with meaning, to explore how one can live in a world that is bound to disappoint our hopes, how one can fight a fight that one is destined to lose, that makes Gatsby great. Yet, if you reduce the story to its plot mechanics, you end up with empty spectacle, no matter how colorful the imagery and how many times you quote the original text. Ultimately, this Gatsby has more in common with the action blockbusters it competed with at the summer box office than one would expect: it's a movie that primarily aims to overwhelm and stun your senses, but that fails to convey any ideas or emotions.

2008: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button by David Fincher

Nobody likes to grow old, so a story about a man who is born as an octogenarian and then starts to age in reverse, should be a happy one, right? Yet, director David Fincher leverages Fitzgerald's awkward plot contrivance to reflect on what truly haunts human existence, namely the passing of time, the fact that every second brings us irreversibly closer to an unknown, yet non-negotiable end point. Right at the beginning of the film there is a pre-amble to the main story about a watch maker who builds a clock for a train station that runs backwards. He wants life's trajectory to change - and in the movie it suddenly does to show how the man's son gets resurrected from the trenches of World War I and returns to the moment of his final farewell. Yet, the absurdity of the backward motions, just like the absurdity of Benjamin Button's Curious Case, remind us in a particularly poignant fashion that we have to come to terms with life's finality.

2000: The Great Gatsby by Robert Markowitz

Why is it that The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald's most famous novel, has eluded the grasp of filmmakers for almost an entire century now (the first silent version dates back to 1926)? Is it because Gatsby is too unlikely a character to be able to exist outside the context of Fitzgerald's condensed prose? Or is it because movies do not dare to show Daisy as the shallow, selfish person that she needs to be in order to give the story its poignancy? Or is it because screenwriters cannot resist the temptation to overload the dialogue with quotes from the original text? This TV-adaptation from 2000 fails to come alive for all these reasons - just like the big budget theatrical movies that preceded and followed it. At least, there's the young Paul Rudd to keep the viewer's company with his charismatic portrait of the story's narrator Nick Carraway.

1982: Bernice Bobs Her Hair by Joan Micklin Silver

The 45 minutes short-film Bernice Bobs Her Hair is an adaptation of Fitzgerald's early short story of the same name. It closely follows Fitzgerald's words, but still develops some quiet charm of its own. Helen Duval stars in the title role.

1976: The Last Tycoon by Elia Kazan

The Last Tycoon was the last film directed by Elia Kazan. Kazan had achieved Hollywood fame with movies such as On the Waterfront and Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but he failed to do justice to Fitzgerald's final, unfinished novel. Based on a very literal screenplay by Harold Pinter, Kazan is unable to make the audience care about Monroe Stahr - despite Robert de Niro's moving performance. Even the impressive cast - including Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau and Jack Nicholson - ultimately doesn't save The Last Tycoon.

1974: The Great Gatsby by Jack Clayton

The Great Gatsby was a big-budget Hollywood project with big names in front of and behind the camera: Robert Redford and Mia Farrow starred as Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, while Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script. Although the film is trying hard to translate Fitzgerald's words into moving pictures, it's a failure in most respects: Since the movie doesn't manage to convey Nick Carraway's perspective in a convincing manner, the plot boils down to a boring, convoluted mess.

1954: The Last Time I Saw Paris by Richard Brooks

In 1954 Fitzgerald's short story "Babylon revisited" was made into a star-studded Hollywood production featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson and Roger Moore. Although the movie's script takes great liberties with the plot of Fitzgerald's story the movie manages to stick closer to the emotional core of the original than any other of the Fitzgerald movie adaptations. It was directed by Richard Brooks who had previously done a fine job with Tennessee Williams' The Cat on the Hot Tin Roof.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - An Annotated Bibliography