Tragically Mainstream

No guilt, only pleasure.

Month: May, 2013

Counterfactuals: On Cherche Nemo

by Henry Gorman

Pixar has never been afraid to tap into well-beloved mythologies to drive its films. Brave pulled its threads from a rich tapestry of Celtic folklore. Cars derived its appeal from America’s cult of motorsport. Up has a high-adventure ancestry stretching back through Indiana Jones and the tales of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs to a foundation of Western literature, the Odyssey itself. The Incredibles drew its strength from two of the mightiest modern American myths: the all-powerful superhero and the even stronger nuclear family.

TheIncredibles

 Nothing can stop the power of heteronormative procreation!

But Pixar has also tapped into a mythos even more sacred to filmmakers’ hearts. I’m referring, of course, to that 1960s-era explosion of cinematic creativity, the French New Wave.

JulesEtJim

 A poster from Jules et Jim, an archetypal French New Wave film.

Yes, this counts as meeting the art history quota.  Shut up.

Where, we might ask, is this influence most visible? Perhaps, one might think, in Toy Story, a film which simultaneously highlights its characters’ artificial nature and their very real pain, using its characters’ status as commodities themselves to subtly comment on the condition of human beings trapped in a capitalist world. Or, perhaps in Ratatouille, a film that raises questions about the nature of creation, authenticity, and art. Or The Incredibles, which, like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, appropriates the iconography of speculative fiction for its own possibly subversive purposes.

But no! We see the influence of that French cinematic tidal wave most sharply in the most surprising of films: Finding Nemo, that heartwarming tale of a father clownfish’s quest to save his son. What you probably don’t know is that Finding Nemo is a remake of On Cherche Nemo, a mostly-forgotten masterpiece released by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963.

FindingNemo

100% Pure Art Cinema, motherfuckers

On Cherche Nemo is set in the big French port city of Marseilles. There, a moody, withdrawn widower named Marlin (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) lives alone in his apartment with his beloved, crippled son, a boy named Nemo. Marlin is finally convinced by his caring neighbors to take the boy to school. Unfortunately, at the day’s end, the lad, in a fit of rebellion, wanders off on his own at the day’s end and becomes lost.

BelmondoForlorn

Belmondo as Marlin, wandering forlorn through the city

The shy Marlin is forced to explore the world for the first time as he wanders the streets of Marseilles searching for his son. He is accosted by three vicious gangsters who debate what to do with him while pointedly imitating the tropes of 1930s American gangster film. As Marlin is about to perish at their hands, he is saved by the intervention of  Dorée, a playful young woman (played by Anna Karina, of course) who has such disdain for the past that she refuses to acknowledge its existence. Together, Marlin and Dorée wander about Marseilles looking for the boy, frequently turning to talk to the camera about their adventures. Dorée’s deliberate forgetfulness underlines the fragmentation produced by Goddard’s typical narrative style and his extensive use of jump cuts.

 MBDTWWO EC001

Belmondo as Marlin again, in the now-infamous “chicken scene”

Nemo, meanwhile, finds himself in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. He is surrounded by a motley cast of characters, representative of a broad variety of human types. All of them have been waiting to leave the office forever, but have failed to escape. They talk to Nemo about themselves. It quickly becomes clear that the room is symbolic of life in what Jean-Paul Sartre calls “bad faith,” and none of them will be able to escape until they recognize the nature of the human condition.

Marlin and Dorée negotiate a series of hazards, including a mysterious mob of masked knife-wielding strangers who reveal themselves to be harmless when Dorée plays with them (the jellyfish in Finding Nemo), and a kindly, carefree beatnik who gives them a ride in his car (the turtle). Marlin develops courage and no longer lives in fear of the world around him, at one point driving a car into the water to demonstrate his liberation.

 PierrotCarInWater

Their car, in the water

Ultimately, the pair arrive at the waiting room, where, with the help of the inmates, Dorée and Marlin are able to save Nemo from the depths of anomie. The film ends happily with all three liberated from the chains of past experience.

Disclaimer: Everything above is totally made up.  But you probably wish it was true.

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Did you REALLY need that guest verse? Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly – Cruise (Remix)

by williedollars

Did you know you can make a pop hit WITHOUT a guest rap verse in it? Haha, that was a joke–in 2013, you can’t! These verses immediately make any song “edgier” and therefore more playable, but do they really make it better? The answer: it depends. That’s why every week I’ll take a look at whatever new hot pop song is tearing up the airwaves and rate from 1 to 10 how much the song REALLY needed its guest verse.

DISCLAIMER: In this post I will attempt to take the band name Florida Georgia Line seriously. It’s way too ridiculous to take seriously in real life, but I’m afraid that if I started unloading every corny joke I’ve got, then well, I’d be here for awhile. So consider this restraint a New Blog Resolution.

Florida Georgia Line had it all: a guy from Florida, a guy from Georgia, a brand-new Chevy with a lift kit, and the most successful debut country single ever in Cruise. But maybe after ten weeks atop the country charts, they grew tired of watching bikinis popping right out of the south Georgia water (did the Florida guy push hard for “north Florida water?”) and admitted to themselves that there was something missing.

They needed a Line.

Wait, shit. I wasn’t supposed to do that … … … Fuck it. Time to take it a step further.

They found one: NELLY.

#nellystrong

The history of country music and hip hop is neither long nor illustrious. (That said, I see you Jason Aldean and Ludacris!) Nevertheless, when Florida and Georgia decided they needed a Line, Nelly saw this as a chance to confirm GOAT status in the country-rap genre (aka CRAP?).  Wait, you say. Confirm? Yes. You see, this is not Nelly’s first CRAP (I’m keeping it) collaboration. The truly ancient among you might remember his first, and still greatest, hit was 2000’s Country Grammar. But that’s not actually CRAP, just a hint that he was open to the idea. His crowning achievement in the genre, in fact THE crowning achievement in the genre, came four years later. I hope I’m not showing you anything new:

Nelly made a statement with this song and video. This isn’t about highlighting the differences between hip hop and country: this is about showing the potential for remarkable similarity, both in musical stylings and life. Tim and Nelly wake up together! They wear do-rags together! They sing the chorus together! Nelly probably made up for at least 75 seconds of slavery with this video, which, trust me, is more than you’ve done. Oh, but just to make sure no one thought that he hadn’t quite ventured the way from CRAP to *whisper it* modern country, he did this too:

God, was 2004 a great year or what?

God, was 2004 a great year or what?

Not simply awkward. Not boringly seamless. But awkward to the point of seamlessness.

That’s why Over and Over was the CRAP GOAT.

Was.

With the Cruise remix, NelLine outdid himself. Let’s remember seamless awkwardness and go through a video checklist: 1. Plausible rapport established between Line and FlaGa via a phone call in which Nelly replaces the words “All right,” with something like “Oaheh” and then says “Yo I was checkin out the Cruise video mane, hey dat thing the deal bruh. I think we need to turn it up though, whadcha think?” Check.  2. Equal-opportunity objectification of women via the inclusion of both white and black models in skimpy outfits? Check. 3. Country solidarity via Line donning a denim shirt? Check. 4. Hip hop solidarity via Line and Georgia making swagged out circular motions while Florida shouts an obscenity?

Delicious Check.

Of course, I could analyze the video all day long, but then I’d be missing the point of this exercise. The question is whether Nelly’s verse makes the song itself better. When I’m driving around with my radio turned up, what gets me more excited: the original Cruise or CRAP Cruise? It’s best to look at what Nelly’s verse replaces. In the original’s bridge, FlaGa break it down into a classic modern country campfire sing-along ballad complete with parked cars and loving looks between artist and muse. Instantly, we’ve switched from rollicking good time buddy song to Alabama-style let’s-get-serious monogamous crooning. It just feels off for this particular song and even more off for any kind of a pop radio adaptation.

Nelly, what with his keen feel for the sentiment at the heart of any song, understands that what’s most needed is the complete opposite: a verse to speed things up. Sexual excitement has only been building since the song’s first chord, so why doesn’t he ratchet it up all the way, faster, faster, faster, with a bunch of little “Yeah, yeah, yeahs” before his verse and then slobbering lines like “I like saw all that, all that / head to toe, you all that” and “So come on shawty let me show you what the fast like” until, and this is the genius part… he catches himself. It’s as if one of Fla and Ga tapped him on the shoulder mid-verse and said “Whoa whoa whoa Line! Remember, this song is called Cruise.” Snap back to reality (mid-verse!) and Line’s back posin’ with his new boys, cooly rap-singing the almost definitely metaphorical line “Whipping ‘cross the border / Florida into Georgia” before bouncing back and setting them up before the final chorus with one of pop music’s great, shit’s-about-to-explode break-downs: “‘Cause you make me wanna roll my / Roll my / ROLL MY / RA-RA-RA-OHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ROLL MY WINDOWS DOWN...  AND CRUUUUUUUUUUUISE

ROLL MY WINDOWS DOWN…
AND CRUUUUUUUUUUUISE

Questions remain about the future viability of CRAP. But no questions remain as to its reigning king. Florida and Georgia put out a song that got Nelly hot and bothered, and rather than wither back into his safe space of generic sing-song radio hip hop, he realized that all three of these country boys wanted the same damn thing and powered through with a verse that unceasingly escalated into the bombastic orgasmic climax that Cruise always deserved. Long live Line.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

“New Slaves,” Class, and Kanye’s Identity:

by Henry Gorman

kanye-west-new-slaves-dj-fresh-direct-remix

(image credit: hypetrack.com)

A few days ago, Kanye West’s face appeared on the walls of the world’s great cities. And like another great apparition-on-a-wall, the hand that wrote at Belshazzar’s feast-hall, it transmitted words of doom. Yeezus, our new, self-proclaimed messiah told us of “blood on the leaves” to come.

belshazzars

Meeting our gratuitous art history quota: John Martin’s Belshazzar’s Feast

As Will noted in his last post, this message only appeared in a few cities, to the one-percenters who could gaze upon the walls of Prada shops and Williamsburg brownstones. He argued that this choice indicates that Kanye has grown fundamentally distant from the masses and thrives on the support of one-percenters as he spits on Middle America.

And there is something in the lyrics of New Slaves that supports this. The song’s first verse quickly becomes a series of take-thats to critics of his fashion line, and the second opens with a proudly proclaimed “I throw these Maybach keys!” and laments his inability to escape from the papparazzi. For Kanye’s non-super-rich fans– most of us– there is something distancing about all of this. Most of us will never own a Maybach or open a fashion line or have strangers want to take pictures of us. And so, these moments– like Kanye’s choices of place to issue his revelation, make it feel like Kanye is trying to tell us that he’s not one of us.

Excelero

 A Maybach Excelero, which you will never own (wikimedia commons)

But the song’s class politics are also intensely hostile to the propertied class Yeezy is a member of. Kanye’s song seethes about social injustices. He invokes discrimination against his mama’s generation. He laments blacks’ higher rates of imprisonment, driven by the selective prosecutions of the DEA and the greed of private prison corporations like the CCA. And the 1-percenters who operate these institutions are not his friends, not one bit. To them, he declares “Fuck you and your Hampton house!/I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse!/Came on her Hampton blouse!/And in her Hapmton mouth!” He sees “the blood on the leaves.”

Perhaps then, he chose his broadcast locations not so that he could identify with his inhabitants, but so that he could warn them. West comes like a Jonah, warning the wealthy sinners of the world’s opulent metropolises to repent before he starts “going Bobby Boucher” on their asses.

But as he chides and admonishes the rich, he remains one of their Maybach-driving number Alexander Wang-wearing number. The song presents a paradox– how could one who chides the rich also spend so much time (in this song, other songs, and the twitter feed where he proclaimed himself “THE LOUIS VUITTON DON”) talking about being one of their number?

If we are to understand this paradox, we have to thoroughly examine Kanye’s discussions of his lifestyle. At first glance, they appear to be simple genre-conventional bragging and image-making. Like warriors in old-Norse poetry, rappers are obliged to assert their skills with epic boasts and denigrate their opponents in order to assert their identity as badasses.

Jay-Z, Kanye’s one-time patron, friend, and collaborator is a master of this sort of contemporary flyting. He manages to turn almost every aspect of his self-narration into an assertion of his own worth. On the opening track of The Black Album, “December 4th,” he even traces it back to before his birth: “I was conceived by Gloria Carter and Adaness Revees /Who made love under the sycamore tree/Which makes me/A more sicker M.C.” His whole body of work acts to present a carefully cultivated persona.

Kanye, however, is far looser than Jay-Z. We need only consider the body of songs where the two men rap together. Sometimes, as on “Monster,” where Ye proclaims “Stop it, stop it, n*ggas I got this, EVERYBODY KNOWS I’M A MOTHERFUCKING MONSTER!”, and Jay bemoans the “vampires and bloodsuckers” who have followed him into fame, Kanye’s boasting style seems aligned with his mentor’s. But in “N*ggas in Paris,” where Jay-Z starts off the track with much more conventional boasting (“I’m gonna go Michael/Take your pick/Jackson/Tyson/Jordan, Game Six”), Kanye takes the track to a weirder and more delightful places, most memorably when he talks about how he would one-up Prince William (“If I was him I would have MARRIED KATE AND ASHLEY!”). The contrast is even sharper on the remixed version of “Diamonds in Sierra Leone” on Late Registration. In his plaintive opening verse, Kanye talks about civil war, conflict diamonds, and the high human cost of bling (“I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless/ ‘Til I seen a picture of a shorty armless”). Jay-Z focuses instead on his own capabilities: “Difficult takes a day/Impossible takes a week.”

Kanye’s discussion of his wealth is not simple rapper image-building. It’s just a facet of the single most important thing about him. He states plainly states that fact in “New Slaves” after declaring “I throw those Maybach keys!”– “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” Kanye’s music and his public persona are mostly-unfiltered expressions of his emotions and experience. This is a guy whose first two albums featured songs about his love of Jesus, his anxiety about kids dying for his bling, his sorrow at his grandmother’s death, and his unrestrained love for his mother. These are not songs recorded with the intention of making you think that he’s a badass. And Kanye hasn’t fundamentally changed in recent years. Even “Power,” a self-celebrating tune about fame, he displays a characteristic vulnerability: “How’s Ye doin?/I’m survivin’/I was drinking earlier/Now I’m drivin’/Where the bad bitches, ha?/Where ya hidin’?” Even in a song highlighting the peak of his fame (which he has complicated feelings towards, wryly referring to himself as “the abomination of Obama’s nation”), he paints a picture of himself as a sad, tipsy man trolling about town in his car seeking bad bitches that just won’t come to him. He’s willing to reveal himself at his most vulnerable and pathetic even as he celebrates his high status.

If we read Kanye’s discussions of his wealth and success in light of this total emotional openness, we really see that they are mostly just statements about his experience of his life as a rich and famous person. “New Slaves” is uneven because it reflects an unevenness within Kanye’s own experience. He lives as one of his society’s wealthiest and most powerful people, but remains conscious of the plight of the people he grew up with. He still feels their pain, and throws it, and all the anger he feels about it into his music.  A friend of mine suggested that he really is a confessional poet, much like Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath.  It is fitting that Kanye, the champion of American poetry’s most popular genre, is also the heir of one of its most respected literary forms.

220px-Anne_Sexton_by_Elsa_Dorfman

Anne Sexton, ready to lay down some rhymes (wikimedia commons)

Forsaken by Yeezus

by williedollars

On the night of May 17, Kanye West projected a performance New Slaves on 66 screens in ten cities throughout the world. The rest of the world remained dark.

On the night of May 17, Kanye West projected a performance New Slaves on 66 screens in ten cities throughout the world. The rest of the world remained dark.

If only by the grace of Jørn Utzon, Sydney was saved. All bets were off before the feudal reigns of Drake and LeBron, but fortunately for Toronto and Miami the sixth coming occurred in 2013 and they too were saved. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Paris and Berlin never had to worry: they would always be saved. As for the rest, cities and towns from the American bible belt to the Argentinian Pampas to the Altai Mountains, the night of May 17 will henceforth be remembered as the night the dark lord kept mum, the night they were forsaken by Yeezus.

It was foretold. He gave them time to make the necessary preparations. At 6:34 Eastern, his twitter feed sprang to life with the proclamation in all caps and they knew they had four hours. Some desperately scanned the darkened map of locations then refreshed and scanned again, wondering when the red dot would appear over Tokyo or Barcelona or Rio, wondering when He would realize his mistake. He’d made mistakes before, they reassured themselves. Yet the map stayed dark. Even worse, the world grew dark around them as day slid into joyless, unholy night and the walls of their city stayed dark too. The betrayal was felt less deeply elsewhere. Maybe a few in Houston optimistically clicked the link, but those in Pittsburgh simply nodded and resolutely accepted. They had been living on borrowed time anyway, as if those churning, primal utterances beneath Clique were pacing a select few to the promised land and the rest to their final silence. He said as much on that record itself: “Break records at Louis / Ate breakfast at Gucci.” For those in cities without hulking Art Deco flagships on the corner of the Champs-Élysées, warning was delivered months ago.

The forsaken masses were forced to turn to the internet to watch how it unfolded secondhand. For all it has done to subvert the monoculture, the internet is just as capable of turning any video or meme into a tour de force in a new global mainstream. In this mainstream, Gangnam Style has 1.6 billion views. And as with every other star today, the internet is culpable for Kanye West’s transition from a man once ridiculed for his suggestion that He would be a bit player in a modern day Bible to an immortal whose fans excitedly believed His new album would be titled I Am God and were almost disappointed to end up with just Yeezus.

But once assured of His throne, He moved to weed out unbelievers from his court. He targeted the flyover state masses, the ones who still participate in the old modes of monoculture. First He humiliated country/pop radio sweetheart Taylor Swift; then He swept in and impregnated reality tv icon Kim Kardashian. What angers these women’s followers most  is that they cannot figure out how Kanye became a star on equal footing with those two in the first place. And how has His destabilizing influence only grown over the past three years? Did He not lose the respect of millions of people with those blasphemies?

Yes, and that was the plan. Those millions are not the right kind of people. They are neither trendsetting youth nor luxury globetrotters. They have  never “popped champagne on a plane / while getting some brain” or asked “What’s that jacket? Margiela?” They are merely the 99%, associated with a lack of money but more importantly with a lack of the nebulous term “taste.” In these times, the worshipers at Yeezus’ temple are the 1%. The backing of the 1% of every kind of tastemaker–from the music critics who hailed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as an instant classic to the fashion designers who sat Him in the front row in Milan–can keep an artist’s career more than merely “afloat.” And it goes unsaid that Kanye’s chosen ones are most highly concentrated in the ten global cities where he debuted New Slaves the night of May 17.

Well, Margiela for H&M. But it still makes Him happy and a happy god is a benevolent god!

Well, Margiela for H&M. But it still makes Him happy and a happy god is a benevolent god!

But the internet insistently remained as the leveler. Not all who love Kanye live in the chosen cities. Lot lived compassionately in Sodom, did he not? Somewhere, a whisper carries out of China, “So many of us here love your music too even if we continue to be persecuted for listening to it! Persecuted by those who do not understand! Oh please help us Yeezus, please!” Yeezus had no choice but recognize that He could only gradually tone down His accessibility to the masses. Music videos became rarer, always confusing and never normal length. YouTube populism could be saved for Bieber. The twitter feed would continue, but only for strictly regulated promotional purposes: a feed with only 3 tweets for 9 million followers. Over the past month, videos of performances of any new material leaked onto the internet, of course, as did videos of the 66 buildings of New Slaves so the forsaken ones can sneak glances even now.

But they are only glances at shadows. The world has gone dark outside of the chosen cities, dark with nothing left but grainy bootlegged audio through laptop speakers. They have been turned around so that the fire now burns behind them and the true glory can no longer be seen save for by the New Yorker who himself walked outside the cave right into the Met Gala or a Williamsburg brownstone or the SNL audience.

Kanye grudgingly accepts that certain modes of monoculture must still be utilized, however it is not difficult to tell that he appears cold and alone during the credits of SNL.

Kanye grudgingly accepts that certain modes of monoculture must still be utilized, however it is not difficult to tell that he appears cold and alone during the credits of SNL.

Did Yeezus feel anything when He cut the excess weight, leaving so many followers out cold due simply to location? When He damned them to silence with ten red dots at the wrong spots on a map? The World Wide Web has not stopped integrating all humanity into a single network, but Yeezus has decided to stop patronizing it. And why would He when the World Wide Yeezy Projection Network is doing such a brisk business in the production of a supernova of hype, cult and exclusivity? Call Him an egomaniac or a Luddite and condemn Him for betraying those who were loyal. Or praise Him because He possessed the resolve to see his final vision through. It will not matter. He does not listen. He judged your city a dick or a swallower and will not be questioned further. Those in Sydney especially should care to celebrate unobtrusively.

Oh hey there, it's just me, Italy, haaaanging out over here, wondering exactly how exactly zero of my cities got picked. Keep it 300, like the Romans, right Kanye? Oh yeah, we totally get that chorus line from your new song Black Skinhead because, believe it or not, the historical era you're referring to was actually centered in ROME, unlike any of your premiers.

Oh hey there, it’s just me, Italy, haaaanging out over here, wondering exactly how exactly zero of my cities got picked. Keep it 300, like the Romans, right Kanye? Oh yeah, we totally get that chorus line from your new song Black Skinhead because, believe it or not, the historical era you’re referring to was actually centered in ROME, unlike any of your premiers.

A Perfect and Beautiful Imagination: Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby

by Henry Gorman

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Spoilers will follow. But you probably read this book in high school anyway, so you should go right ahead.

First things first: Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is really fucking different from that book you read in high school. Fitzgerald’s novel is measured, subtle, and delicately crafted. Its title is ironic. It ends with a revelation of Gatsby’s hollowness. His grandstanding, elaborate public persona is but a paper-thin sham covering pathetic dreams.

Baz Luhrman, glorious grandiose cinematic man-child that he is, has no time for boring things like “subtletly” or “irony” or “ten minutes without any intense images or sound.” His Jay Gatsby is unapologetically great. His film preserves Gatsby’s history, but it reveals his deceptions at its midpoint rather than its end, and changes their presentation. Gatsby’s fabulations cease to be shameful marks of his hidden life, and instead become manifestations of his idealistic and incorruptible dream. As Carey Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan would say, they emanate from his “perfect and beautiful imagination.” The film shares his excess, replacing the book’s dry sensibility with a sustained explosion of color, costuming, and copulation, all set to a furious soundtrack of thunderous hip-hop beats, bombastic contemporary pop, and roaring automobile engines. Clearly Luhrman, himself a mad dreamer of the first class, could not but celebrate the earnest young man who, in his film, once gazed at the Milky Way shining above his tawdry North Dakota home and decided that he could become more.

Some among you will shout “Baz is bastardizing Gatsby! It’s time to pan this motherfucker!” But I do not make a fetish of any novel, and I have no truck with those who demand that adaptations not transform their source material. The unsanctioned offspring of Fitzgerald’s prose and Luhrman’s lurid mind is a powerful and original work of art which exquisitely captures the atmosphere and feel of its setting.

Again, you will cry out: “But how can this be? Surely, there was not rap music in the 1920s! Girls should be doing the Charleston, not anything this booty-shaking! Also, parties were not that crazy! Colors were not that bright! New York was not that sunny and shining! Motor-cars were not that fast or loud!”

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(1920s star Josephine Baker doing the Charleston)

But here, Baz Luhrman’s abandons specific visual and auditory details in service of the “feel” of the city in the 1920s. Skyscrapers had just begun to spring up. Jazz was a new, transgressive, and indubitably black form of music. The “Modern Girl” flirted and smoked and Charlestoned her way into American cities’ streets and American boys’ hearts, aggressively challenging traditional ideas about female sexuality. The speed and energy of motorcars was so fresh and astonishing that an Italian poet could build a new art movement on the experience of a single night out running over dogs and crashing in a ditch (This is in Filipo Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto. Go google it and read it. You will not regret it). And life in the modern city, with its constant barrage of information and stimulation, was absolutely overwhelming to people who had just journeyed there. German thinkers like Walter Benjamin and Georg Simnel, seeking to explain the turmoil and unease that gripped their world, treated this overwhelming sensory stimulation, and the sense of both awe and disorientation that it caused, as one of the determining features of life in the modern capitalist world.

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(The City as seen by Modernist Painter Fernand Leger)

It’s just impossible for us to experience the reality of 1920s New York as 1920s New Yorkers did. Jazz today is for bourgeois-bohemians and old people. Flapper dresses and the Charleston are the province of quaint theme parties. Cars are just how we get to work. And thanks to TV and the internet, we’ve been stimulated since birth. So Baz Luhrman replaced all the period-accurate things that just wouldn’t evoke right sensations with things that would. Jazz not edgy or black enough? Use hip-hop! Cars not loud and crazy enough? Crank up the speed and volume! World not stimulating enough! Fill it with color! By ignoring the details of the 1920s, he captures their feeling better than a measured, unstylized, accurate representation actually would. And that is a fantastic achievement.

Of course, all this stimulation will leave some viewers exhausted. The film could have used more variation. Its grittier moments in the Valley of Ashes, which reveal the darker side of modernity– pollution, industrial ugliness, a dirty and alienated working class– are striking because of their contrast to the rest of the film. Luhrman should have given us more of this kind of feeling– both to better represent the era and to heighten the most intense moments of debauchery.

But I am willing to forgive this flaw in such an audacious film. One scene, where Nick Carraway gets drunk for only the second time in his life, will remain in my memory forever. Never has a director made the simple act of partying so gloriously Dionysian. The whole film is a Bacchanal, suffused with the same savage, joyous imaginative intensity that fills its male lead’s heart.