House of the Dead
In an article in the NY Times entitled My Home, the House of the Dead, by William G. Thomas III, a professor of history at the University of Nebraska, he tells of his family lore making their homestead in Virginia a hospital during the Civil War. Even more important to a young William was the story that the adjoining carriage house was where the dead were placed prior to burial. The story was William’s motivation to dig for positive proof that the lore was true. He says, “In searching for the answers I found myself asking yet another, even harder question: how do we know what we know about the past?” http://nyti.ms/17J6kQx
The Great Gatsby
Piled atop this Times article are my thoughts about the movie I watched last night: The Great Gatsby directed by Baz Luhrman. It took me straight to William Thomas’ question about knowing what we know about the past, more importantly, what Baz knows or doesn’t know about it. I assume Baz chose to use the iconic Fitzgerald novel as a prop for his vision of what the late twenties were all about. He may have nailed the era but he couldn’t have given us a worse adaptation of the novel. Entertainment Weekly skewered the movie better than I ever could: “Too bad Luhrmann, the caffeinated conductor, doesn’t trust that story enough. He’d rather blast your retinas into sugar-shock submission. Uncle, old sport! Uncle!” F. Scott is rolling over in his grave as are a couple of my college Lit profs.
What Luhrman did to Gatsby, Francis Ford Coppola did twice over to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Each man adapted a great work of literary art by plastering it with a highly hallucinatory version of history. In both cases, the book suffers. In Coppola’s case, he also manages to denigrate veterans of the Vietnam War as idiotic air cavalry majors high on the ‘smell of napalm in the morning.” We can only hope that future students of literature and history leave these two movies off their personal syllabus.
Back to the House of the Dead article, William relates that a “lack of hard evidence…only strengthened (his) belief in the family lore”. Let’s hope that students have more luck than William did finding definitive source materials so they don’t need to stoop to either Luhrman or Coppola.
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