Baz not fazed by critics, but loves his audiences

BAZ Luhrmann is a filmmaker who has never lacked vision.  

His style is distinctive and immediately recognisable. It's big, colourful and sometimes frenetic.  

Just like his previous four feature films, Luhrmann's big-budget Great Gatsby remake has divided critics.  

Rolling out around the world over the past two months, Gatsby is proving to be the director's biggest commercial success to date.  

Just a few weeks ago it was at the top of the Japanese box office and has grossed more than $153.4 million ($141.6m US).  

"You can put up posters, you can take up radio ads, you can put on opening nights but it's only if audiences are giving you strong word of mouth does it grow," he said on the phone from New York.  

"Strictly Ballroom got the same critical mix I get on everything. Moulin Rouge took six months to crawl into the Oscars race.  

"But Gatsby is different. It's way beyond what I've ever had in terms of presence. I can just tell we're in the middle of it.  

"It's got its own momentum and I will tell you one thing that I know - in the end the audience decides."  

Taking on a novel as revered and open for interpretation as F Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby is a risky move for any filmmaker.  

Despite Luhrmann consulting Penn State's Professor of English James LW West, the general editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of F Scott Fitzgerald, critics have found details and historical inaccuracies at which to nitpick.  

And then there's the mash-up of Roaring '20s fashions and a modern soundtrack.  

But Luhrmann says many of his critics are missing the point.  

The soundtrack is full of hip-hop songs by artists like Jay-Z, Beyonce, Andre 300, will.i.am and Q Tip to mirror the jazz influences which were modern and hip for the year in which the novel was published.  

"I wanted the film to feel like the book felt when you read it in 1925," he said.  

"It was the same process with Romeo + Juliet. It wasn't to make a funky Romeo + Juliet; it wasn't reverential.  

"It was simply that people didn't speak with round vowels (back in Shakespeare's time).

"I was trying to find a mechanism to make it feel Fitzgeraldy in the sense that he was a pop culturalist and certainly a modernist."  

The film has done well for him at home, recording the biggest ever opening weekend ($6.79m) for an Australian movie domestically.  

"I know there are friends of my Mother who thought it was all edgy and crazy, but the truth is when those friends of

my Mother eventually went to the movie it was nothing like what they were lead to believe it might be," he said.   "Most of the things are very classically done. If anything it's old fashioned.  

"I just hope my fellow Australians make the decision to go and see the movie and decide for themselves."  

Never one to rest, just because he's not a prolific filmmaker doesn't mean he's not always busy, Luhrmann is currently working with Bryan Ferry and his orchestra on their jazz version of the Gatsby soundtrack - Yellow Cocktail Music: The Great Gatsby Jazz Recordings - to be released on CD and vinyl this month.  

He's also hard at work on the long-awaited stage version of Strictly Ballroom, which he says will come to Sydney next year.  

"Outside of that I'm working on how I can get more time with my children," he said.  

"They are rascals to say the least."  

The Great Gatsby is in cinemas now.



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