Donald Clarke on Gatsby’s last-gasp review blackout
There are many reasons to attend the Cannes Film Festival. You get the chance to escape all that pesky Irish sun and enjoy a refreshing Mediterranean downpour. Your muscles will swell impressively as you fight your way through heaving crowds of sharp-elbowed foreign journalists. You get a free bag.
More than anything else, however, Cannes is to be savoured because you get to see major motion pictures before anybody else in the world has had a glance. (Apart from the film-makers, obviously. Just stay with me for a moment.)
All of which brings us to the peculiar case of The Great Gatsby. On Wednesday night, Leonardo DiCaprio and Baz Luhrmann swanned up the red carpet for the European premiere of the Australian director’s take on F Scott Fitzgerald’s best novel. What could it possibly be like? Tension was palpable as the beast blinked nervously into the spotlight. The veil had finally been lifted.
Do you sense the bubbling irony in the above?
Of course, by the time the curtain came up on The Great Gatsby, the picture had already been on release in the US for the guts of a week. Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregate site, had, travelling from sea to shining sea, gathered together more than 160 mixed notices. This Twitter thing was abuzz with chatter about it.
All this was a bit tricky for Cannes. A festival’s opening film feels that bit less exciting when it has already, well, opened. Happi- ly, a solution was to hand. They would just turn back time.
My facetiousness has run away with me. But Warner Bros’ attempt to impose an embargo on European press reviews until the day of the Cannes screening did end up looking a tiny bit pointless.
There was no enormous tyranny at work. Most critics from this continent didn’t see the film until Tuesday. In the olden days, they would barely have had time to get their notices printed before Wednesday anyway. But the notion that, in the days of smart phones and computer spectacles, Cannes attendees would approach the film in a state of review-free innocence is comical in its absurdity.
In a relatively rare outbreak of civil disobedience, the British papers threw up their virtual hands and ran their reviews ahead of the supposed embargo. By Tuesday, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian had all passed judgment on the film.
Does it matter? A little. Any decay in the nice old tradition that sees reviews emerge simultaneously in one great mass does the creaky old newspaper industry no good. We depend on people associating certain articles with certain days of the week. That’s how the old dead-tree model works. Friday it’s movies. Wednesday it’s the car stuff. And so on. This anarchy undermines what little order remains.
Which is not to say it’s worth fighting the inexorable advance of the evening tide. We can, however, whinge about getting wet.