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Dominic Corry: Will The Great Gatsby get Baz Luhrmann back on track? (+trailer)

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Leonardo DiCaprio stars in The Great Gatsby.  Photo / Supplied
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in The Great Gatsby. Photo / Supplied

In a mainstream cinematic landscape all too often devoid of personality, Baz Luhrmann remains - love him or hate him - one of the most distinctive voices working today, and one of the few studio filmmakers worthy of the title "auteur".

With the release this week of the trailer for his upcoming adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, attention is once again focused on the Australian writer/director.

He's coming off his greatest creative and commercial failure - 2008's Australia - and The Great Gatsby has the potential to prove whether Australia was an aberration, or the beginning of a downward slide.

After breaking out with the spirited Strictly Ballroom in 1992, Luhrmann solidified his aesthetic leanings with his dazzling 1996 adaptation of Romeo + Juliet.

The film not only demonstrated the director's willingness to push the artistic and musical boundaries of mainstream cinema, but was a significant pre-Titanic show of dramatic strength from Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays the title role in Luhrmann's upcoming film.

2001's divisive Moulin Rouge went even further, and proved once again that Luhrmann was a consummate showman above all else. He spent the next several years developing an ultimately aborted Alexander the Great project (which was to star DiCaprio) before moving onto the would-be David Lean-esque Australia.

And it's here where his vision kinda went off the rails. Lush? Sure. Epic? No doubt. Impactful? Not in the slightest. If Australia proved nothing else, it showed that Luhrmann's skills don't lie in portraying large-scale action. Watching Australia all but crushed my curiosity about what his Alexander the Great movie would've been like.

But I'm ready to believe in Baz again, and the trailer for The Great Gatsby is giving me a lot of hope. It's also helped me come to a realisation about why DiCaprio and Luhrmann are so well-suited to each other.

Undeniably a great actor, DiCaprio's eternal youthfulness has undermined his on-screen authority in films like The Aviator and Shutter Island, lending these flicks a slight Bugsy Malone-esque quality. As DiCaprio ages, this is becoming less of an issue, but his films often come across - to some degree at least - as kids playing dress-up.

Looking back over Lurhmann's oeuvre, I have reached the conclusion that Luhrmann also possesses this overreaching youthfulness, but in an aesthetic sense. His films are brash, loud, emotional explosions that wear their hearts on their sleeves and desperately want you to love them.

They are the filmic equivalent of DiCaprio's acting presence - earnest and direct and endearing with a hint of immaturity that renders them difficult to take completely seriously. But ultimately winsome.

In retrospect, DiCaprio and Lurhmann's collaboration on Romeo + Juliet represents a perfect marriage of filmmaking sensibility and performance. I believe this can be recaptured in The Great Gatsby. It is, after all, a story about nostalgia and longing - two emotions both men project in spades, one in his performance, the other in his directorial style.

I may be a little bit bias though, as I was lucky enough to visit the Sydney set of The Great Gatsby while it was shooting last year, and I witnessed up close the level of artistry and expression going into the film. My impressions are reflected well in the trailer for the film, which explodes with life, colour and music.

Indeed, one specific aspect of Luhrmann's style I have always responded to is his ability to evoke the all-embracing emotional power of popular music. This was reflected in the soundtrack of Romeo + Juliet and in the body of Moulin Rouge.

It's a sensibility now front and centre in pop culture with the success of shows like Glee and the upcoming hair metal-medley musical Rock of Ages.

This zeitgeist-harnessing musical acumen shows itself in the trailer for The Great Gatsby with the surprisingly appropriate usage of No Church In The Wild, the opening track from Kanye West and Jay Z's recent album Watch The Throne, which features vocals by Frank Ocean.

The track has been used in movie trailers before, but its understated power rocks the world of 1922 New York presented in the Great Gatsby preview, and has me very excited for the film. I really hope the song is in the movie itself, and not just the trailer.

It's this aspect of The Great Gatsby - the music - I'm probably most curious about. I can't wait to see if he uses contemporaneous music from the era, or jazzes (sorry) things up with modern tracks. I hope it's a hearty mixture of both.

Part of me is tempted to view Baz Luhrmann as a Corky from Waiting for Guffman-type figure made good, but I'll never stop appreciating how he clearly puts every part of his heart and soul into every project he makes.

I'm really looking forward to The Great Gatsby, and I am confident it will signify a new era for Luhrmann. Just don't get me started on the whole 3D thing.

Did Australia put you off Baz Luhrmann? Are you amped for The Great Gatsby? Thoughts on the trailer? Comment below!

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