The Great Gatsby is a 2013 historical romantic drama movie based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel. The visual aesthetic, directing, storyline, performances, soundtrack, and the movie’s adaptation of the original material all drew praise and criticism from critics of The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby is a beautiful illustration of how character depiction and production design, notably Art Deco design, which epitomises the 1920s, are crucial to bringing a historical drama to life. Production designer Catherine Martin has skillfully portrayed cherished American literature in a believable and appealing universe.

Style 

The Great Gatsby’s success is mainly due to Catherine Martin’s emphasis on Art Deco design. To create an opulent 1920s, one must concentrate on this design aesthetic. In addition to being crucial for giving the movie credibility, the Art Deco aesthetic has historically been linked to the carefree lifestyle of this generation’s wild youth. This easygoing mindset and environment are unquestionably appropriate for The Great Gatsby.

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Gatsby’s master bedroom

The master bedroom of the main character Jay Gatsby is highly contemporary and decorated in the newest Art Deco glitz. Ruhlmann’s Art Deco served as several inspirations for the bedroom. Machine Age materials and striking geometric shapes are connected with the Art Deco aesthetic. Chrome, leather, and highly polished lacquer are typical examples of the materials utilised in this style, which has an automotive and industrial vibe. To achieve the Art Deco style, geometric shapes, including spheres, triangles, zigzags, stylized stars, sunbursts, and chevrons, are frequently grouped in symmetrical patterns. The production design of Gatsby’s two-story master bedroom combines geometric shapes, opulent ornamentation, and industrial features, which are the three critical components of Art Deco design.

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Silk and wood ribbons are criss-crossed to create a harlequin pattern that covers the walls. The walls are covered in light polished wood and cream silk diamonds. These shapes match the symmetrical patterns and repeated diamonds on Martin’s own-designed carpet beneath the bed. Additionally, there is little doubt that the Art Deco influence can be seen in the repetition of square wood panels on the first level and the rectangles of Gatsby’s drawers and shelves on the second level. The room’s symmetry unifies the area perfectly and emphasises the Art Deco design. In Gatsby’s bedroom, lavish embellishment is another example of Art Deco design. These ornaments can be seen in the rich hardwood floors, the mahogany wall panels, and the columns. In the bathroom, behind the bed, the mirrored wall panels are a significant Art Deco design decision. The rounded chairs, velvet upholstery, and shining cream and gold materials on the bed are minor details that contribute to the room’s overall mood. The room’s industrial elements lend angular and sturdy components throughout. The industrial enthusiasm for Art Deco style is evident in the stainless steel accent on the bed and the steel lamps on the nightstands. The bronze railings and staircase on the second level are also made of industrial metals. The stainless steel is blended with the bronze metals, and Martin achieved an industrial feel. 

Representation of Character 

Production designer Martin responds, “Just as the music plays a significant role in establishing the tone, the sets are central to developing character and revealing the inner world in an outside fashion,” when asked how production design is crucial to The Great Gatsby tale. Characters in The Great Gatsby can be distinguished from one another by their unique personalities and status, thanks to the sets. The hollowness of the upper class and the contrast between new and old money are two critical ways the people in the movie are portrayed.

New money versus old money 

In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby’s character has always yearned for money and refinement. After he met his love interest, Daisy Buchanan, who led this lavish lifestyle, his longing grew stronger. Unsurprisingly, when he eventually achieved financial success, he lavished his home with gloss and glamour. The figure of Gatsby is a man who indulges in new wealth and spends recklessly. Daisy’s persona represents an old-money person who is at ease and more conservative with her wealth. The difference between the lavish Georgian house owned by the Buchanans and the opulent home owned by Gatsby in terms of production design wonderfully illustrates the idea of new money against old money. St. Patrick’s Seminary in Sydney, where Gatsby lived, has an opulent Gothic revival vibe to its front. The enormous fountain in front of Gatsby’s house represents his exaggerated display of wealth when he first arrived. Although there are some classic Art Deco elements, it is evident that Gatsby’s house is extravagant. Daisy’s stunning brick house symbolises a more serene, spotless perception of prosperity. Daisy’s house is grand but elegant and traditional.

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The contrast between Daisy’s living room and Gatsby’s entrance illustrates the distinction between new and old money. Martin expertly designed Gatsby’s estate to capture his flamboyant and flashy personality and his lack of social elegance. The Gatsby foyer has a winding staircase, a marquetry floor with an enormous monogram in the middle, a gold-filigree ceiling with numerous extravagant chandeliers, giant towering columns between large windows, and more. The staircase’s intimidating flamboyance entirely takes over the room.

The living room at The Buchanan, however, is far more tasteful. It is evident from this area that Daisy designed a lovely yet cosy and practical space to live and entertain. The Buchanans live in a beautiful house that is more modern and less flashy than Gatsby’s house. The area is modest and feels Hollywood Regency and Deco in style. The decor is elegant yet subtle, with modern furniture, art, and long vertical windows overlooking the formal gardens. These features of the space are meant to contrast Daisy with Gatsby, a new-money fantasist.

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The hollowness of upper class 

The idea of the hollowness of the upper class is a common topic in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The newly wealthy are portrayed as vulgar and disgraceful, while those with old money are seen to be fickle and selfish in the book. The lower-class individuals reside in quaint cottages and apartments, whereas the upper-class characters reside in enormous houses with towering ceilings and icy marble flooring. Nick Carraway nicely contrasts Gatsby’s character and status. He is a happy young man attempting to succeed in the corporate world. The cosy cottage he rents reflects his calm, dependable, and accommodating nature.

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In contrast to his meticulously maintained lawn and garden, the lovely archway decorated with white flowers is warm and inviting. Low ceilings and quarter-sawn oak beams encircle Nick’s living area. Stickley-inspired furniture and moss-green tiles surround the fireplace’s hearth in the room. The room’s green accents and tiles, along with the oak furniture and rafters, give off a natural and pure vibe. Nick’s personality shines through in the space created by the compact size of the home and the cosy ambiance of each room.

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Similarly, Myrtle Wilson’s disorganised flat, located above Wilson’s Garage, exudes a warm atmosphere. The cosy red and pink hues might make anyone feel at home, just like Nick’s living room. Myrtle’s eclectic collection of frames, vases and other objects is strewn around the walls, shelves, and tables. Martin illustrated that a less affluent existence necessitates a more modest way of life by the size, set decorating, and colours utilised in Nick and Myrtle’s home.

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Conclusion 

The characters and period of Fitzgerald’s beloved novel are brought to life by Catherine Martin’s combination of imagination and historical allusions. Martin increases the tension and drama in the movie by highlighting the Art Deco movement, exemplifying the 1920s, and portraying the individuals’ different statuses and personalities. The production design’s Art Deco components and emphasis on the 1920s style represent the period’s carefree and wild way of life. Similarly, the production design contrasts the personalities of the main characters. It symbolises two essential themes of the narrative: the hollowness of the upper class and the difference between new and old money. Without the lavish, exciting, and thoroughly studied production design, Fitzgerald’s words alone would not have been enough to make The Great Gatsby movie work.

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References

Kelsey Egan. (2014). Film Production Design: Case Study of The Great Gatsby. Elon journal of undergraduate research in communications, Volume 5 (1), pp. 2-2. Available at: http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/968/2/film-production-design-case-study-of-the-great-gatsby  [Accessed: 9 January 2023]. 

Author

Currently in her 4th year of Architecture at IIT Roorkee, Avantika believes that architecture is a tool for meeting people’s aspirations and providing them with better experiences. When coupled with design thinking, architecture and research have the potential to enrich our societies and have a constructive impact. Creating socially, culturally, and environmentally sustainable spaces is what architecture means to her. Her experience as an architecture student has shifted her world view and taught her to be more observant and empathetic.

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