Victoria Engle US285
Music and film are connected through the underlying purpose of storytelling. While the two media industries have developed over the years separately, the 1950s saw their initial amalgamation through the production of motion picture soundtrack albums (Smith, 63). With increasing pressure of chart and box-office topping success, music and film work together in attempt to produce and promote impactful material. With wide-ranging film audiences becoming increasingly difficult to capture, a perfect pairing of scenes and sound are necessary for a commercial hit. The music featured within The Great Gatsby (2013) works as marketing for the film while the film itself simultaneously markets the artists on the soundtrack. Using mostly star-text to form a relationship between sound, screen, and audience, the music implemented in this film adds an interesting aspect to the original, broadening the audience of viewers and listeners in the process. Drawing upon both historical and industrial context, The Great Gatsby exemplifies the extent to which contemporary ideas draw upon classic creations in order to appeal to the modern market.
Jazz music was then in the 1920s what hip-hop is now: popular, engaging, and relevant. By incorporating present-day songs, the fusion of jazz with these current familiar tracks proves to be successful. In the lavish party scenes of The Great Gatsby, jazzy horns and piano riffs meld with contemporary beats and artists:
Although the tracks sound completely modern, they do incorporate a 1920s feel to them, anchoring the straying songs throughout the film. As shown in the video clip above, the scene begins with a big band orchestra playing, a prominent trumpet line signaling the arrival of Jay Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) guests and the start of the party. Smoothly transitioning in to “Bang Bang” by will.i.am, the beats and swells of synth mix with the background jazz piano and organ, while will.i.am scat-sings to the end of his featured song. The party-goers then start to move to the beat of Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” again with blaring horns and piano riffs underlying the electronic hits and drum pad beats. The continuous quick film inserts of the band and organist ensure the sounds remain diegetic in the specific scene. This also offers the notion that the characters can hear what viewers hear, but to them it is the music of their time and they are enjoying it in their social setting. It is evident that the 1920s musicians, although talented, do not have the means to perform a song brimming with 2013 electronic dance beats. Rather than simply including jazz songs that would instantly further age the film, contemporary music was placed as a reflective form of a 1920s form of “party” music. The “kaleidoscopic carnival” Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) describes as the party brings people together from different backgrounds much like the way in which the blending of musical eras invites individuals from multiple markets.
The cross-promotion of records and films are beneficial to both industries (Smith, 65). The songs featured in The Great Gatsby are heard by the film’s potential viewers while also targeting these viewers with the promotion of specific songs featured in the film. This helps both the record and film industries in that the cost of their individual promotion is less, as well as easier to manage. In The Great Gatsby, director Baz Luhrmann successfully utilized the leading artists of the soundtrack, Jay-Z and Lana Del Ray, in further promotion of the film. The two lent their star-texts as both, respectively, contemporary All-American and retro affectation in order to ease The Great Gatsby in to the 21st century. In return, these artists were able to promote their songs and themselves through the film. With four songs in the feature film, Jay-Z largely promoted himself and his material, garnering interest that was perfectly timed with the release of his 2013 album Magna Carta…Holy Grail. Jay-z’s “rags to riches story” is comparable to the background of Jay Gatsby. Portraying himself as an extravagant person leading a luxurious lifestyle, those familiar with Jay-Z and his star-text easily apply their impressions of him and his songs on to Jay Gatsby- the character for which Jay-Z ultimately earned executive producing credit for applying his stylistic sounds to (Trakin, 1).
Similarly, in the time between the release of her album Paradise and The Great Gatsby film opening in theatres, Lana Del Ray released “Young and Beautiful,” the lead single for The Great Gatsby record.
Haunting and somber, “Young and Beautiful” is the lyrical journey of Daisy Buchanan’s (Carey Mulligan) trepidation of her relationship and love for Gatsby. Lana Del Ray’s soft and self-reflective mannerisms speak to Daisy’s behaviors within the film. Appearing at each time that Daisy and Gatsby meet, the multiple versions of “Young and Beautiful” (simple instrumental, full orchestra instrumental, and lyrical studio version) mirror the emotions within the scenes where the two come together. It is poignant in its entirety, lyrics and all, while sweet when it is an uncomplicated instrumental, sprinkled throughout the film. Once established as “Daisy and Gatsby’s song” the leading track signifies the psychological state of both characters and trigger a response in those watching. The rotating themes of nostalgia and uncertainty of love tug at the heart strings of viewers, successfully pulling them in to the world of the song and the film through which it is featured; it’s success evident in its nomination for a Grammy Award for “Best Song Written for Visual Media." “Young and Beautiful” successfully narrates Daisy and Gatsby’s connection while also associating the singer, Lana Del Ray, with this romantic feel and vintage 1920s air about her.
All of the songs featured in The Great Gatsby encompass both modern sounds and effects with “Roaring 20s” influences. Characterized by regularity in its rhythm and lively resonance, jazz effortlessly mingles with the contemporary beats and hypnotic timbre. The modernism of the soundtrack does not separate the film from belonging in the 1920s time period; rather it engages the audience in comprehending the cultural references of the time. The 1920s was a time of urban living, blossoming consumerism, and often racy culture. Blending from one moment of present music to a moment of jazz and back again, the interwoven sounds create an overall sense of exoticism and intoxication as illustrated throughout the film within the overstated lifestyles, lavish parties, and the speakeasy, for example:
Jay-Z’s “$100 Bill” at this scene offers a musical commentary describing the characters in the barbershop speakeasy. With actual sound bits from the film and lyrics about power and wealth, Jay-Z’s track speaks to the audience, offering a sense of decadence and how some of those living during this time achieved it. The vocal textures and high levels of fantasy of all of the songs and performances in the film are recognized by audiences and the storyline melds in to a collaboration of imagination. According to Jeff Smith, movie soundtrack albums are an important tool for film promotion and aestheticism, becoming a cultural phenomenon on its own (Smith, 63). Because artists like Jay-Z and Lana Del Ray are featured in the film as well as on the accompanying album, they are closely connected with both. Becoming commercially viable, their star-texts transcend selling records and filling theatre seats to selling the association they have with The Great Gatsby. Jeff Smith discusses the importance of the soundtrack album, believing it to be the most common and imperative form of film music exploitation, if not the most important legacy of Hollywood’s entry into the record business (Smith, 77). The involvement of artists like Jay-Z and Lana Del Ray draw more of the attention to themselves as a whole, not just their featured tracks. These two are so beneficial to the overall sound of The Great Gatsby that this success may be attributed to their talents and all around presence:
The stars of the film and the soundtrack, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lana Del Ray, Carey Mulligan, and Jay-Z to name a few, are used interchangeably. They each even have their own poster in front of the recognizable The Great Gatsby background. This suggests that each industry’s involvement is dependent on the other for a complete campaign for general success. “When all cogs of the promotional machine were smoothly functioning, interest in one component ‘synergistically’ fed off interest in the other until both film and soundtrack album reigned supreme over box offices and record charts” (Smith, 65). By treating the music as another character in the film that was just as important as the leading characters, director Baz Luhrmann was able to beautifully mix both music and screen as well as past and present.
The Great Gatsby appeals to both older viewers who are knowledgeable of the American novel, or the original film, as well as younger demographics that are more familiar with the artists featured on the album. The music as a whole works well with the film in this regard as well as the specific songs associated with particular scenes in the film and the way in which it markets the artist/singer who performs it. The strong soundtrack aids the reception of the visuals and characters, manifesting the sense of fantasy provided by these audio and visual bits. The music in The Great Gatsby markets the film as an old-timey nostalgic fantasy that can be found in contemporary society. The neo-jazz sense of the album works as an audible escape for those listening and leads to a viewing of The Great Gatsby for visual opulence to accompany the mystical elements that Jay-Z and Lana Del Ray hint at. The perfect pairing of scenes and sounds is not new, rather the way that the music editor blends old and new is ear-grabbing. Bringing the story from the past to the present, the music and film work together to immerse listeners in to an experience that they can appreciate more because they can comprehend the contexts on a deeper level. Seeing and hearing the 1920s in a new way, The Great Gatsby’s treatment of aged music styles is a noteworthy example of how to breathe life in to an “old sport.”
Smith, Jeff. "Banking on Film Music." The Sounds of Commerce: Marketing Popular Film Music. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. 63-81. Print.
Trakin, Roy. "From Flappers to Rappers: 'The Great Gatsby' Music Supervisor Breaks Down the Film's Soundtrack." The Hollywood Reporter. N.p., 11 May 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.