When F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing The Great Gatsby, he wasn’t doing it from memory but from current experience. The novel chronicled the Jazz Age, as well as frenzy of money-grubbing on Wall Street that would unravel before the end of the decade, as it was happening. And yet the novel has always conveyed the wistful wooziness of remembered halcyon days with the bitter tang of regret still on the tongue — A la recherchez du temps perdu.
The book, though, didn’t really catch on until after Fitzgerald’s death, when, with the benefit of hindsight, readers could appreciate his prescience, his exactitude in painting vivid word pictures of the excess and glamour of the Roaring Twenties.
Baz Luhrmann likes picture-pictures more than word pictures, as evidenced by his feverish, stylized films about young lovers (Romeo+Juliet, set in the modern day) and le belle epoque (Moulin Rouge, with its rock score). After the boondoggle that was Australia, he’s back to his roots, emphasizing the spectacle of the the ’20s as only he can.