The time for a restoration of 1974 "The Great Gatsby" has come
It's funny how time seems to change attitudes towards many works of art, including the 1974 film treatment of Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby." At the time of its release the movie received some of the most scathingly negative reviews I can recall for any film. The reviews were no doubt a response to the enormous publicity that preceded the movie's release with promotion people at Paramount working overtime in promoting the movie as the finest film achievement since ""Gone With The Wind". Compared to the type of promotion that goes on today, this movie's promotion machine pales, but at the time it was quite a unique approach to marketing a movie. The film was on the cover of every imaginable magazine, including the very first issue of People magazine, and primed for failure from the start from all those in Hollywood who love to build something up only to revel in it being destroyed.
None of this back story had anything to do with the actual movie itself.
I recall seeing the movie on the first weekend of its opening and being utterly enchanted by the performances, costumes and ambiance of the production. I saw the movie a second time a few weeks later, only to be disturbed by the cuts that were made to the film, no doubt as a result of that critical backlash. A number of scenes were shortened with one whole character, the Owl Man, played by Tom Ewell completely edited out of the film. These cuts became permanent, with the film today showing the evidence of the cuts by occasional abrupt traditions. I have never seen any version of the film that had these cuts restored.
Now, 36 years after it's release, the movie has undergone the type of reassessment that only time can provide with it being appreciated for the lovely film that it is. With the movie certainly on it's way to Blu-Ray, it's the right time to see these cuts restored to the film so that people can finally see the ENTIRE film as it was initially intended and not the film formed by the hostile criticism it received.
I was not particularly fond of "Buffalo Bill and the Indians" when I saw it in the theater in 1976. I found the story ponderous and the cinematography rather difficult to handle.
When the movie was first released in 1976, quite a bit of controversy surrounded the washed out color and hazy yellow filter Altman had used to film the movie. I believe the intention was to make the movie look like a faded photograph. The final effect, at least to my eyes, was the equivalent of watching the film through yellow tinted sunglasses that were very, very dirty. I simply did not care for it. Nonetheless I couldn't deny it had made a strong impact on the feel of the film.
I recently watched the movie in HD on cable and was shocked to see that the hazy yellow filter that once colored the entire film was gone. The story was still ponderous but the images were as brightly colored as if they had been filmed for a TV movie. The image was much easier to watch but it caused me concern. By removing the filter, MGM had completely changed the feel of the film. Even though I hadn't liked it, this was no longer the movie that Altman had intended. It was like colorizing a black and white film.
I know that the movie was re-edited by Dino de Laurentis for European release and that Altman had denounced the changes that had been made. Perhaps the removal of the filter was made for this re-edited international version. I really don't know because I never saw it, but if it was, it should be restored to the original for modern distribution.
I find this a troubling precedent for the release of experimental films like this for DVD. The audience can no longer experience the film as it was intended. I can only hope that when the film is released on Blu-Ray they will allow the option of watching the film both with and without the filter Altman intended. As strange a failure as it was for a seasoned director like Altman to make, the look of "Buffalo Bill" and the Indians should be preserved as he had intended it.