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April 26, 2013

Jeremiah Tucker: 'Gatsby' soundtrack invokes sounds of 'Romeo + Juliet'

JOPLIN, Mo. — This week singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey released the new song "Young and Beautiful" from the upcoming soundtrack to "The Great Gatsby," director Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation of the Great American Novel and future essential viewing for generations of high-school kids too lazy to read the book for class -- assuming books still exist in the future.

The new song by Del Rey sounds a lot like her older songs, slightly anesthetized and cloaked in vintage cool, as if she set her aural Instagram filter to "jazz speakeasy--1920s" and ran the song through it. From what I've seen of the film in trailers, it's a perfect fit for Luhrmann's lurid, oversaturated take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's tale of the American Dream curdling, and it should sound great booming from your local cineplex's speakers.

Listening to it, however, I'm not transported to the roaring '20s. Instead I find myself back in 1996 watching "Romeo + Juliet," the first time Luhrmann adapted a literary classic for the big screen. I have a vivid memory of watching Luhrmann's version of Shakespeare at the now demolished second-run Eastgate movie theater during the middle of a boring Christmas-break afternoon, a few days after I'd turned 16.

Here are some of the ways you knew "Romeo + Juliet" was cool in the '90s:

  • The movie's title didn't have time for the Bard's use of a boring conjunction. Instead it used a cross, letting you know it's not afraid to play fast and loose with religious iconography. This ain't your parents' Shakespeare.
  • Neon.
  • The guys in the movie carried pistols that had the word "sword" engraved on them, in case you didn't understand there weren't handguns in Shakespeare's original play. My only complaint is that I wish the cars had said "steed" in a cool flame decal on the hoods.
  • Angela from "My So-Called Life" was in it. You weren't sure if you bought her as "hot" yet, or even understood why Romeo was being such a whiny little daisy-boy about her, but you trusted her instincts as a relatable teen.
  • You still thought Leonardo DiCaprio was soft as butter, though he rocked that open Hawaiian shirt.
  • Romeo drops ecstasy. (Is "drops" the right verb? I didn't even realize what he was doing in that scene when I was younger. I thought Mercutio had given him aspirin.)
  • John Leguizamo's soul patch.
  • Juliet shoots herself, a gritty callback to Kurt Cobain. (RIP, K.C.)
  • The dope soundtrack, which featured Garbage and Radiohead.

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