I wrote a blog about teaching The Great Gatsby a year ago, and I included heaps of summaries of the famous novel which I used in my own English 3 classes. This year Baz Luhrmann did all us English teachers a favor and released the incredibly-hyped, Jay-Z-soundtracked, colorful and decadent, NEW film version of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. So my first and most obvious new tool to American Lit teachers is…SHOW THE MOVIE! Next year I mean. Since the school year has just ended and the movie is still only in theaters. Though I think the hype caused a lot of disappointment (which lotsa hype will do sometimes), I found the film to be a really faithful retelling of the book. Plus it is entertaining, the music is good, the actors are attractive and well-casted (compare the gruff and “hulking” Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in the 2013 movie to the sissy and funny-voiced Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan in the 1974 movie and tell me this new cast isn’t great!), and Luhrmann beats his audience over the head with the symbolic significance of “the green light” probably as much as you teachers do in class.
I was showing the different trailers as we progressed through the book this year. They provided great visuals and actually excited students. Here is one of them.
Of course the soundtrack to this movie is also a good tool. A soundtrack that is often 20’s-inspired and often inspired by Jay Gatsby himself could be used as a way to incorporate “poetry” into a unit on Gatsby. Here is the song “100 Dollar Bill” by Jay-Z. (Warning, there are a few grown up words…which teenagers say constantly.)
Teachers: perhaps you could have your students try to break down the lyrics, like they’ve probably done with poetry before, in order to interpret the meaning behind the words. Also, there is ample opportunity to identify and discuss how Jay-Z writes Gatsby-inspired lyrics. For more help, check out “Rap Genius,” which is one of my favorite websites:
By clicking on the highlighted lines, an analysis/explanation of the lyrics appears in a smaller window. It’s great!
There is also a rap genius for Florence and the Machine’s song, “Over the Love.” This song is also featured on the new movie’s soundtrack, and the lyrics deal with the symbolism of the green light, as well as the colors green, yellow, and gold.
Rap Genius has apparently become such a fan of Gatsby that they’ve put the ENTIRE BOOK on their website along with an explanation/analysis of certain lines. This seems like a much better tool for students than cliff notes websites, because with Rap Genius they get their analysis and summary in the context of specific sentences, and they will want to actually read in order to best understand the help Rap Genius is providing.
One of my favorite things ever to be done with The Great Gatsby has to be this special episode of The Colbert Report, in which Stephen Colbert transforms his Fox News-satire into an Oprah’s Book Club-satire, interviewing a prize-winning author about the importance of Gatsby, interviewing Baz Luhrmann himself, and even exploring the Reading Rainbow universe with Carrie Mulligan.
To watch this hilarious and informative episode, I would suggest going to this article from Splitsider.com, which has already done all the hard work to embed the show for you.
If you’ve got some extra time, or are just a fan of Woody Allen and/or time travel. You can also always show Midnight in Paris, which features F. Scott, Zelda, Hemingway and others interacting with Owen Wilson’s character (a sweet wannabe writer bumblingly time traveling back to the 20’s while visiting Paris). Here’s a clip:
Finally, this clip from Conan is fun.
Also, whatever you do, don’t show any part of the 2000 movie version of The Great Gatsby, which features Paul Rudd as Nick (weird, right?), another entirely miss-casted Tom Buchanan, a Daisy Buchanan who is apparently trying to conjure how annoying Mia Farrow was in the 1974 version, a rather non-voluptuous Myrtle, and also shows (spoils) Gatsby’s death within the first two minutes. I didn’t make it far enough to even see Toby Stevens as Jay Gatsby speak. Here it is if you like wasting your time.
If you find any other great Gatsby tools (pun on purpose!) feel free to post them in the comments.