Bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel to life is no trivial task. First, because it's not the first adaptation of his unfinished work: Elia Kazan and Harold Pinter headed up a movie version starring Robert De Niro in 1976. Second, because in our day and time, we want the period drama The Last Tycoon on a new historical vignette, if only because the societal situation reminds of that in 1936: recession waves and inequality on the rise go hand in hand with broad political discontent and the American Dream ups and downs. The new show needs to parallel today. Its creators needed to think in modern-day categories, to make the novel’s eternal issues of pride, prejudice, passion, and politics in Hollywood relevant as never before, always a challenge.
Hollywood, however, stands ready to oblige, and Amazon gave it a series order. From what I learned during a Book Con round table interview with the series’ creators, it’s going to be exciting! Here are my presentiments about this upcoming gem.
Originally from Ukraine and having lived most of my life behind the “iron curtain,” my fascination with America started with its literature. An avid reader herself, my mom introduced me to Maine Reed, Fenimore Cooper, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser, so I used to think all Americans are like their heroes: free spirits, contemptuous of money-obsession yet seemingly in thrall to money and luxury. Later, the books by Hemingway and Fitzgerald came by – exploding my early perception of what the contemporary Americans are all about—and inspired, I researched the topic in my University course papers.
Since then, “Fitzgerald” always rings the bell for me reminding of his complex-character heroes who wander through life seemingly without a clear goal, but in fact, always possess some moral backbone that streamlines their pursuits of happiness and success. Naturally, I was eager to hear about the perspective of The Last Tycoon makers during the pre-launch interview: Matt Bomer, the lead actor, Billy Ray, the screen-writer, and Chris Keyser, the producer—all outstanding professionals.
Loosely based on one of Fitzgerald's less-read works, the nine-episode series premiere of The Last Tycoon comes on July 28th, 2017 starring Matt Bomer (pictured) as Monroe Stahl, a fictionalized version of the real-life movie mogul Irving Thalberg.
Bomer is the new Last Tycoon—wrestling with his own demons and struggling under the thumb of studio boss Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer). Lily Collins plays Pat’s daughter Celia, an aspiring producer against her dad’s better judgment.
We will follow Monroe Stahr, this Hollywood's Golden Boy, as he wages a power struggle with his mentor, father figure, and boss Pat Brady for the soul of their studio. With the background darkened by the Depression and the growing influence of Hitler's Germany, The Last Tycoon illuminates the passions, prides, prejudices, and towering ambitions of 1930s Hollywood. Not to the extreme—just like today—people feel nervous of the current political climate, stumpy economic/social mobility, and inequality. It looks like this TV series might be exactly what people need right now.
We know that in 1936 as the Nazi government under Adolf Hitler attempted to dictate mainstream Hollywood production, some people fought to counteract it. And Monroe Stahr, too, battles his boss to contravene the Third Reich's regulations. Interestingly, his new movie, about the Nazis in a fictional country, never calls them out but it goes against emblematic things Hollywood is doing to protect themselves from Hitler. Being Jewish, Stahr doesn’t care about petty politics—and expresses his vision and values, pride and passion. And he is right: abstaining from condemning the racism and anti-Semitism only emboldens the hidden-Nazis, which we can observe in the USA today.
You will enjoy the fresh perspective on this drama as well as its parallels with today.
It is my impression that Matt Bomer, dashing and talented, is as personally interesting as the character he plays. He holds all the cards, visual and intellectual, when presenting the movie to the public. Let me explain. What some actors say when interviewed may show them as shallow personas while some other actors reveal real depths in their thinking and vision of the world. Bomer belongs to this second kind: witty and quick to respond to some of the tricky journalists’ questions, he showed that elegance of his own wording matches his visual elegance (pictured). In that, he makes a good match to his complex TV character.
For a finishing touch, Amazon unveiled a trailer for the premiere:
Hollywood is Forever?
On such issues as women’s role in professions and in society at large and the American Dream—along with some others—we want to know if Hollywood changed over the years. Of course, we’ve got Internet and Amazon, but did the human ways change there? Not much, said the movie creators at our interview.
OK, this may be for the better. Then and now, and always, it is our professional caliber that counts—effecting our personal civic/political conscience, pride, and prejudice, all in check. Whether quick-paced or moving like a glacier, Hollywood is forever reflecting life. And life is beautiful, whatever we make of it.
P.S. You can read more of my blogs at www.fionacitkin.com