This FYC series brings together all Film Experience contributors to highlight our favorite fringe Oscar contenders. Here's Andrew Kendall on a tune from Gatsby, a movie which just won two Grammy nominations
Too often when we consider original song contenders we tend to focus on the lyrics at the expense of the music but my favourite number of Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby soundtrack manages to excel on both levels. Considering “Over the Love” lyrically, it would win in the battle in find which song has the most fidelity to its source novel. It features references to the “yellow dresses”, “green light” and that “ocean in the way”. But, it’s the musical arrangement of the song which takes it from lovely song into a true contender. I like Luhrman’s Gatsby, even though it falters in an example of reach exceeding grasp. What “Over the Love” manages to do is retain the steady rise from sanguine charm to a heady feverish climax with aplomb, which seems to be what Luhrman is going for but doesn't quite succeed at.
The song begins with the piano as its sole accompaniment and the faintest howling of winds in the background – ominous. The song continues as you expect, verse + chorus + verse + chorus with the piano and a steady percussive sound marking time as well as suggesting a subtle sense of time running out. Then, with a minute and a half left it's launched into the bridge with the evocative line.
“Cause you’re a hard soul to save, with an ocean in the way. But I’ll get around it.”
It's an unsubtle lyric, recalling Gatsby’s own vow to return to Daisy. The lovers are divided by water in the present day where the chasm of the space between East Egg and Long Island Sound in West Egg separates. But, it's also the Atlantic Ocean, more water, which separates them when Gatsby heads off to war. The double meaning is a nice touch, but it's oddly chilling in the way its rendered ominously, as much a promise as a threat when sung by Florence. And instead of a bridge + chorus + ending like most ballads, Florence’s “cry” leads us into the freneticism of the song’s last bars. Everything builds as “I can see the green light. I can see it in your eyes” is repeated building to an agitated climax until the song ends. It does not fade out to an end, like some songs, but ends decisively, abruptly on an utterance of the choral “I can see it in your eyes”. It is as if musically the song has reached this feverish pitch only to abruptly expire. Like Gatsby’s life, it feels suspended. A song good in its own right, but haunting in the way it ends just at that climax.
On its own, without context to the film's story, “Over the Love” would still be a beautiful song. But the way its wailing tones not just lyrically but musically enhances the film, and is in turn enhanced by knowlege of the film is what makes priceless. It’s impactful in a way songs written for films don’t always manage to be.