Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Watched from on high by TJE’s eyes


T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes follow me. If that name doesn’t immediately bring an image to mind, it’s on a billboard in The Great Gatsby. Here’s how F. Scott describes them

“The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens.”

I first read Gatsby in a high school English class and as part of our final project, I convinced my friends to make a short film version of it. While we were shooting our movie, we found a huge, old, hand-painted sign of a pair of eyes wearing eyeglasses in a friend’s house. His grandparents had run an optometrist’s shop and the family had thrown the sign into a corner of their storage room.

We edited our movie in my basement over a weekend, daisy-chaining three VCRs together and when we needed to make a tough transition or imbue a preceding scene with capital-I Importance, we’d cut to our Eckleburg eyes. Our movie was glorious.

Over the years, I’ve thought about Eckleburg a lot — both in terms of what his faceless eyes represented in the novel (as well as in Life) and also as just a giant pair of eyes because it turns out that they’re everywhere.

One of my earliest neighborhoods in Barcelona was around Plaça Tetuan and as I was crossing a tricky intersection one day, I thought of Eckleburg and looked up, up, up to the top of the highest building at the crossing and there he was.

Avinguda Diagonal amb Passeig de Sant Joan

Avinguda Diagonal amb Passeig de Sant Joan

(The logical explanation was that I’d subconsciously seen the sign before, possibly while day-dreaming on the bus, but it’s much more fun to think of T. J. always being just out of sight.)

Learn something

Keepin' it real since 1925. Art by Francis Cugat.

Keepin’ it real since 1925. Art by Francis Cugat.

The original cover of the novel is iconic, famous and controversial. No less an ass icon than Ernest Hemingway thought it was crass. Pot : kettle : Hemingway.

There’s always been backlash against movie tie-in versions of books, but the new Gatsby cover has elicited a write-up in the paper of record. Personally, I’m against putting a poster on a book because the posters are almost always tacky and aren’t as thoughtfully designed as the book art.

The trailer for the newest filmed adaptation of Gatsby features a shot of Baz Luhrmann’s take on T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes (@1:01). Will his be as good as the one me and my buddies spent over a month putting together? Doubtful.

Ma version du Gran Gatsby en français decided to change the cover (bad form!) but at least they kept with the spirit of the story. The dedication is the best, though, as it reads “À mon old sport.” In Franglish. Genius.

Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

8 thoughts on “Watched from on high by TJE’s eyes

  1. Great post! I just re-read Gatsby last week and was reminded how much I loved it. Great book. I can’t decide if I’m excited for the new film. I mean, I have an irrational love for all things Baz + Leo (I mean, I was like 14 when Romeo & Juliet came out – forever crush!), but still it looks so…flashy. I’m SURE yours was better! Do you still have the tapes?

    • The tapes are somewhere at my sister’s house but no one has a VCR anymore and I’m too embarrassed to take them to a VHS-DVD transfer place. Someday I hope to get digital copies and anonymously email them to all the people who made the movie with me. I think they’d get a kick out of it. Plus, that kind of GENIUS filmmaking deserves to be spread.

  2. I’m so torn on the movie adaptation that’s coming out, because while I loved Baz’s R+J, I was among those who absolutely loathed Moulin Rouge. The modern music+period setting just didn’t do anything for me, and based on the soundtrack snippets we’re hearing in the trailers I think TGG will be similarly jarring. How can a movie set in The Jazz Age have no jazz in the soundtrack?

    But we will see. And I’m with you on reprints of books with the movie adaptation’s poster on it, because they are largely fugly. (Jurassic Park is one of the few exceptions, because the movie poster was very simple.)

  3. Pingback: The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg | Diamond Eye

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