Early last Thursday morning, Leonardo DiCaprio was sitting in the basement of The Darby as a long line of girls came toward him carrying bursting bottles of champagne affixed with firecrackers. Jay-Z held court in a corner booth. Tobey Maguire danced on a banquette. And Mr. DiCaprio—Jay Gatsby—looked on with a smile. The pitch of the screams swung higher as fiery droplets of bubbly got closer to the movie star.
“Do you come to these parties often?” asked my companion, her lips at my ear.
Jay-Z was now bouncing to “Who Gon Stop Me,” as Jake Gyllenhaal and Florence Welch rapped along, standing on a table, towering above Carey Mulligan, Tom Hardy, Jamie Foxx and other Hollywood royalty.
Perhaps I do go to a lot of parties, but I had not been invited to this one. In school at Duke, I became close with a man who had gone into film and went on to work on The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And just as Fitzgerald got a lot of leverage from his Princeton chums, my friend had smuggled me into The Darby, which came after the film’s world premiere, earlier that night at Lincoln Center, and the official after-party, in the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel.
No, I don’t often come to parties like this, I told my companion.
Corks popped from the flaming bottles, champagne spilled into glasses and the glasses overflowed. I approached Leo in his little nook.
“We spoke earlier, on the red carpet,” Mr. DiCaprio said, his oceans of blue eyes twinkling at me.
“And there are more events to come,” I responded.
And what a string of events it was: a spree of cocktail functions, high-fashion fetes at fancy boutiques, exclusive screenings in secret locations, a sprawling red-carpet premiere that attracted crowds for blocks, a boozy lunch at the New York Public Library, a boozy lunch at the Fitzgerald Suite at the Plaza Hotel, a boozy dinner at the ballroom in the Plaza Hotel, a breakfast at Tiffany, a champagne supper at Brooks Brothers, a star-studded bash at Prada, a Peggy Siegal screening at MoMA followed by a giant bash at the Boom Boom Room, and a Cinema Society screening at HBO headquarters followed by a giant bash at The Lambs Club.
The parties seemingly never ended, as Warner Bros.—thanks to an unimaginable promotional budget (though representatives would not disclose an exact figure) and countless corporate tie-ins—managed to recreate a run of blowouts similar to those that took place on West Egg.
It made sense that they had spun off the movie’s party-heavy storyline into actual glamorous bashes. Mr. Luhrmann took 1920s New York City and made it his own, running the then-emerging skyline through his saturated filter and engineering a boisterous, three-dimensional, thoroughly vibrating version of our city (though the film was shot not on our streets but in Australia, the director’s native land).
With that same approach—one not too different from Jay Gatsby’s own Icarus-esque hubris—applied to the film’s promotion, he’s turned the actual metropolis into a Gatsby-themed pop-up, a traveling party that’s the best possible billboard for the film, a series of super-fancy luxury events that eclipses any movie’s promotional roll-out in recent history.
For two weeks, The Great Gatsby has overtaken NYC.
The first shindig was at Brooks Brothers, the store where two New Haven men in Fitzgerald’s novella May Day go shopping for Welsh Margotson collars. Mannequins bestrode the sloped plaster centerpieces and seemed to be sashaying to the music, which at the moment played Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from The Great Gatsby.
After a few coupes of Moët champagne I spotted Mr. Luhrmann, looking dapper enough to have stepped off his own movie’s set. We chatted about my friend from college, and then I asked about this impressive run of Gatsby-esque parties.
“A little partying never killed anyone—or, well, maybe it did,” he said, referring to (spoiler alert!) Gatsby’s death at the end of the movie. “Immediately, the parties and the glamour is what’s attractive. But when we find out that Gatsby’s doing that for a different reason, it’s why the book is so enduring. You’re attracted to it, you’re seduced by it, but then you find yourself going on this human journey.”
This human’s journey took him next to a screening at Warner Bros. headquarters, one of a few screenings set up for those who could score seats. The film is massive, a sensory overload, a wildly kaleidoscopic spectacle that somehow manages to stay relatively faithful to the Great American Novel, all building to that monumental party scene, set to “Rhapsody in Blue.”
After the credits rolled, I raced downtown to the party at the Prada flagship.
The official premiere, the following night, engulfed the whole of Lincoln Center’s grand arcade. An army of photographers and journalists jockeyed for snaps and quotes. Attendees in black tie downed cocktails on the balcony overhead, laughing and waving to people who couldn’t see them, as a giant banner for Samsung, one of the movie’s (many) sponsors, hung below, visible to the masses. And finally the stars, each one positively gleaming, showed their famous faces.
I caught Mr. DiCaprio as he was about to go in and watch himself enthrall the audience.
“What I loved about Jay Gatsby was this idea of this iconic American dreamer,” Mr. DiCaprio told me, his eyes wandering up to the sky. “We all can identify with the American dreamer—the man coming from nothing and manifesting his own destiny.”
With no entrée into the party at the Plaza Hotel, I passed the time with cocktails at the Whitney Museum’s annual Art Party, sifting through crowds of young strivers who had purchased tickets and budding socialites with enough connections to land a spot on the host committee. It was the next generation of upper-crust New York grabbing cocktail after cocktail.
“Darby if you can swing it,” came the text message from my college friend, and I hopped in a cab that zoomed between the monolithic towers of Midtown and down into the West Village. The feverish party rang out for hours. I drank scotch from Mr. DiCaprio’s table. I dipped a girl low dancing to Roaring Twenties jazz.
Somehow, the cast (sans Mr. DiCaprio, who had hit 1OAK following The Darby) made it to a lunch the next morning at the New York Public Library, looking fresh as ever. Event host David Remnick was nice enough to take a break from editing The New Yorker to chat with Mr. Luhrmann about the research that he and his wife, Gatsby costume designer Catherine Martin, had done into the inner workings of Fitzgerald’s soul.
“C.M. and I, we imagined we were Scott and Zelda,” Mr. Luhrmann said to the room, where Anna Wintour sat with literary heavyweights like Jeffrey Eugenides, Maureen Dowd, Calvin Tomkins, Philip Gourevitch and Téa Obreht. “C.M. went a bit too far with the champagne exploration …”
“Baz, you have a much bigger problem with the bottle than I do!” his wife said.
Everyone reached for his or her wine glass.
Then it was time for a panel discussion with the cast moderated by the biographer Dr. Amanda Foreman, who commenced perhaps history’s most glamorous book club with Ms. Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Mr. Maguire and Isla Fisher.
Not long after the movie-star book club ended, I ran into Mr. Edgerton, who plays Tom Buchanan.
“You read Fitzgerald’s letters, and it’s clear he just wanted so bad to be famous,” the actor said. “He just wanted to get laid and be famous.”
I wondered, aloud, who doesn’t want to get laid and be famous?
Mr. Edgerton shrugged.
“I haven’t met anyone.”
Mr. Luhrmann then grabbed me and walked me through the grand hallways of the New York Public Library and out the towering front entrance, where a handful of fans stood beside the two lions calling out for the director, asking for autographs.
“Wasn’t The Darby so fun last night, Nate?” Mr. Luhrmann said, walking down the massive steps. “It just felt like the Jazz Age again?”
The director bounced as if fully refreshed. He was the perfect perennial host for The Great Gatsby. On the street, a car was waiting for him. It would take him to a television interview. Before he ducked in, he went for a double-pump handshake.
“I’ll see you Sunday at the Boom Boom Room,” he said. “Another party!”
I arrived early on Sunday night only to find the space empty, devoid of famous faces. Through the Boom Boom Room’s floor-to-ceiling windows was a glittering panorama: the Empire State Building to the north, and to the south the Hudson River snaking down to lower Manhattan and the unfinished Freedom Tower.
Then things picked up. As the cast took their time to arrive from the screening at the Museum of Modern Art, Katy Perry showed up wearing a colorful outfit she claimed was inspired by Frida Kahlo. (Ms. Perry had been at the Prada event, too.)
“It’s very of Gatsby, it’s very befitting,” she told me, speaking about the run of parties.
Ms. Perry later joined Mr. DiCaprio, Ms. Mulligan, Cuba Gooding Jr. and others in a back section of the Top of the Standard, surrounded by bodyguards. I walked in and saw Baz Luhrmann, who pulled me over to his booth. The director began talking about The Great Gatsby in an intelligent way. I smiled. It was a conversation I had been searching for amid the two weeks of glad-handing, petty arguments, studio politics and celebrity publicists. Mr. Luhrmann talked with stunning earnestness about how The Great Gatsby is the American Hamlet, about how Hamlet is the Bible, about how the New Testament is the first cinematic document, and about how, in the Gospels, Jesus Christ dies at 33, much like the protagonist of his newest film.
What more could I ask of this director, after all of these events at posh places in New York City devoted to his movie, all of them masterminded on some level by Mr. Luhrmann himself, the ringleader, the puppeteer—the boy from Australia who changed his name and became famous?
It’s like you’re Gatsby yourself, I said.
“I’m not Jay Gatsby,” he said. Then he pointed to a man a booth over, a man at the center of this golden top-floor canopy above New York City, sitting with Dasha Zhukova—the partner of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich—the actress Kristen Wiig and No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani. He was pointing at Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I’m not Jay Gatsby,” Mr. Luhrmann said. “He is.”