Sunday, 6 July 2014

Gone With The Wind (1939)

Country: USA
Based on: Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
Director:Victor Fleming
Producer: David O. Selznick
Screenplay: Sidney Howard
Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland
Music: Max Steiner
Length: 220 minutes

During the Civil War and Reconstructionist aftermath, spoiled and fickle Scarlet O'Hara pines relentlessly for a man she can't have while Mr. Right stares her right in the face.

Nailing down Clark Gable to play Rhett Butler took two years while 1400 women auditioned for the part of Scarlet O'Hara. Selznick was almost fined for Rhett Butler's killer closing line ("frankly my dear, I don't give a damn"), but the Production Code Administration gave it a pass on the basis that the expletive was "essential and required for portrayal in proper historical context...based upon a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste."

Winning 10 Oscars including Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel (Mammy), the first win ever for an African American, Fleming's crowning achievement held the record as Hollywood's highest-grossing film for 25 years. Rated for inflation, Gone With The Wind is still the box office champ of all time.

I'm not going to lie: My whole life, I've avoided Gone with the Wind like the plague, a feat I'd hoped to sustain till I shuffled off this mortal coil. The posters and trailers just made it seemed so head-bangingly gutless, weepy, and boring. The Birth of a Nation as interpreted by the Hallmark Channel. No thanks.

Boy was I wrong. Scarlet and Rhett had me at "hell-no", wowing me pretty much from the post-overture intro right up to that classic moment where Mr. Butler decided he longer gave a damn. GWTW is Exhibit A proof of just how far film had come in three short decades. Delicious landscapes, set design and costumes combine with fully-realized characters, a compelling story, and brilliant pacing to set the mood for Hollywood's penultimate anti-romance. Depictions of African Americans may seem dated by today's standards, but they marked a significant (if far from complete) shift in the way black people were portrayed and black actors were treated in cinema. 

This is also the earliest cinematic representation I've found yet of something akin to an equal relationship between a man and a woman. Rhett is attracted to Scarlet's sassy personality and independence and seems genuine in his desire to not change her, even as he seeks permission to care for the woman he loves. One might argue that GWTW renders women befuddled, ungrounded and incomplete until men come to straighten them out - an argument I certainly would (and did) make for Clark Gable's other big classic, It Happened One Night. But I don't find that to be the case here. GWTW is less about gender than it is about the human search for love and fulfillment and the danger of fixing one's eyes on the ever-receding horizon of future happiness.

I believed in and loved the characters (even when I hated them), I cared about their journey (even when I wanted to slap 'em, and good), I was satisfied with how everything wrapped up (even though it wasn't the ending I secretly wanted), and I was thoroughly entertained in the process. What more could you ask for? And what a beautiful message: Be careful you don't ignore happiness when it comes knocking or you might just find it gone with the wind. Cheesy, you say? In my books, truer words were never spoken.


I. Loved. This! 
While everything about the production is breathtaking, making it hard to believe GWTW was filmed in 1939, it's the characters and story that steal the show. I felt like I really knew these people and was truly invested in the messed up, war-torn life they shared.
I don’t think it’s any secret that Scarlett O’Hara is downright certifiable. Initially, I felt a four-hour eyeroll coming on in the face of her spoiled-brat antics, but as I got to know her, I perceived instead an (almost) admirable pragmatism in her declaration, “If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill, as God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again." Agree or disagree, it's difficult to dispute when war has taken everything from you.

At the same time, her scheming and conniving to steal another woman's husband, coupled with her baffling rejection of what essentially amounts to the perfect man (at least for her), made me want to acquaint her on an intimate level with a Confederate soldier's bayonet. I'd like to pretend Scarlet is a Hollywood invention or stereotype, but unfortunately I know too many women like her to do so. And it killed me to see her say no to such a wonderful, genuinely caring and egalitarian guy when he's exactly what she appears to be looking for. Glad I didn't make that mistake! (You can pay me later, Him.) She drove me CRAZY! But I wouldn't have had it any other way. 

This film may be gone with the wind, but it'll stick in my heart and mind for a long time.

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