GONE WITH THE WIND (United States 1939)

gone-with-the-wind-poster-at-taraI’m impressed with how this can hold the attention of a viewer 76 years on. GWTW has taken a beating from film critics and historians alike. The characters are often described as cardboard-ish; portions of the film are described as excessively melodramatic; some of the special effects (most notably the film’s occasional use of rear-view projections) have dated.

The real problem with Gone With The WInd is that it, like the novel on which it is based, buys into the American Southern myth of great plantations, lovely vixens, gallant gentlemen, and a paternalistic form of slavery. These concepts have some basis in fact, but the vast majority of American southern whites did not own plantations, much less own slaves, and those who did rarely practiced “paternalistic” slavery by any stretch of the imagination. But Gone With The Wind is the myth, not the fact–and once we accept it as a highly romanticized vision of the South as it never really was, the film becomes incredibly entertaining and can still cast its spell upon the modern viewer. The most powerful thing about the film is that it moves.

The plot contains two stories in one and they are both passionate – and very, very sad. The background is about the death of a country, a civilization and a way of life. And no matter what is your opinion on the American South, a death is never happy – but it can be a great story. And it is. The scene with Scarlett walking between the wounded Confederate soldiers in the railway station of Atlanta is unbelievable – those who have never seen it, (like me until very recently) missed something great and perfect. The second story is about the coming of age and maturing of a very beautiful, mean and rather stupid young girl.

gone-with-the-wind-scarlett-ohara-rhett-butler-pic-3Scarlett is 17 at the beginning of the movie – immature, silly, lazy and spoiled. She is in fact a horrible (although cute) little brat. The cataclysm swallowing her world will force her to change and she will show a surprising strength – you simply must admire her for the moment when she successfully deals with the repugnant Yankee plunderer, who came to steal the very last money and the very last food of four starving, sick women. Many scenes are just sumptuously lit and shot. The gripping nighttime escape from Atlanta (the whole city seemingly in flames) is one of the most spectacular action sequences ever done. The sunsets are jaw-droppingly beautiful.

A silly, spoiled child, Scarlett couldn’t help but fall for the wrong guy: handsome, intelligent, kind but weak Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) – while at the same time becoming the object of interest of possibly the most appealing macho man in cinema history: Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable in his greatest role ever. Then there is Melanie, Ashley’s wife, played by Olivia de Havilland. You have to read the book to fully realise how incredibly strong and clever is Melanie. She in fact is the real “Power woman” in the film – although her iron rule is made with the softest of gloves. I was in awe of the way Olivia De Havilland played her.

gone-with-the-wind-confederate-flag-woundedThis is a mythical film, played by great actors, with an incredibly powerful and moving musical score and with costumes and decors which still can impress today. Over the course of its four hour running length, the episodic story of the beautiful and willful Scarlett O’Hara and her rapacious drive to insulate herself from the hardships of the war never significantly drags. The production values and art design are brilliant throughout, and the film offers a multitude of iconographic moments: Rhett standing at the bottom of the staircase at Twelve Oaks; Scarlett caught up in a the panic during the siege of Atlanta; the tattered flag waving above the fallen troops at the train yard; the kiss between Rhett and Scarlett after the fall of Atlanta–these, yes, and many, many more.

Gone With The Wind will no doubt become increasingly controversial as attitudes continue to change re race, slavery, and the American Civil War–but in terms of pure cinema it is a remarkable achievement for all involved and it remains a landmark to this day. As I noted earlier, this is a South that never was, built on a form of slavery far removed from the slavery that actually existed. Enjoy it as a beautifully made and epic romance with a host of powerful performances. I’m glad I gave enough of a damn to finally make the effort to watch it.

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Comments

  1. My pleasure! Thank you for reading and all the likes. Nice link too, lol πŸ™‚

    Like

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