Thursday, November 24, 2011

Preconceptions Gone with the Wind


I have never appreciated the attraction of Gone with the Wind, believing the film to be a cliche of star crossed lovers, garish sunsets, Magnolia trees and the old south. I had seen parts of the movie and knew a couple of the most famous lines "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." and "Tomorrow is another day."

What more did I need to know? What was the point of giving up four hours of my life - more like six when you build in commercial breaks - to watch this predictable mush in overwrought costumes?

But while I was aimlessly channel hopping last night I chanced on Gone with the Wind and decided to stick with it because there was nothing else worth watching. And then a funny thing happened. I got hooked and my old preconceptions were gone with the wind.

Most of all I got drawn into the character of Scarlett O'Hara. It stuck me it's been a long since since I saw such a fascinating character on the silver screen; manipulative, impulsive, scheming, yet charming and despite all her flaws she draws you in, even after all the decades that have passed. There are people we encounter occasionally who burn so brightly that we can't help walking into the flames, even though we know we will come out singed. And Scarlett is one of those people.

Gone with the Wind has been described as one of the greatest love stories ever told. If this is so then love is clearly destined to be one step removed from torture. The relationship between O'Hara and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is at best dysfunctional and at worst abusive. And yet these two manipulative people are fixated with each other. The only people who don't realize it is themselves, although perhaps they get an inkling at the end when it's too late.

Watching Gone with the Wind made me realize that we have lost at the same time as we have gained at the movies. The backdrops may look crude at times and the sets appear clumsy by today's standards. But while we can create special effects with stunning accuracy somewhere along the line we've lost the raw passion and the emotion.

Back in 1939 there were fewer distractions to shrink the big screen. David Selznick, the producer kept many details of Gone With the Wind secret. Numerous big name actresses were auditioned to play the role of Scarlett O'Hara. The successful candidate Vivien Leigh was an outsider from England who was little known in the USA.

The film was first shown to an audience that did not know what they were about to see.  People were permitted to leave, but the Fox Theater in Riverside, California was sealed with no re-admissions and no phone calls out.

The audience only realized they were part of a grand design when the name of Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone with the Wind came on the screen. The reception was apparently thunderous and the film ended with standing ovations. This is the classic stuff of a golden age of film that may never be repeated.

Yet while Gone with the Wind can look antique its themes of a nation divided and a conflict that rages between the sexes, are as relevant now as 75 years ago. Gone with the Wind has the flawed motif of ideal love - that felt by Scarlett for her cousin's husband Ashley Wilkes that fades and falters like his character and notions of the old Antebellum South. The roguish Butler copes better with the cut throat world of Atlanta after the Civil War while O'Hara thrives in chaos.

And then there's the strife and the pride and the battles for turf that may not be on the terrifying scale of Gettysburg but can be just as destructive. But more than anything else Gone with the Wind is about the contradictions of the human spirit all bound up in Scarlett who is despicable but admirable, and at turns childlike and scheming. We don't need a Scarlett. Mitchell herself when asked what may have happened to the lovers after the novel ended suggested Rhett Butler may have found someone who was less difficult.

But while he may not have needed a Scarlett life must surely have been a lot less colorful without her.

14 comments:

  1. Gosh, I haven't seen this movie since I was a teen, I think. I know it's been decades, literally. You summed it up pretty well from what I remember. I do remember thinking, as you suggest here, that although this is supposed to be a great romance, a great love story, that their relationship seemed strained at best to me and dysfunctional at its worst. I also remember it being unbearably long, or so it seemed to me as a teenager watching it in the theater.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Gone with The Wind. Vivienne Leigh is memorizing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This movie is my favorite. I watch it every couple of years or so and I read the book about every five years or so.

    When my girls were younger during the summer I would assign a book by my choice that they had to read. So mean!

    My oldest did NOT want to read this book, but when she finally did she was hooked. Then she watched the movie with me!

    Thanks David!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have to say that the movie -- and the book -- is among my favorites. It's not just the love between two rascals (Scarlett and Rhett) but the love Scarlett has for Tara (the land). I loved Scarlett from the first, her imperious-ness, her vulnerability, and when the war came through Atlanta and she stayed behind while the enemy neared, I could imagine the horror of being trapped. The image of them finally being able to flee Atlanta as it burned, that old horse falling down dead as they near Tara, has stayed with me...

    Pearl

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really enjoyed this post. This is one of my absolute favourite films. As a child I adored O'Hara, how vulnerable yet stong she was, and how devastatingly beautiful a woman. I agree, it is quite a rarity to capture such enchanting acting these days.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Caught this on cable TV the other night, too. I was hooked within minutes. What a book, what a movie! Your comments and observations are excellent. Wasn't Leigh's accent great?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've got the book with me, never managed to finish it. Maybe I should give it another chance!

    ReplyDelete
  8. You should definitely see it again Daisy as movies often seem different with the passange of time. Agreed Scots Lass. Cool Deborah -I should read the book, too.

    ReplyDelete
  9. thanks Pearl - I can see its attraction. For sure Lizzie - she is surely one of the most powerful characters at the movies.

    ReplyDelete
  10. In Spain, it's aired on TV every Christmas; so I've watched like 7 times. The problem with that is that the few mistakes and the casual racism become unbearable. I still like the main actors' s interpretations, but I'm not seeing the whole movie ever again.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Brenda - must have been hard for a Brit to put on that accent. for sure Ash - not sure how great the book is not having read it. Oh wow - wasn't aware of the mistakes Starla, yeah picked up on the casual racism

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is one of my all time favorite movies and books. Although, there's a lot of racism in the book that was cut out for the movie. Who doesn't like Scarlett though?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Fabulous critique, David. I adore Gone with the Wind. There are definitely several ways of looking at this film. You can see it for the ridiculously glamboyant fashion. You can see it for the cliches. Or you can see it for what it is. :)

    I think Scarlett is one of those female characters who men are relieved they do not have in their lives, but at the same time kind of wish they did...

    ReplyDelete
  14. I know Alyson - she's cool. Yep haven't read the book. I'd say you sum it up excellently in the last sentence, Jennifer.

    ReplyDelete