Friday, June 18, 2021



Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: Victor Fleming
Screenplay: Sidney Howard based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell


There's several drawbacks to having written most of these years before I actually post them. For one, for a lot of these, my writing is just dreadfully amateurish and now I just want to rewrite the reviews entirely anew half the time, which is, yes the case with this review. However, also more importantly, a lot of the times when I wrote these, there was one general consensus about a film and I was writing with that perspective in mind, and over time that consensus idea has changed somewhat dramatically. It pops up from time-to-time, sometimes I can see their points, sometimes not. For instance, while there are several modern aspects that date "American Beauty" and some were surprised that I did put it in the Canon awhile ago, I really had no difficulty with either making that decision, nor did I try to retroactively change that ruling or any other particular one. Possibly because it was easy to defend; the type of films that wouldn't have been made had it not been for "American Beauty" inspired a good deal of the American indy film market, as well as much of television since then, plus, I still think it's an amazing film that holds up pretty damn well, despite the fact that it's a film that won a sexual predator his 2nd Oscar. 

I'm definitely not condoning behaviors and perhaps with changes in time and perspective I'll view some films that are currently favorites of mine differently in the future, and perhaps I might later regret one or two of these posts... (Part of me's already does feel like I was stretching immensely by adding "Guys and Dolls" not too very long ago) but I don't have that problem here. Mainly because I've never considered "Gone with the Wind" a favorite film of mine. 

It is my mother's favorite film though, so I am quite familiar with it. I've seen it a good amount of times. I even bought some rare collector's edition versions of the film, with like loads of special feature and it came in a box with like, a ridiculous amount of extra material. If I wanted to see the TV movie sequel "Scarlett", I could do that. Unsurprisingly though I also wrote my original Canon piece years ago, and the current public perception of "Gone with the Wind" has changed quite a bit over those years, mostly it's leaned more towards my perspective that it's a technically great cinematic achievement, but it has some enduring troubling aspects about it, and boy that's an understatement. It's not exactly the most horrific piece of film that's more essential then it is good, that's probably "The Birth of a Nation", which I'm just gonna keep putting off as long as I can, but it's up there. It's got it's own problems. Not just in what the movie depicts and how, but also how it's been viewed in America ever since.

"Gone with the Wind" has been American shorthand for great cinematic achievement for forever it seems. It's the stallworth of the best of what represent the Golden Age of classic Hollywood cinema. It's the film that won all those Oscars in America cinema's supposedly most glorious and greatest year, 1939. A year that the Oscars celebrated with the 75th Anniversary of a few years back by having Pink before "Over the Rainbow" in tribute to "The Wizard of Oz" and there wasn't one damn mention of "Gone with the Wind". Nowadays the film was supposedly cancelled by HBO Max when it reality, it was justifiably pulled temporarily while WarnerMedia put up an appropriate disclaimer about how the film's depictions of glorifying slavery and the Antebellum South were indeed racist products of their time and that should be considered as such. People were outraged, mostly by those who I imagine never genuinely sat through the movie. 

Let's be real for a second here, "Gone with the Wind" had long already begun having it's greatness being heavily depreciated for years now, and it's going to continue. AFI, when they last re-ranked their greatest films list, dropped it from 4 to 6. They haven't done a new list in a while, but I wouldn't be shocked if next time it falls out of the Top Ten completely, at least, maybe fall out of the Top 20. More damning though, the film also was nowhere to be found on the last Sight & Sight poll, either Critics or Directors' lists; in fact, it's never made that list! Not once since they started polling in 1952, has "Gone with the Wind" ever been beloved in the international community, nor in the filmmakers community to be honest. When's the last time you could pinpoint a movie or filmmaker who you can claim was legitimately influenced by it? This film is pretty much only beloved and considered great, in America and much of that can be attributed to our perverted views on the past both then and now, and how it was promoted by the Hollywood machine at the time. 

Well, really the David O. Selznick machine, because it was his new studio that promoted everything, and I'm putting his name above the director because it really is his film. (Some argue it's barely Fleming's as a director; he was the third hired for the project.... The story of the behind the scenes of the film have several documentaries about them, it's too much to completely get into here, but it is genuinely fascinating; you should all look it up sometime.)  

The opening of "Gone with the Wind" was a huge, nationwide event and adjusted for inflation, it's still the highest grossing film of all-time, and it's not close btw; it's gonna hold that record for a long time still. My grandmother used to say that while most Saturdays, she'd go down to the theater and watch a double-feature with cartoons and newsreel and shorts footage for a dime, "Gone With a Wind" itself was a quarter. It basically was the first real blockbuster that we know and consider them now, and I wouldn't be too surprised if we aren't in the future going to see more film releases like that, especially now that streaming has become so much more relevant then theaters; it'll be only the big budget comic book movies and whatnot that'll be the huge events and cost twice whatever the regular tickets are overpriced at now. In the future, that's basically gonna be it's biggest legacy in the future. 

For now, it's still a clinging symbol of the Lost Cause myth, a rallying cry for people who both think the South will rise again and for those who believe starting a culture war because they don't like that their racism is going away in their media is a cause worth fighting for. 

So, is the movie actually any good?

Ummm, well, um, yeah. I mean, yeah, you can't look at it straight and blindly accept the damn thing, but there's a lot of greatness in the film. I don't believe David O. Selznick was trying to preserve the horrors of Antebellum or reignite slavery or anything of that sort by making this film; I think he just wanted to do justice to Margaret Mitchell's best-selling work, that he happened to buy cheap right before it became the biggest bestseller of it's time, the best way he knew how. (As to whether the work or Margaret Mitchell's politics or intentions with the piece hold up today, eh, that's a more difficult question...; she a complicated person herself.... Again, I'm not getting into that here either.) "Gone with the Wind" was also the first Best Picture Oscar winner to be shot in color, and it's Technicolor is still looks glorious. This was an epic project; the comparison to the comic book movies of today is actually more accurate then you might realize 'cause "Gone with the Wind" was the Marvel of it's day, only way more popular. (Actually there's a lot in common between Marvel films and "Gone with the Wind" fanatics, if you ever want to learn the controversy and outrage over Vivien Leigh's casting, you should check out Be Kind Rewind's video on her, which I might just post below here..., but yeah, there's a lot of similarity between the extremes of the fanbases.)  He wanted to get all this right, so he basically made the most expensive film ever at that time. Large elaborate sets that were burned down to depict the burning of Atlanta. Hundreds of extras, the costumes, the sets. Tara is as much a character as Scarlett O'Hara (Oscar-winner Vivian Leigh) really is. And frankly I will say that, while "Gone with the Wind" has certainly fallen out of favor as a classic great film, I don't think Scarlett as a character has, which is good; it's the best reason to watch the movie.

Scarlett I think symbolically is supposed to represent the rise, fall and resurgence of the South, but mostly, she's a frustratingly annoying bitch. A study in contradictions. A power-hungry social climber who can't stand for anybody to not constantly be fawning over her. She marries three husbands over this time, and yet is deeply in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) her lover from when she was a teenager who ended up marrying his cousin Melanie (Oscar-nominee Oliva de Havilland) and yes, they are first cousins, so, just on that note, "Ewwww!" and "Are you sure, Girl", 'cause he's also very wishy-washy and boring to begin with, plus Melanie is deeply admiring of Scarlett who is the literal belle of the ball in her own little world. Besides, she could get Rhett Butler, who's way-the-hell better then Ashley! Eh, mostly; I'll get into that.... 

I think honestly that's why most people who enjoy the film enjoy it, because she's such an unlikable character that were genuinely happy whenever something awful gets back at her. I like Ray Romano's joke comment about Rhett Butler's (Oscar-nominee Clark Gable) final line to her, about how he's been putting up with her B.S. for like four hours! Which, yeah four hours for us, but a few decades for him. Although that said, even considering how awful she can be, there's a few things that Rhett, who's loved her from the beginning despite knowing better of himself, that eh, probably also should get this film cancelled today. Yeah, there's a pretty huge indication that after a particularly volatile argument between them that Rhett just, rapes Scarlett one night. And she wakes up in incredible blissful denial the day after, and it's kinda framed like this was something she needed.... Uh, boy that is something that's kinda forgotten about the film.... 

Yet, I don't think all these, in hindsight awful things in the film are really as awful as storytelling devices. I mean, essentially "Gone with the Wind" is basically a soap opera. It's over-the-top upper class melodrama; Scarlett is the Civil War era's, (or more specifically 1930s depiction of the Civil War era) version of Erica Kane. So there's going to be egotistical narcissistic tendencies mixed with over-the-top dramatic events, like rape, war, marriages, deaths, being rich enough to be the belle of the ball and poor enough to have to use the drapes as a dress. I'm kinda surprised she didn't have a heart-to-heart moment while trapped in the woods and confronting a wild bear. (Not even in the top 25 strangest things that happened to Erica Kane, btw) By any modern sense of reality these are terrible approaches to the material, but the material itself, is fine. There is something fascinating about seeing a rich debutante continually get her comeuppance and then constantly continue to then rise and gain above her station. Hell, it wasn't even the first major Hollywood film with this narrative; Bette Davis won an Oscar the year before for "Jezebel" which was basically to some extent a quickly-made "Gone with the Wind" clone; it's like how every teenage vampire story suddenly got made into films around the time "Twilight" hit it big. There's a lot of appeal to these kinds of characters and seeing them go through these sorts of narratives. 

And the movie has some incredibly great scenes. My favorite is the famous overhead pull back crane shot of Scarlett, searching desperately for a doctor to help Melanie give birth, who's in labor and she searches for a doctor, any doctor to come over and help Melanie give birth. Instead, she's surround by the wounded and dying soldiers from the Battle of Atlanta, and this crane shot keeps backing up and backing up and backing up and Scarlett gets harder and harder to see in frame and the depth of the dozens and dozens of injured soldiers just overwhelms the screen until we pass a torn and battered Confederate flag look still flying over what's left of the Confederacy. And still Scarlett's trying desperately to get the Doctor to come for Melanie. Like, this shot alone is just great, no matter what else anybody wants to say about the film. There's no special effects here in this shot, it's just a great shot that only Hollywood could do at the time. 

The movie did earn Hattie McDaniel her Oscar, the first nomination and win given to an African-American performer, even though she's playing, a literal Mammy. Yeah, this was controversial even at the time too, Mammy was a derogatory stereotype, yes even then, but she is damn good in the film, and she's right about making more money playing a maid then being a maid. Didn't mean she was allowed into the ballroom to sit with her castmates though.... 

"Gone with the Wind"'s complicated legacy is always gonna be there no matter how we parse this. It might have the greatest lead actress performance and character of any film, and yet, that character is a representative of our worst inclinations as a country. It's Golden Age filmmaking at its finest and yet it celebrates and glorifies the Confederacy, slavery, sharecropping essentially as well, and it's hero is one who survives the war and leans into exploiting our and her most Capitalistic urges. Hell, it's probably one of the few really great classic Hollywood films with a truly unlikeable protagonist. It's never also not gonna be a relic of a complicated and troubled past that frankly is still too present in this country. That's probably why it continues to rank so high despite all the obvious issues. It's one of the most referenced and quoted movies you can find. Despite the issues with the story, the story does speak to Americans. Just like us, it remains complicated, full of contradictions and hypocrisies and tells a story of our history, for good and for bad. 

I just wish it wasn't such a prominent perspective of our history, 'cause it's- it's not the only document of it, we have plenty of others, some much more progressive, important and relevant to our modern times. Although I can't immediately think about what would be a northern perspective of this film, or what the alternative is. I'm not sure why that is in hindsight, this wasn't just the South's lost it was the Union's victory over rebels and traitors to the country. Even the ones I can think of that take place in the North also simultaneously tell the South's story, like John Jakes's "North and South" for instance. It's weird actually; I can't think of any other war where there's almost no beloved pieces of literature devoted to glorifying the winning side, much less one that so constantly is portrayed as a glorious defeat. I really can't explain why it's the one we so relate to; I don't think it's just Lost Cause sympathizing, the story just aches for us. There's a part of Americana that will seemingly always exist with this film, perhaps haunting over us moreso then it does represent us, but it's one that we simply can't complete shake off of us either and simply trying to ignore it completely also seems to be completely the wrong approach. 

Clearly, the film's most famous line is a lie, cause whatever else we think about the film, frankly my dears, we clearly still do give a damn about it. 

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