Gone With the Wind was advertised repeatedly on television this evening as I watched that other great classic To Kill a Mockingbird. “GWTW” is going to be played continuously all day Wednesday to mark American Thanksgiving on Thursday. I have some sewing to catch up… I will probably watch it again.
Roger Ebert, writing in 1998, reviewed it quite thoroughly. He begins this way:
“Gone With the Wind” presents a sentimental view of the Civil War, in which the “Old South” takes the place of Camelot and the war was fought not so much to defeat the Confederacy and free the slaves as to give Miss Scarlett O’Hara her comeuppance. But we’ve known that for years; the tainted nostalgia comes with the territory. Yet as “GWTW” approaches its 60th anniversary, it is still a towering landmark of film, quite simply because it tells a good story, and tells it wonderfully well.
For the story it wanted to tell, it was the right film at the right time. Scarlett O’Hara is not a creature of the 1860s but of the 1930s: a free-spirited, willful modern woman. The way was prepared for her by the flappers of Fitzgerald’s jazz age, by the bold movie actresses of the period, and by the economic reality of the Depression, which for the first time put lots of women to work outside their homes.
Scarlett’s lusts and headstrong passions have little to do with myths of delicate Southern flowers, and everything to do with the sex symbols of the movies that shaped her creator, Margaret Mitchell: actresses such as Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Louise Brooks and Mae West. She was a woman who wanted to control her own sexual adventures, and that is the key element in her appeal. She also sought to control her economic destiny in the years after the South collapsed, first by planting cotton and later by running a successful lumber business. She was the symbol the nation needed as it headed into World War II; the spiritual sister of Rosie the Riveter…
Ebert calls up the social and historical implications of the film and then concludes:
As an example of filmmaking craft, “GWTW” is still astonishing… The real auteur was the producer, David O. Selznick, the Steven Spielberg of his day, who understood that the key to mass appeal was the linking of melodrama with state-of-the-art production values. Some of the individual shots in “GWTW” still have the power to leave us breathless, including the burning of Atlanta, the flight to Tara and the “street of dying men” shot, as Scarlett wanders into the street and the camera pulls back until the whole Confederacy seems to lie broken and bleeding as far as the eye can see.
And there is a joyous flamboyance in the visual style that is appealing in these days when so many directors have trained on the blandness of television. Consider an early shot where Scarlett and her father look out over the land, and the camera pulls back, the two figures and a tree held in black silhouette with the landscape behind them. Or the way the flames of Atlanta are framed to backdrop Scarlett’s flight in the carriage.
I’ve seen “Gone With the Wind” in four of its major theatrical revivals–1954, 1961, 1967 (the abortive “widescreen” version) and 1989, and now here is the 1998 restoration. It will be around for years to come, a superb example of Hollywood’s art and a time capsule of weathering sentimentality for a Civilization gone with the wind, all right–gone, but not forgotten.
I was also reminded of the infamous parody of the film enacted by Carol Burnett and her troupe during the weekly comedy show that ran from 1967 until 1978. Here is the film’s five hours of (historical?) melodrama distilled down to twenty (hysterical?) minutes. Give yourself a treat!
If you miss the “real” version of the film tomorrow, it is easy to find on You Tube, as are many more Carol Burnett skits!
I have been writing this blog during the commercials for To Kill a Mockingbird... so excuse me while I go fetch another tissue. Scout is about to be introduced to Boo Radley and walk him home.
I taught this book many times, and have seen the film over and over, but it is still a three hankie emotional saga that stays with me long after the last lines. Gone with the Wind can’t hold a candle to it. But more about that tomorrow!
Neither Margaret Mitchell nor Harper Lee ever wrote another book. Curious!