Director: Victor Fleming
“Conceived from the outset as the ultimate Hollywood movie, Gone With the Wind became the benchmark for popular epic cinema for decades to come.” (152, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) The film meanders – it’s much too long but then epic films can too often fall foul of being overly long. I find Gone With the Wind extremely tedious but then I seem to have this predisposition to not like classic films, or indeed really understand the lasting appeal they all seem to have. There’s so much material that just doesn’t need to be included in the film resulting in a much longer film than necessary. It’s so melodramatic! There are lots of tears, both real and fake, lots of fainting and actually quite a lot of death.
I had never seen Gone With the Wind … until this point … and yet even I know “the classic have-it-both-ways ending in which [Rhett] walks out (Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn) and [Scarlett] swears to win him back (Tomorrow is another day.)” Visually Gone With the Wind is stunning and the sheer scale of the production is breathtaking, especially once you remember that it was filmed pre-cgi! “The sweep of the movie is near irresistible, and Selznick’s set pieces are among the most emblematic in cinema history.” (152) It’s interesting that the name most associated with Gone With the Wind (certainly in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) is that of David O. Selznick – the producer rather than the director. Indeed there are even references to his creative input into the film as noted by Newman. The burning of Atlanta is actually pretty realistic but then I guess that comes from Selznick actually “set[ting] fire to the surviving King Kong sets” (152) The hot reds and oranges of the burning setting creates an oddly romantic lighting during Rhett and Scarlett’s departure.
Scarlett starts out as this shallow and manipulative Southern Belle constantly playing the various men in her social circle off against one another. She doesn’t improve much, always keeping this seemingly uncontrollable desire to manipulate the men in her life. She becomes this incredibly strong and determined woman during the course of the war. No longer is she the shallow and spoilt little girl from the start of the film but rather a fighter! She becomes resourceful, working in the fields of the plantation, something a woman of her status would never have done before the war. Vivien Leigh is beautiful and the costumes, in the first half of the film certainly, are just sumptuous, complementing her beauty.
There is an old school charm to Clark Gable and yet he is hugely arrogant, as Rhett, at the same time. It’s not hard to see why he was considered a pin-up during his career. How does he manage to avoid enlisting for as long as he does? Rhett and Scarlett have the now classic romance relationship where they snipe and constantly argue with one another while actually being mad about each other. While it’s an interesting relationship it is not enough to warrant an almost 4 hour-long film … not nearly enough!!
“Like The Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone with the Wind tidies up a lot of complex history, showing only happy devoted slaves.” (152) The relationship between the various slaves and Scarlett is a surprising one where they seem to be almost family. Scarlett nearly always talks to the slaves with respect. And yet both at the time of filming and the time during which the film is set relations between whites and blacks were far from genial.
I spent the whole film just waiting for the end, partly because I wanted the film to be over but also because I was waiting for the infamous ending. I also spent the vast majority of the film pretty bored. I do like that even once Rhett and Scarlett finally get their act together and marry one another they still have quite a volatile relationship … they still argue and snipe at each other the whole time. It adds a touch of reality to the relationship rather than giving it the Hollywood treatment and having them be all sweetness and light. Throughout it all I feel kind of sorry for Rhett as he does really love Scarlett but she is so fixated on Ashley that he is forever in the shadows.
I would never willingly watch Gone With the Wind again but at least now I can say I have seen it. I also seem to be keeping up my whole ‘I really don’t like the classics’ thing though not on purpose.