Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GONE WITH THE WIND (Victor Fleming, 1939, USA)
Scarlet is grown from the red clay of Tara, emotionally barren like the plundered estate, an empty vessel that echoes of existential despair. Director Victor Fleming (thanks to George Cukor’s exhaustive pre-production) captures the spirit of the Ante-Bellum South through a romanticized polemic where slavery is defined as “house servant” and entitlement is a truism.

Scarlet is a spoiled rich girl who marries out of spite and greed, her existence an egoistic vendetta against all her perceived enemies: problem is, she hurts those who love her despite this major character flaw, and she is strength without heart. This is her story but she is not the compassionate link in the complex chain of events: Melanie Hamilton and the housemaid Mammy are the heart and soul of the tale. Melanie is caring and good natured, self-sacrificing and committed, and she knows of Scarlet’s faults (and her obsession) but sticks by her side. Though she never expresses her insecurities, Melanie’s determination is more than familial responsibility or obligation: she hopes to help Scarlet change...but will love her nonetheless if she fails. Mammy is the voice of logic and reason, her intrepid wisdom speaking volumes to the inane gossips of her “employer”. But Mammy is more than duty bound also; she loves Scarlet and hopes to see her finally grow up. Rhett Butler is a scoundrel, but he is man who eventually changes through the vicious conflict…he develops a conscience. Scarlet fights her own Civil War and in her mind she is the winner; only there is no one else playing her game. By the film’s end, she gets exactly what she deserves.

The film is a Technicolor marvel as the beautiful visuals bleed from the screen, creating a heightened sense of reality. Flemings use of matte paintings for extreme long shots establish the bloody and burning battlefield littered with corpses, which make this egocentric melodrama attain epic proportions. The costumes and set designs are magnificent; from the wonderfully choreographed Gala in the first act to the crane shot of dying Confederates in the Atlanta rail yard. Max Steiner’s score is married to the narrative, its swelling strings and harmonies creating an emotional tsunami that punctuates the drama…and pulls the heartstrings.

Though GONE WITH THE WIND is not a political movie, Scarlet becomes a cipher for the flawed values and vanity of a civilization that has evaporated in a tempest. Final Grade: (A)


Chase Kahn said...

I would love GONE WITH THE WIND simply for its nostalgia and taste for the theatrical. But it is truly a great film adapted from a great piece of material.

"she [Scarlet] is strength without heart."

I love that characterization, couldn't have said it better myself. Vivien Leigh's performance in this so damn great, I love it.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks Chase, though I didn't mention it in my review, I think Vivian Leigh is exceptionl too. Somehow she imbues Scarlet with a shade of humanity and you become intoxicated with her presence.

I watched this on blu-ray and the quality is amazing, equal to WIZARD OF OZ. Though a 4 hour film is hard to sit through often, this is one to break out once a year and enjoy:)

Shubhajit said...

Ok, I had once started watching Gone with the Wind sometime back (make that quite sometime back), and got bored by the half-hour mark thanks to the largely (in my opinion) the overtly opulent & theatrical set pieces, and the largely stiff acting.

Perhaps its time I gave the movie another chance :) And if I indeed do, that'll be largely thanks to your fine review of the 'classic'.

smarthotoldlady said...

Scarlett is the most unjustly maligned female in movies. She is strong. She doesn't succumb to the chaos around her. She goes out and does the unheard and unbelievable: she establishes a business in order to feed and care for Mammy and the others. How is that strength without caring? Rhett is so unnerved by her enterprise and strength that he abandons her.

Their daughter's death was completely the fault of Rhett. Scarlett told him not to put the child on the pony, but he ignored her. Then, when the little girl was thrown and died, he branded Scarlett as an uncaring mother. Being a man, he shrugged off his own responsibility and laid it at Scarlett's feet. He tells Belle that she knows how to be a woman (by being a whore, as it happens), criticizing Scarlett's involvement with her business.

Suppose Scarlett had been like Melanie. They all would have starved.

This is the first movie we've disagreed on, which is, no doubt, a wonder. However, I found it boring and overdone when I first saw it as a teenager in a revival house, and subsequent viewings have not changed that assessment. Worse, I found the opening prologue about a "time of cavaliers and their ladies" absolutely offensive, considering that those cavaliers and their ladies lived off the sweat of other people's sufferings and had no concerns except their putative honor and shallow socializing.
You may think Mammy's look of disgust at freed slaves is a small thing,, but movies tell their stories visually. In actual interactions, people do read other's expressions and then store them in their memories of their having said something which they never articulated. Movies are subject to the same kinds of interpretation,. GWTW had a problem with the slavery issue in presenting the Old South as a land of gallant aristocrats. They had to justify slavery, as indeed, Southerners at the time and even today do, by conveying that slaves were happy to be slaves. Jefferson Davis, in his secession speech, said that Negroes were created by God to be slaves to the white man. In 1939, that couldn't be said overtly, so Mammy, the arbiter of right and wrong, had to convey it by a facial expression. The viewer automatically internalizes that and feels, without being conscious of it, that slavery wasn't so bad. Mammy thought it was fine. Now, Hattie McDaniels, on her own, wouldn't have looked upon freed slaves with disdain. She was told to use that expression.

Be careful when you watch movies. They can lead you to change your attitudes without your being conscious of it.

Also, the parts of the movie directed by George Cukor were much better than those directed by Fleming -- at least in my opinion. I rate GWTW a C-