In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the movie Gone with the Wind was screened in 650 theaters over the weekend.
My mother was a fan of the book and movie and collected GWTW memorabilia. It is far from my favorite film–that would be Days of Heaven–but I went for sentimental reasons because she and I would have enjoyed going together to GWTW had she been alive.
My mother was a huge consumer of pop culture and went to two or three movies a week well into her eighties. To see GWTW in a theater was like reentering her world.
The four hours flew as this sumptuously-filmed Southern costume drama, replete with witty repartee, unfolded.
The Pulitzer-winning novel Gone with the Wind is a saga of the South and a bildungsroman that follows Scarlett O’Hara from her youthful infatuation with Ashley Wilkes and her reluctant friendship with Mellie, the woman he marries, through the Civil War, three marriages, and the Reconstruction. Of course there is romance with blockade runner Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Ashley (Leslie Howard) the gentleman–both are billed as sexy men– but the actresses get the most screen time, and the film rests squarely on the shoulders of strong women. I was very impressed by the performances of Vivien Leigh (who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1940) as the flirtatious but powerful Southern belle Scarlett, and Olivia de Havilland, who radiated intelligence and passion as Melanie Wilkes. And don’t forget Ona Munson as Belle Watling, the prostitute who insists on giving money to the Rebel cause, Hattie McDaniel as the stern Mammy/duenna of etiquette (winner of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), and Leona Roberts as the wife of Dr. Meade.
Melanie Wilkes especially fascinates me. Often dismissed as the good girl, she is actually a strong woman with fiercely liberal ideas about doing good. She nurses dying men in the Civil War, stands by Scarlett after she is caught kissing Ashley, and is the only woman of her social class who will talk to Belle Watling, the prostitute who offers money to the war effort. (Later Belle provides an alibi for Ashley, Rhett, and Dr. Mead to the Yankees.)
“And, Miz Wilkes, if you ever see me on the street, you — you don’t have to speak to me. I’ll understand…”
“I shall be proud to speak to you. Proud to be under obligation to you. I hope — I hope we meet again.”
“No. That wouldn’t be fittin’ neither.”
I really enjoyed this immensely.
Complaints: the theater didn’t know what to do with the overture. Back in the day, the lights would be on but the curtains closed while the overture played. Then the curtains would open and the film would begin.
We sat in the pitch dark and listened to the overture. The audience thought something was wrong with the film.
Complaint 2: the intermission wasn’t long enough. I had barely time to go out and buy a cup of coffee ($4.50: I’m still in shock!) before the film started..
It really is a lovely film, though.
Just last March I saw an exhibition of photos of Vivien Leigh at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
There is this though: recently I’ve had several conversations with people (white) who defend the way young black men are murdered in the streets: all the bad-mouthing about them is believed; I was told Michael Brown was huge (described as some kind of gorilla leering with his hands up); the refusal to indict or find guilty cops who kill first and ask questions later was defended. I’d say leaving Brown’s corpse on the sidewalk is an equivalent of a lynched body.) One person decried that concealed guns are not permitted in Chicago because (white) people can’t defend themselves. Voting rights are being curtailed for black people; black men incarcerated at a great rate.The return of Gone with the Wind brings a deep racist message right back.
Yes, it is uncomfortable to watch some of the scenes. It’s 1939! But it is a classic Hollywood movie, and the characterss very well-developed.
The relationships with the slaves can be embarrassibg, but on the other hand it brings home to us how very much human labor was used. It is shocking to see the slaves fanning the girls as they nap in the afternoon at a picnic. tIt is a black man (Sam, a former slave) who saves Scarlett from a white rapist, and we see that Prissy is not just an idiot and a braggart but actually malicious.
No idea how true this is to the book. I read it when I was 15.