So I finally went to see Gone with the Wind last week. I wanted to capitalize on the re-release of the film to the theaters, which is going on for some reason on the 59th anniversary of the film. The point of seeing it on a wide screen seemed to be lost, however, as the aspect ratio of the film was 1:33 to 1, which is less than most other films, making it less wide.
I knew that it would be difficult for a film of this magnitude to live up to its hype, but for me I was impressed by the extent to which it did. The production values were excellent. The sets, although suspiciously not appearing 100% three dimensional, were breathtaking. The period costumes were spectacular. However, I was especially impressed with the story and the dialogue.
Based on the best-selling 1936 book by Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind features Scarlett O'Hara, who lives on a plantation near Atlanta called Tara. The film chronicles her adventures from about 1862-1877. She has two sisters and both parents, who turn out to be minor characters. She thinks she is in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), but he lives up to the Southern stereotype by marrying his cousin, Melanie (Olivia De Havilland, who happens to be the last living principal cast member). She is subliminally attracted to a visitor, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), who makes no secret of his attraction to her.
The O'Hara family's needs are serviced by two servants, Prissy and Mammy. Hattie McDaniel gives a sassy performance as Mammy, for which she won the 1939 Best Supporting Actress Oscar (and still is the sole black female to win an Academy Award). At the time, it was thought that her character would be a deviation from the usual depiction of blacks as negative, criminal, or bad guys. Ironically, today that performance is seen as demeaning and similar in its inaccuracies to Amos 'N' Andy. Nevertheless, I could not help but find her character insightful and entertaining.
The Civil War figures heavily into the storyline of the first half, as there is much discussion about, and many men are sent to fight in, this War of Northern Aggression (as I am told the South refers to it now). It was very intriguing to listen to these conversations, as I have rarely heard talk of this war from the Southern perspective.
Vivien Leigh turns in a career-making performance as Scarlett. Just 26 at the time of filming, she is strikingly beautiful, but her acting won her raves and fans. She shows a wide acting range, displays a unique talent for being able to cry on cue, and makes our feelings toward her character shift dramatically throughout the movie. The performance earned her the Best Actress Oscar statuette of 1939.
Much has been made of the stereotypes portrayed in the film. Well, there are stereotypes in every film. These just got more publicity. One must remember that we are living in the late 1990s, watching a film that was made in the late 1930s, that took place in the 1860s. Dozens of viewpoints have changed dramatically. That is one of the great draws of history. Would this film have been different if it was made in the 1990s? Definitely. A larger budget, more special effects, more hype, different cast and crew, and a different social environment would all contribute to the final product. But that is one of the points of what makes the movies so fascinating, that they reflect the current period. And this allows us to take even more from the experience.
Despite being the longest movie, at 3:46, that most people, myself included, have ever seen, I found the story engrossing, I cared for the characters, and I was not nearly bored to the extent that I was afraid of. The plot was deep; most elements of which are universal and timeless. The big screen is the ideal method to experience this film, for both the drama of the action and the sets, but also for the lack of opportunities for distraction. While I strongly disagree with the #4 position of this film on the AFI's recent Top 100 of all time list, I highly recommend this picture, for its story, its lessons, and its legend.
Rated G (scary scenes of distress; mature themes)