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Arts and Culture

‘Gone With the Wind’ Turns 70

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Posted on Dec 14, 2009
Gone With the Wind
warnerbros.com

Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O’Hara) gets laced up by Hattie McDaniel (as Mammy) in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind.”

For a film that’s far from issue-free, what with its petulant, privileged protagonists and its sometimes squirm-inducing portrayal of racial and class politics during the last days of the Old South, “Gone With the Wind” has aged remarkably well over the last 70 years, and it still figures among the top cinematic success stories of all time.  —KA

The Wall Street Journal:

Unlike, say, “The Wizard of Oz,” from that same year, or “Casablanca,” from three years later, “Gone With the Wind” is not unobjectionable. How could it be? Its primary characters are rich white Southerners living through the Civil War and into Reconstruction—not material that goes down easy for many Americans then or now.

Yet part of the movie’s allure is bound up with those conflicting emotions. As Molly Haskell has written in her recent book “Frankly, My Dear” (its title a tip of the hat to the picture’s most famous line), “Gone With the Wind” “is both different things to different people and different things to the same person at different times in that person’s life.”

Certainly the film has long had detractors, and likely always will. Black Americans were from the outset concerned about, and sometimes uncomfortable with, the movie’s depiction of slaves and slavery. But others have also objected. Stanley Kubrick told the writer Frederic Raphael that he thought it “really a terrible movie.” The picture’s flaws—its perceived racial insensitivity, mawkish fascination with plantation life, and melodrama—readily leap to mind. (They are also present, in exaggerated form, in the best-selling novel by Margaret Mitchell that inspired the movie.)

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By NYCartist, December 16, 2009 at 7:43 am Link to this comment

Inherit The Wind, Am not much of a Marx Brothers fan. We’ve gone from GWTW to Marx Brothers in this batch.
As a kid,of the 1940s, every Saturday spent in my local Brooklyn movie theater, watching same film over and over, plus cartoons (poor kids of today are deprived), my favorite was “Hellzapoppin”.  Have found snippets of it on YouTube last week!  As a teen, my favorite was Marlon Brando on his motorcycle and anything with Clark Gable…

When at a NYS teachers college,” A King and 4Queens” was playing in the Oswego theater.  1956.
Films changed about once a month.  Only one theater.
I was a freshman,16, far from Brooklyn.  Went often to beg theater manager give me the poster.  Finally, I got it and put it on the ceiling over my bunk bed.
(College had 4 kids in a room.) But, very nearsighted, I couldn’t see it without my glasses and you can’t take glasses into a top bunk of a bunkbed.  Ah, youth.  Older is easier and harder.

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By NYCartist, December 16, 2009 at 7:32 am Link to this comment

Sepharad,
  I was doing work in a civil rights law office in NOLA, not voter registration.  But, I’m pleased to be acknowledged in your fascinating comment.

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By ed_tru_lib, December 15, 2009 at 10:25 pm Link to this comment

How’s it going Inherit
-generally agree w/most of your comments, especially about CK. About GWTW THOUGH, I think given its Marquee Film of all time status, its a little silly to say only the hospital scene, evolving into ( I assume you mean ) the street scene where Scarlett et al are getting the casualty reports from Gettysberg, is truly great. How about the burning of Atlanta, the arrival of the guests at 12 Oaks that was a landmark of 1939 state of art FX; how about Ashley’s arrival back from the war, or Rhett in his daughter’s bedroom with her corpse?
Anyway they are both magnificent films, that in GWTW’s case, it being so much more a “Studio” AKA ” make the suits happy” film, does indeed have some objectionable concepts that were nonetheless perfectly current with the contemporary times. Indeed, the former slave who exherts huge effort and courage to save Scarlett from being raped by a white man, was a pretty advanced concept, and also a great scene.

Also, interestingly, I remember Groucho telling Dick Cavett about 40 years ago that he didn’t consider DS a “dark” film at all-just more of the brother’s usually unrehearsed zaniness, that for some reason came out more “serious” than their other films.

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By Sepharad, December 15, 2009 at 10:01 pm Link to this comment

Inherit—Love Duck Soup AND A Night at the Opera. Actually any Marx Bros. movie. Husband and I once sat through six of them at a retrospective in a local arthouse, and could’ve sat through six more. I think I’ll start renting their DVDs more often—have increasing trouble keeping a sense of humor about life in general, and the world wasn’t in such great shape when the Marx brothers sent it up regularly so maybe their sense of proportion will rub off. Harpo is my favorite.

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By Inherit The Wind, December 15, 2009 at 9:22 pm Link to this comment

NYCartist, December 15 at 9:48 am #

Inherit the Wind, I liked GWTW as a teen because of Gable and the romance - altho I was upset later, when smarter, that rape is suggested strongly in re Gable and Leigh.  I didn’t like “Citizen Kane”. That’s what makes movies and horse racing, as they say.
*************************************************

True, but I also think Duck Soup is one of the funniest and darkest films of all time, the Marx Brothers’ best, and, to the early 30’s what Dr. Strangelove was to the 60’s.  Lots of people prefer A Night at The Opera but I don’t.  Not that ANATO isn’t wet-your-pants funny—it certainly is—but DS just grows on me over the years as both funny and sick.  It’s described as “Groucho, as dictator, goes to war just for the hell of it.”  Sounds too much like Bush in Iraq—Art precedes Reality!

Still, some just don’t like that Marx Bros’ sense of nihilist humor.  ‘Course, those folks are write-offs! (Honk! Honk!) smile

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By Sepharad, December 15, 2009 at 8:07 pm Link to this comment

I read my mom’s copy of the book when I was 11, the year before my grandparents took me to see the movie in St. Louis’ big old Loew’s theatre. First thing I learned was that Scarlett’s rival for Ashley’s affections was not pronounced “Me-LAY-nee”. I thought it was surpassing romantic and wished I’d grow up faster. When I saw it with a college friend from Tennessee, was astonished when she cried most of the way through it. “You’d have to be Southern to understand it,” she explained, still weeping. Later on, like NYCartist, my friend and I both became active in voter registration down South. Totally no connection with “GWTW” in either of our minds. In fact I’ve reread it several times since then: the book gets better each time. (The Encyclopedia Brittanica my husband and I bought 20 years ago declares “GWTW” the most accurate novelistic depiction of the Civil War.)

Thanks for the note on the 65th edition, Jason. II have an earlier one, a gift from my daughter, which I’ll keep but will also check out that one. Agree that it’s a genuine movie classic and cinema masterpiece. Somehow, it isn’t a casualty of the political realm, at least not in my mind. Like “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “Dr. Zhivago”, “GWTW” exists beyond its political milieu.

Thanks for the note on the 65th edition

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By NYCartist, December 15, 2009 at 5:48 am Link to this comment

Inherit the Wind, I liked GWTW as a teen because of Gable and the romance - altho I was upset later, when smarter, that rape is suggested strongly in re Gable and Leigh.  I didn’t like “Citizen Kane”. That’s what makes movies and horse racing, as they say.

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By Inherit The Wind, December 14, 2009 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

I’ve seen the film several times and still just can’t get a handle on its so-called greatness—kind of like “The Ten Commandments” is claimed to be a lot greater than it is.  Personally, I found Vivien Leigh’s phony “Southern” accent to be offensive and totally unreal.  Yet Hattie McDaniel, Clark Gable and even Butterfly McQueen shine, as does old Tommy Mitchell as the Irish immigrant who made it big, Gerald O’Hara—that wonderful old ham who also plays George Bailey’s “Uncle Billy” in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

That characterizations of the planters as elites is more like the cowboys around John Wayne in one of his B-westerns. Everybody loves Leigh in it, but, to me, she’s totally boring without Gable—and he’s NEVER boring.  All she does all movie is pout, pout, pout.

Just two years later, “Citizen Kane” was released and GWTW looks like a movie for kids next to it.  CK STILL is a fascinating, thrilling, and intriguing movie that I cannot watch without marveling at every scene and every line.  GWTW has ONE great scene: The hospital shot that starts at one wounded soldier and pulls back until it is acres of them.

And it’s got a few good lines, not just Gable’s.

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By Jason, December 14, 2009 at 4:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Gone With the Wind” is a cinematic achievement for its time - most cinematic awards received at the time and the first movie ever made completely in color.  This movie should be treated with respect just on these two facts alone, although the book was infinitely better.

“Gone With the Wind” was re-mastered using the latest state of the art techniques.  I just bought the 70th Anniversary edition, and I also own the 65th and the 50th - the latter of which back when there was VHS.  The 70th Anniversary looks WAY better than what I have seen before.  The video is crisp and not fuzzy in any way - almost as if the re-mastering was done TOO well. 

I prefer the 65th Anniversary edition on DVD.  This is the best rendition of “Gone With the Wind” in my mind because, while the picture obviously looked sharper than my 50th Anniversary on VHS, it had ummmm…almost like a moving-painting type look to it.  The 70th Anniversary edition…kind of lost that I think.

Overall, “Gone With the Wind” is a genuine movie classic and a bonafide masterpiece of cinema.  Of course, we all know that.

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By NYCartist, December 14, 2009 at 4:16 pm Link to this comment

I’m a little younger than the movie.  I saw it five times when just into my teens.  And read the book. I became involved in civil rights. No connection.
Probably.

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