Thursday, September 2, 2010

You Gotta Watch This Movie: Gone With The Wind (1939)

There really is nothing as spectacular as seeing a movie on the big screen.  All our new technological conveniences are just that, conveniences.  Being enveloped in that full screen cinematography, that dark, cavernous room filled with people who become non-existent once you become hooked on the story, that sound surrounding and booming with warmth and excitement...ahhh, yes.  It's the best.

And about two weeks ago I saw the best of the best on that gorgeous screen..."Gone With The Wind".  Yep.  American Cinematheque blew my mind yet again with a screening of "Gone With The Wind" at the Aero Theatre.  When that projector rolled and the opening credits came on, the classic '39 movie music played, and the theater went dark, it was all I could do to keep from crying tears of utter joy.

I spent many repeated days as a kid/teen watching and re-watching that epic film on TV.  I have no idea how it was introduced to me...I vaguely remember it as a two part special on ABC or something...but I do know that as soon as I saw it I was in love.  In love with the South, those massive hoop dresses, the Civil War, the romantic notion of plantations, Scarlett's brash nature, and Rhett Butler.  I L-O-V-E loved that character, that man, that idea of a man.  Virile, handsome, scoundrel and sensitive, a man of smarts and survival.  I became obsessed with Clark Gable. Obsessed.  I scoured the TV guide every week, reading page by page, section by section, piece by piece...searching for all the films between 1920 - 1960 looking for his name, underlining, circling and scheduling myself to watch.  There weren't a lot but there were a few.  At least one every couple weeks.  I was so disappointed when there was no Clark Gable for the week!  To this day and since that first day of GWTW, I look for the Rhett/Clark combo in every man I've ever been attracted to.  It's nuts, but it's true.  And I find bits and pieces of him in almost every guy I've dated but never the full package.  No wonder I'm single...!  Anyway, getting way off topic here.

Gone With the Wind has been such a pivotal movie in my life.  The crane shot over the wounded soldiers lying on the Atlanta train tracks was the first cinematographic moment that I was ever consciously aware of.

The massive flames behind Rhett and Scarlett as they ride past the ammunition set on fire and ready to blow was my first conscious journey into special effects.

Janet Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel, and Ona Munson gave me my first taste for acting, talent, celebrity.  They set me on a path to try it myself (needless to say, I failed drama class miserably) and turned me into a scrapbooking, picture clipping fool...another reason I scoured the TV guide...for pics of my favorite actors/actresses.

And how about epics?  I love epics thanks to this movie.  Sweeping grandeur, intermissions, endless amounts of flowing landscape filled with earthy tones, crane shots, aerial shots, long tracking shots.  Fantastic!  I devoured North & South, The Far Pavillions, Ghandi, The Jewel In The Crown, The Thorn Birds, Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, Doctor Zhivago as if they were the last feast I would ever lay my eyes upon. 

Being an impressionable kid who questioned all those impressions I was never won over by the romantic ideal of the slave running South, though.  I did a lot of reading and researching from a very neutral place.  But I respected the story aspect of it all.  So many angles, so much meaning, so much division portrayed from the agrarian culture of the U.S.  Yet, while I respected the story I missed the main plot in this particular movie. 

As I watched "Gone with The Wind" up on that big screen for the first time ever in my life I became attached to that main plot, that main character, that main reason for this film to exist, like never before.  Scarlett O'Hara, for the first time in dozens of watching times, stood out on that screen like I'd never seen her.  It hit me like bricks...this was a truly strong female lead role in a major motion picture that I had completely overlooked!

By now it's well known that I am a supporter of the strong woman to the utmost.  Not a feminist, but a supporter of that which is the pillar in life.  At the Aero that evening I realized how so many people, including myself, had "Gone With The Wind" totally wrong.  They called it a movie about the South, about gallantry, about loss and destruction, North and South, divisions, slavery, plantations, and about a love story.  While it is all that, it is so much more about the journey of a woman who's circumstances force her to be as strong and uncompromising as steel.  Those other elements were her supports, our subplots. 

We start off seeing Scarlett as a spoiled Southern Belle teen.  She wants only one man and that's Ashley Wilkes.  She is determined to get him.  How could he not love the belle of the ball?  How could she not possibly get everything she wants?  She learns he is marrying his cousin Melanie (Olivia De Havilland) and decides all she has to do is tell Ashley she loves him and he will be hers instead!  So, already we are seeing the strong will of our lead female character come to light.  It continues with an angry tantrum and her first meeting with Rhett Butler...her male equivalent.  It goes even further when she callously accepts Melanie's brother Charles' proposal at the start of the war, taking revenge on Ashley's passionate kiss goodbye to Melanie.  Charles dies of pneumonia and Scarlett is forced to be a mourning widow.  She sobs to her mother, "My life is over! Nothing will ever happen to me anymore!"  The solution is a trip to Atlanta to visit Melanie and we see Scarlett's wheels spin as she realizes that's where she'll be able to connect with Ashley again as well.  She immediately shocks Atlanta at a benefit bazaar when the mourning widow she is, accepts blockader Rhett Butler's invitation to dance. Later, as the city falls to the Yankees, Scarlett is faced with delivering Melanie's baby amidst explosions and gun fire then getting herself, Melanie, the baby and Prissy back to Tara.  She commandeers Rhett for a moment but is abandoned by him as he takes off to join the army for one last 11th hour stand against the Union.

Arriving at Tara, Scarlett is confronted by a county destroyed, Tara ravaged, her mother dead, her father gone insane, and her needy family looking to her to save them.  And save them she does...bedraggled and worn, a sobbing Scarlett falls upon the ground to pull up a lone carrot that she ravenously devours only to gag it back up again.  Right here is the turning point.  The spoiled child Scarlett O'Hara is gone.  She now becomes a woman who must beat all the odds.  "As God is my witness, as God is my witness, they're not going to lick me, " she declares. "I'm going to live through this.  And when it's all over I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill, as God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!"

Things progress at Tara...A stray soldier is shot and killed by Scarlett when he comes in to pillage and rape; beaten Confederate soldiers return; Scarlett and family till the fields, building a bit of income to feed the family and the soldiers; overseer Jonas Wilkerson comes back to buy out Tara after finding out the taxes are too high for Scarlett to pay; and Scarlett's father dies when he rides out after Wilkerson and gets thrown from his horse.  Ashley returns and Scarlett goes to Atlanta to charm money from Rhett only to find him locked up in a jail by the Yankees who are either going to hang him or take his money.  Rhett, of course, doesn't help and Scarlett is forced to find another solution.  She bumps into her sister's beau, Frank Kennedy, who is prospering with a lumber store in Atlanta and within days they are married.  Tara is saved by Scarlett's quick thinking and shrewd maneuvers and the family slowly begins building their wealth again.  Scarlett leaves her sisters behind and, after a puddle of crocodile tears used to convince Ashley and Melanie to head back to Atlanta with her, she gathers the remaining house servants and sets out on a path to become business woman extraordinaire.

Atlanta becomes a series of Scarlett strengths, mistakes, falls, and pick-herself-up-again scenarios.  She rides past the shanty town alone and is attacked; her husband dies (quite the story unto itself as this is where the rise of the KKK is mentioned); she expands the lumber store into a mill; she finally marries Rhett, obtaining loads of money and a massive house; she has a daughter;  she gets caught in a tender moment at the mill with Ashley, destroying her marriage to Rhett in the process; she falls down the stairs and loses her unborn baby; she loses her first born daughter to another horse riding accident; Melanie dies; and Rhett leaves her.

Yet Scarlett still manages to muster the strength needed to carry on. Throughout the film we constantly hear her say, "I won't think about that right now.  I'll think about it tomorrow."  It's her way of pushing any guilty conscience to the back of her mind but as Rhett disappears into the fog Scarlett knows there will be no tomorrow if she doesn't deal with today.

Ask anyone who's seen the movie once or twice what the last line is and they'll probably give you this (1:08):

Check again, friends. Start at about 03:35.  Just as strong but so glanced over as Scarlett once again pulls up her bootstraps and formulates another plan for survival.

Yes. That's right, "After all, tomorrow is another day!" And one I hope that will reveal a return to Hollywood's heyday of fine storytelling and strong roles for women and men alike. - TKS

1 comment:

  1. 1939. Big movie year: Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Wizard of Oz ...COLOR!!!