WORDS ON FILM
BY NOLAN LAMPSON
Director: Victor Fleming
Producer: David O. Selznick
Screenplay: Sidney Howard
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel
Release Date: December 15, 1939 (USA)
**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT DETAILS**
With films like "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Avatar" being released nowadays, one might believe the world's audience does not have the attention span for a four-hour film from the 30s. But the reason Gone With The Wind still succeeds today is because it has almost everything a film can offer: a historical, war-set epic, with conflict, dramatic living, action scenes, and romance. The conflict may seem to be north vs. south, the Civil War's union and confederates, but the conflict is really for who Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) should end up with, a southern belle torn between two men, or rather her sophistication and her undeniable lust.
The two men here are Rhett Butler (Clark Gable, everyone's ideal choice for the character), a snarling figure with indisputable intimidation (when Scarlett first sees Rhett, she tells her sister: "He looks as if he knows what I look like without my shimmy") and Ashley Wilkes, someone of a higher distinguished class that seems to be ideal for her. Scarlett is contradictory in her actions and feelings--she will lean towards both simultaneously at different angles. And so will the camera--the cinematography reveals Scarlett's actions and expressions towards both men, giving the audience an interactive look at the Civil War-era south through Scarlett's eyes.
The race to find the woman with the role of Scarlett was a international frenzy, and rightfully so. Scarlett is such a petulant woman, so peevish and co-dependent on others close to her that even her biggest supporters cannot bear to watch her at moments--Gone With The Wind would have suffered greatly if she had been unaltered by anything. This is the reasoning for
the last scene in the film, where Rhett has had enough after nearly a decade (and four hours of film), and Scarlett drags behind him as he leaves:
"Rhett, if you leave, where shall I go, what shall I do?"
"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
It is one of the quintessential movie moments, the last line being voted as the number one movie line by the American Film Institute nearly 70 years after the release. The line means everything to the film, because the viewers wait an entirety of 238 minutes, including one intermission, to see someone batted down. For a woman with such strong confidence and re-assurance, as well as someone who will backlash at anyone in her way, Scarlett ultimately gets what she deserves, ending up weak with the final line of the film: "Tomorrow is another day." It is something that we have seen of Scarlett the entire film--tragedy strikes, but she believes she can get through it. We know she will have another conflict soon; the magic of the ending is the mere suggestion of the future. Someone like Scarlett, with such an impossible manner and personality, will always find conflict, and may never even have to seek it out. Misfortune comes to those who do not bother to care about others, until they leave her with despair, as Rhett does.
Vivien Leigh gives, in my opinion, the third-greatest female performance to ever come to a screen, and absolutely the best performance of the 1930s. She towers over others here--and what could be an easy flaw of the annoyance of the protagonist is overlooked by Leigh's amazing performance, truly a performance for the ages. Sure, O'Hara is a blunt annoyance at times, but it is Leigh who gives Scarlett life.A woman, a true woman, with the woe and despair of her character, rather than a whining caricature of disastrous results. Clark Gable is among Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando for the most distinct presence in a film, and like Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, etc., you can't dare to take your eyes off of Gable, if it wasn't for a strong female performance. Bogart is not always the center of attention in Casablanca because of a strong performance by Ingrid Bergman, and Gable all the same. Both Gable and Leigh are phenomenal tour-de-forces, which would make sense for the two most coveted roles in film history at the time, and maybe even now.
The cinematography is stunning. Wide shots, an enigmatic production design, beautiful camerawork, and moody lighting at differing points of story in Tara. The costumes are to be commended is well; Leigh and her sisters are always wearing the grandest of attire, and the department of costumes for films are always underappreciated; Gone With The Wind is a film that is remembered not always for its daring themes of sexuality and vanity, or its jaw-dropping performances, but because the film is visually remarkable on a grand scale. The entire film is filmmaking on a pedestal, really. Film critics and historians will revere, worship, and genuflect and Gone With The Wind, because it is truly an audacious production, and an innovative attempt to tell, at its core, quite a simple love story, but to illustrate a wonderful world to tell the story in.
Gone With The Wind won 9 of its 14 nominated Academy Awards, including Picture, Director, Actress, Cinematography in Color, and Editing. Score would probably win if the awards were today, as time usually tells a different outcome for many films. Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American actor/actress to win an award from the Academy for her portrayal of a house slave in Tara.
76 years after its release, Gone With The Wind can still be considered a fresh viewing, and again because of its performances, screenplay, and cinematography, along with an unforgettable, harrowing musical score by Max Steiner. An epic mixture of the Civil War and romance is intertwined with some of the most important and classic moments in cinema. Wind has elements every generation finds entertaining, and that is why, even after 76 years, Gone With The Wind remains one of the greatest motion pictures ever, an important monument of American life when America was involved in wars and in peril, not unlike America's state in 1939, the year the film was produced. If movies and cinema are popular because we can travel to another time period and follow distinct characters, then there should be no reason why Gone With The Wind isn't a staple of Hollywood filmmaking, even 76 years after its release.
comments on the screen by nolan lampson.