Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gone with the Wind (1939)

TOP 100 FILMS: #17

Southern beauty Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) must deal with Civil War, passing family, weakening estate, and a turbulent romance with the ever smooth Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).

"If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

An interesting thing happened during the dawn of feature length cinema. Despite loosing the war, the South managed to gain a great deal of cinematic prestige. From the 1915 Birth of a Nation to 1927's The General, Gone with the Win is the ultimate culmination of the Civil War from the perspective of the south. Epic, and yet simple. Tragic, and yet sublime. Gone With the Wind is a tale that escapes all bounds, by simply being a work of cinematic art.

A work that can be far too easily lambasted for being racist, and for its idealistic portrayal of Confederate superiority. All the while overlooking the fact that it is a tale from the perspective of slave owning, Confederate supporting, white female character. So while I do not agree with how it portrays these factions in a positive light, I do not criticize it for doing so given our limited point of view.

What is perhaps most striking about the film is how it portrays its two central characters. Scarlett is manipulative, conceited, and selfish. While Butler is in many respects a war profiteer, selfish, and manipulative himself. The two well compliment each other, and their romance (if one dares really call it that) gives Gone With the Wind a certain sentiment of tragic nostalgia. Never able to truly be in sync with one another, they find themselves often seeking what the other had.

You see, for all its negative traits Gone With the Wind is about facing change. Throughout the film Scarlett must match her will to live with the ever changing world around her. Her struggles with loneliness, and the ultimate consequences of her vibrant lifestyle. The final scene, a testament to all that these characters have had to endure.

As well, one can not appropriately mention this film without discussing Hatti McDaniel as Mammy. Despite her character being the ever typecasted "happy slave," McDaniel brings a great deal of presence, and character to the stage. The moral, and emotional, center to Scarlett's wavering ways. A subtly progressive character, whose importance in cinema can never be understated (in many respects both positively and negatively).

Importance in cinema. It's hard to describe Gone with the Wind any other way. For all its negatives, it's a movie that helped make cinema what it is today. And when you can be both important, and captivating, you have a visual treat for all to share.

One of the most epic films in history holds the test of time with striking visuals, memorable lines, and dynamic characters. Serving now as an example to what cinema can truly be with such prevailing talent behind it.

4 better thoughts:

Alex said...

Thoughtful review, but I have to admit I hated this movie when I first watched it and now do not have the patience to give it a second try. Everyone is just so unlikable that it's really hard for me to devote 4 hours to them a second time. I laughed hysterically at the ending (it's just so DRAMATIC), and I'm pretty sure that wasn't the intention.

Oh well. Another cinematic classic that I don't appreciate. Nothing new.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

You hit the nail on the head (or the tooth on the nail or whatever that idiom is) with it being facing change...just like Casablanca both are considered as love stories at the core but they're both about adapting to changes.

Univarn said...

@Alex thanks. I understand, and I think the character's are most definitely intentionally unlikable (to an extent, they have some redeeming moments). Too me though, they were never so unlikable it made it unwatchable. As for the ending, it's always seemed to be a sort of mental break. In the essence of Streetcar Named Desire. Our character's gone a bit off the end, and the final proclamation exists to show that.

@Andrew Nail on the head works for me. Just be careful, I don't want to die.

Rachel said...

I was a senior in college and taking the dreaded Theatre History class (a requirement for the major) and the professor brought up the stereotypical "Mammy" character. Everyone in the class nodded in agreement, except for me who had never seen Gone with the Wind. An immediate, simultaneous gasp of shock came from my 19 classmates after my scandalous confession. As it turns out, it's against the law to have been raised in the South and never have watched this film. I had no idea!

All kidding aside, I eventually did watch Gone with the Wind, post college, and enjoyed it to a degree. It is a beautiful film, but one must be very patient while watching it, and patience isn't one of my virtues.

Excellent review!

Related Posts with Thumbnails