Saturday, February 12, 2011

Frankly my Dear, some half-drunken thoughts on GONE WITH THE WIND

And now for a "Special Saturday Movie Madness", this coming thanks to the February month of 'Turner Classic Movies' 31 Days of Oscar'.  You know the ones, where they trot out ALL of the Oscar winners from the past, erm, 346128492 years that the Oscars have been going on for (though I believe the most recent feature they've had on is Michael Mann's Ali).

So, given this, I decided finally, after years of going back and forth on going to watch it, and even going so far as to rent it out of the library (I might have even had it on VHS somewhere at some point), I hunkered down and watched David O. Selznick's production of Gone with the Wind.  All four hours of it.  With help from my friend White Russian.  And some distracted-disorder-stuff with two short films I made from almost six or seven years ago trying to upload online.  So it goes.

But what of this film?  What of it as I sit here on a fourth mix of alcoholic coffee as I ponder this big-fuck epic of 20-th century Hollywood grandiose cinema?  It is, by my humble estimation (and I do declare, as does the starlet of this picture) an example of the highest class of Hollywood craftsmanship, with all of its production designers and lighting technicians and production set workers and so on working at their top capacity.  It's also impressive considering that it's one of those first color films that really made its mark on Hollywood history.  It's cinematographer deserves a blow-job before an Oscar.  If I had been Selznick I would've been down on my knees thanking him for making his sets looking so gobsmackingly beautiful.  Nay, epic, and iconic.

And Hattie McDaniel's like, "Bitch, you crazy?"

At the heart of the film, however, at the core of this story that spans what seems to be decades (or at least a decade), and includes the Civil war and Reconstruction circa mid 19th century Georgeia, is a cold-hearted bitch who scorns her life based upon not getting ONE man.  Imagine Bella in the Twilight series if she couldn't get Edward.

Just imagine it, you sorry bastard men who have watched that movie (or women too), if that simpering little twat couldn't get the one man in her life that seemed to be all that she wanted and that if she couldn't get him oh holy hell what would happen and fuck that werewolf Indian who keeps hitting on me, sweet Jesus!  No, this isn't some teenager listening to Lynkyn Park on an endless loop, this is Scarlett O'Hara we're talking about here after all, an impetuous woman but one of fiery spirit.  I'm sure more than one man comments on her on that in this film.  Is that code for something else?

Oh, she is brave and courageous, that I'm certain.  In the story of this film, she goes from young girl pining after the dreamy Ashley (Leslie Howard? I believe that's him?), but lo and behold he loves someone else.  What is a poor girl to do, despite being propositioned clearly by TONS of other guys?  Well, pout I suppose, and throw off the advances of the dashingly handsome (and master of eyebrow ceremonies) Clark Gable to the wayside.  After all, it's War(TM)!  She has to look out for her family, of which is becoming much more precious.

Because Gone with the Wind, after all, is historical romance first, with history coming first... that is, in its first half of the story more than anything.  And dear reader, it is riveting history, where Scarlett is thrust into the deep dark belly of the beast that is the backdrop of the Civil War in America.  Sure, she's on the side of the asshole Confederates (you know the ones, the ones that STILL won't put down their flags, fucking douchebags, but besides the point), but she's got more than that to defend.  She's not out in the fields of battle.  She's gotta protect the homestead.  And her Momma!  Momma momma momma!

Sadly when she finally gets back to Tara (sic) her father is mostly all that's left save for Mammy (Hattie McDaniel, the most bravest and honest of the bunch in this film despite being called "Darky" on more than one occasion indirectly or head-on).  Her mother is passed on.  What to do!  As she declares before the intermission comes up (and in the backdrop of one of those sun-lit skies that makes one weep in awe of camera lenses) that she will NEVER go HUNGRY again(!).  So she takes hold of the Tara plantation.

It's this that it should become most interesting, as growth for a character like Scarlett should occur.  And lo and behold, it does, almost despite everything.  But then she has to get that 300 dollars to help out her plantation.  What to do?  Why not reach out to Mr. Eyebrow-Mustache himself, Mr. Rhett Butler, played by the dashingly handsome and painfully sweet and caring if sometimes (can't be helped) sarcastic Clark Gable?  Couldn't hurt.

It turns into the Romance of the Century(TM) as she becomes the unwitting wife of a man who wants nothing to do but be the Gentleman from Charleston and provide for her and their new daughter.  But oh Scarlett just deep down wants Ashley (Howard), who she's always wanted, despite being married to that goody-too-shoes who she helped out give birth in the midst of Confederate Apocalypse, and Rhett, naturally, can't stand it.  This, dear reader, is what's actually at the core of the film.

Poor Scarlett, she just wants that unattainable man, the one who is so kind and good and an awesome soldier... but his heart is understandably with a normal woman instead of a selfish little teenager in a woman's body like Scarlett.  Rhett can putt up with her, or does love her indeed, because he says he too is selfish.  I'm not totally sure if that's the case.  Why is he truly in love with her?  Who knows?  Maybe Vivien Leigh is just that good of an actress (and pretty to boot) to do that to the man formerly unswayed by the swaying leg in It Happened One Night.  Or he just is a gullible gimp.  At any rate. my sympathies were more with him (understandably) than her by the end.

Isnt this a face you cant not love? HUH!?!?!
It's not that Leigh is even that bad in the role.  On the contrary I totally believed Scarlett O'Hara's cuntiness due to her believability, and she wouldn't be able to out-do this performance for craziness till her pinaccle in Streetcar Named Desire as the notorious Blanche DuBois.  But it's also hard to feel sympathy for her in such  a bullshit romantic triangle.  Some women may feel for her, or identify with her.  More power to ya, and I'm sure you're out there (it is, after all still, the adjusted-for-inflation highest grossing film of all time, thanks to lack of TV and men at war).

But it's also a conflict of interest.  Dear Scarlett, her stakes are quite high, being abandoned practically with little by the end of the Civil War (she even has to kill a dirty Yankee for trying to get onto her property to steal earrings), and she has to build up the family's fortune again.  Luckily, she does that relatively quickly, so what else is there?  Frankly, hystrionics with the personal side of things.

And I don't mean to come down totally too hard on the film.  Sure, of course it's beautifully made.  Everything about Seznicks' production (and I neglect Victor Fleming though by most accounts he was a hired gun and it was Selnicks' baby from conception to birth), and the perfectionism he practiced shows.

Hard to question - it's marvelous to look at with its sprawling sets and gorgeous skies and shots that move in and out of the depths of field like out of a bright and/or dark dream.  It's style is hard to discredit, particularly when certain shots like when Scarlett and Olivia DeHavilland are in a Church looking over a body and their shadows take over the mis-en-scene.  On stylistic grounds it was a breakthrough that does hold up.

So she came up and was like "I've loved you since I hit puberty, marry me!" and I said 'Yeah, whatever"

But as a piece of theater, drama, acting, I'm not quite sure.  It's most obvious contemporary counterpart would be Titanic, another silly and overblown love story which uses the gigantor-ness of history as a backdrop of elephantine proportions.  I might have liked Gone with the Wind more than Titanic, but not by very much.  Its characters are mostly just as petty and cruel... no, more so here with its protagonist.  I just couldn't stand the bitchiness of Scarlett O'Hara!  She might be endearing to audiences, as clear by the film's immense popularity over seventy years, but I just don't see it.  Leigh helps bring some life and emotion into her, but it doesn't make us care much for her, especially when she becomes shrill and one-note, which is in most scenes.  And it's only near the end, when she's finally FINALLY about to lose her one stable guy in life that she kinda, sorta freaks out, and we get that iconic like that I dare not fucking repeat here!

It's due to this that I can't recommend the film as a full-blown masterpiece, not to mention that many scenes are downright corny and laughable, and not just if you're on several glasses of Vodka with milk and Kahlua.  It's a film that is lush with life and vibrancy, and may well be a classic.  I'm reminded of Dave Kehr's review in Chicago Reader: "It's not really any good, but it's great anyway."  That about sums it up really, a pure epic of Hollywood, full of technical wonder and artistry, and with character who act pretty damn stupid.

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