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Gone with the Wind


Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, many others, 1939)


I've found myself falling into the trap lately of underrating this epic film because other people complain about it so much. However, rewatching it for the umpteenth time and liking it even better than before in a completely new way, has caused me to come to its "defense" and try to write something about it in the form of a rebuttal to most of the complaints raised about why it's supposedly outdated, a soap opera/chick flick, boring, racist, whitewashed, etc. So here goes.


1. GWTW is old and doesn't present characters or events which people can possibly relate to anymore. - GWTW is certainly 72 years old at this moment and it's set in the Deep South from about 1861-1875, but the cinematics on display will never grow old. Sure, there are some fake blue screen shots here and there, but 99.5% of it is unparalleled cinema and I'm talking about right down to this present day. To start with, the acting is incredible, the dialogue sophisticated and the characters, almost right down to the smallest roles, seem to be people who are far more aware of their surroundings and those they live with than the idiot cyphers which pass for characters in most of today's movies. For example, Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) is easily the wisest character in the film. She may not speak the greatest English but when did she have a chance to go to school? What's certain is that she looks and listens and thus understands all the characters better than most of them do themselves. Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) is probably an example of one of the most "Good" characters ever, but once again, she isn't taken advantage of by others for being a true Christian. Rather, her simple goodness makes others want to be better, and yes, I'm even including that rascal Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) who gets many of the best lines in the film and delivers them wonderfully. The tragedy of GWTW, aside form the fact that life always ends in death, is that Rhett and Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) are so perfect for each other but always have some poor sense of timing where they can never actually be totally honest and happy with each other at the same time. Vivien Leigh gives one of the all-time greatest performances as a teenage brat without a heart who grows up and learns through the suffering of a defeated South and the fact that all who are close to her have major problems with her behavior and selfishness. The cinematography, art direction, sound, music, editing and costumes are all meticulous and could scarcely ever be reproduced in this day and age without spending something approaching $300 million.


2. GWTW is a chick flick, so why would any guys want to watch it? - I would say that GWTW is a chick flick in the same way that The Godfather is a gangster flick. They both tell epic stories using wonderful cinematic techniques and have characters which any living person should easily relate to. Does the fact that The Godfather is a gangster flick mean that Women should hate it for what it is? Is that a rational thing for an intelligent film buff to do? Well, for the same reasons, nobody should really look down on "chick flicks" if they are done well and go far above and beyond whatever that cliched description seems to mean nowadays. Not only that, but if I was going to describe GWTW, I'd say that it's about equal parts relationship melodrama (not a soap opera - it's far too sophisticated), gothic horror film and war movie. The last time I thought about it, I believed that Guys in general like horror and war movies, so what's the big deal? And if you don't believe me about the horror part, then you honestly have not seen the movie and compared the lighting and sets, especially in the middle third, to that of Roger Corman, Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Trust me, it's all in there, along with thematic concepts concerning haunted houses and mad characters. Then, there are all the things which GWTW somehow got away with. It has the goriest death of any American film of its era and actually far past when a certain character is shot point blank in the face and we see the wretched aftermath of what used to be a human face. It has a woman taking her clothes off (no you don't really see anything but bare legs but even so, in the context of the film and the times, it's surprising). It even has a man raping his wife (if you believe that's possible and this film implies it certainly is), even if it's not explicitly shown. Then there's Rhett Butler's famous closing swear word.


3. GWTW is blatantly racist and a whitewashed account of what slavery truly represented. - First off, I'm sure that everyone knows that GWTW is a fictional film based on a fictional novel. It has specific characters who act and believe the way they do because that's the way they're written. If you watch GWTW expecting to see slaves whipped or in chains, you won't see it. You will see white chain-gang workers who are the equivalent of slaves though. You never hear the "N-word" in the movie but you hear the words "darky" and "darkies" repeatedly. You also hear "poor white trash" quite often. The white trash certainly seem to be held in lower esteem than the darkies, and many of the darkies are treated as members of the family by Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie and Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). As I said before, Mammy is the wisest character in the whole film, as well as probably the most honest and she stays with Scarlett and Melanie after the Civil War ends. The field slaves basically left the plantation Tara when the Yankees showed up but most the house servants stayed. Butterfly McQueen, as Prissy, is often cited as a character presented in a racist context, but that seems to be more because of McQueen's unique way of speaking and the fact that her character tells some "stories" during the film which end up not being true and potentially causing danger to some main characters. It's true that some of the older, paternal white characters seem to hold the darkies to be as inferior as the white trash but none of the main characters seem to, and if that's supposed to be a crock of BS, I don't see how anyone can prove that such things didn't happen. Besides that, the film does discuss slavery from multiple perspectives but only in passing since it's not really about slavery. What should they have done, just omit all the slaves? After all, Schindler's List and The Pianist show that certain "enemies" of the Jews did protect them during WWII.


4. GWTW is three-and-one-half hours long and any film that long should not be watched because it's too big an investment of time and it has to be boring if it's that long - To me, this is ridiculous to even think of such things, but if based on your personal experience this is an axiom, I suppose I'd just have to say that there's always an exception to every rule, and where there's one, there are usually many others. There is no boredom at all in the film. It's witty, suspenseful, colorful, unpredictable, intelligent, cinematically-pleasing (the obsession with shadows is definitely a highlight for me), tense, filled with interesting characters and situations and many other positive things. True, it's long but the story and characters deserve the extra time. It is a true epic and not just one in name only. If you have to watch it in more than one sitting, that's not really a problem, especially since it has an intermission about halfway through.

I think that's enough for now, especially since it's getting so late. I've decided that when I put it at #50 in my Top 100 that I was off quite a bit, trying to somehow compensate and apologize for its alleged shortcomings. It should be closer to somewhere near #25, maybe along side something such as Richard Pryor Live in Concert.