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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oscar Review: Gone with the Wind (1939)

During the next month and a half, I will be taking a look at 40 films that have been honored as the Best Picture of the year.

Our first film in this series is the earliest in my collection, the classic Gone with the Wind. Nominated for 13 Academy Awards and winner of 8 (plus a special award, and one for science and technology) at the 1939 ceremonies, Gone with the Wind has since graced high spots on countless lists of the greatest movies of all time with the American Film Institute ranking it at #4.

Known for the colorful characters of the Old South in the mid-nineteenth century, Gone with the Wind follows the lives of Scarlett O'Hara played by Vivian Leigh - and the well-to-do of Georgia. Scarlett loves a man, Ashley Wilkes, but is crushed to hear that he will be marrying his cousin Melanie. On a whim, and somewhat out of spite, Scarlett marries another man. After she loses her husband to pneumonia, her mother to disease, and her father to a riding accident, Scarlett is left to take charge of Tara, her family's large plantation, and the welfare of a community of family, friends, and workers.

In order to pull herself out of despair and utter ruin, Scarlett steals a second husband from her sister - who, of course, soon dies as well. She becomes desperate in her attempts to keep her home and to keep up appearances while struggling with her own fear. Scarlett and Rhett - played by Clark Gable - after crossing paths throughout the plot, finally marry and build a new home together. As is expected, tragedy strikes again when their daughter dies, exposing a great rift between Rhett and Scarlett which eventually leads to Rhett leaving for good.
I had seen Gone with the Wind maybe once or twice when I was younger, and then again when I received it as a gift this past Christmas. It is an epic story that, at times, feels a lot longer than necessary. Clocking in at just under four hours long, it can be a marathon of viewing all in itself. Being 60+ years old, it is obviously of an older style of filmmaking that makes it somewhat difficult to maintain the interest of a more modern audience. The script is very dialogue heavy which certainly would have an affect on attention deficient viewers.

While watching, I mainly found Scarlett to be extremely annoying, to be honest. She was stuck on a man who never loved her reciprocally. She married a series of men whom she didn't love at all, causing others, who actually loved them, to suffer. When/if she ever shared her true feelings with anyone it would be at the exact wrong time, only causing more pain. More often than not she would distort her story, or downright lie to get her way. It was her form of self-preservation, her way of coping with the world coming down around her. I am sure that she loved her family and friends but she seemed to always put herself first. I just thought that she was one of the more annoying characters ever.

After a bit of reflection, though, I saw her courage and her strength. In addition to the keeping-up-appearances mindset of the Old South, Scarlett felt that she had to wear a strong face for herself. She couldn't continue in the midst of so much tragedy if she gave in to all her fear from the turnings of her life. As they continued to pile up, she began to lose more and more of her venear, thus turning many, if not all,in her life away. It's a tragic story, told on a scale that hadn't been attempted before, making it an enduring classic.

Though I wouldn't personally place the film itself on a personal favorites list for it's cinematic merits alone, I can certainly understand why it's become such a beloved movie. The writing, though a bit wordy and whiny for my taste overall, has produced three of AFI's Top 100 Movie Quotes:

  • #59 - "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."
  • #31 - "After all, tomorrow is another day!"
    and, of course
  • #1 - "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Also of note, which, for me, makes it worthy of acclaim, Gone with the Wind was the film which garnered Hattie McDaniel a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of "Mammy" and thus honoring the first African-American woman with an Academy Award - long before the Civil Rights Movement.

First impressions often make or break a movie. However, given the depth contained in the cinematic medium, the best movies will constantly provide new windows into meaning each time you view them, and long after the final credits have rolled. While I wasn't very fond of Gone with the Wind as I watched - to the contrary, I sat in awe of how such a film would be considered one of the greats - I have since come to see its value and it's place in the scheme of film history.

If you haven't seen it, I have to say that it is worth seeing. Enjoy!

UPDATE: In an effort to report the honors bestowed upon these great films, it may be interesting to note that Gone with the Wind is listed as the #2 greatest love story and the #2 greatest film score.