Welcome to my second film that I am reviewing for my top five favorite movies of all time. For those of you who need to be brought up to speed, I am plagiarizing myself. I’m not sure that one can technically do that, but I am robbing from a previous iteration of a blog that I had done and cannibalizing it for use in this new forum. Strictly speaking, this is not a movie review blog; although I will review movies that I like from time to time, and give my opinion about them. And sometimes I will review movies that I don’t like. (You know who you are, Highlander 2: The Quickening) So I hope that you enjoy my opinions of the movies. Because I’m right, or some such nonsense.
When I originally wrote these reviews, I meant them to be a serious film critique. That doesn’t mean that I am now debasing myself by making these review funny. (Maybe) But I want you to enjoy the reviews, and I want those of you who have read them before to be able to read them again and enjoy them in an entirely different way. So I will be throwing my commentary in from time to time. I am timing these to come out in some order and be done before the Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26th, 2017. (And for those of you who live in the Southern California Region, you should attend the La Habra Library’s screening of Malcolm X on that day. Refreshments will be provided and a film professor will come discuss race and society today as she curates the film. This should be a discussion well worth having in our current political climate.)
If this is your first look at my top five films, go back and take a look at number five. You can also look at my top ten Romantic films of all time, should you feel inclined. Obviously this is my list. So it’s my subjective opinion of objective fact. Sort of. I was listening to the radio the other day and heard two sports personalities who talked about great 1994 films and why it was a travesty that Quiz Show or Pulp Fiction did not win out over Forrest Gump that year. Somehow, they missed my favorite movie, also released that year. (This is a hint for those who are interested in trying to guess my favorite film.) What this revealed to me is that there is no right or wrong with a movie list, merely opinion. (Massive revelation I know. Unless, of course, you are Highlander 2. And then it’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong.) Sometimes my view of a movie has to do with craft and technique. Sometimes a film affects me greatly because of what was going on in my life at the time. But I think the best films should be able to affect you in different ways, at different times.
With that in mind, here is the review to my number four favorite movie of all time . . .
Day 4 – Gone With the Wind (I originally wrote these reviews from one to five. Smart I know. It’s like reading a David Letterman top ten list from one to ten. Somehow, all the suspense is gone.)
I am going to be straightforwardly honest here. (Because if I was crookedly honest one would begin to wonder.) As much as this is the quintessential film of the early 20th century in the sound era, it’s the one film I question the most often about why it belongs on my list. (I am weird like that, questioning classic movies.) Because this is where the “did I enjoy the movie” element of my top 5 definitely comes into play. And it’s one of those films where I am certain that I could name many other films that I would have enjoyed at one time or another more than I enjoyed this film. I have heard shouts from friends of different movies that could have made it onto this list. (As you can see, they all fell on deaf ears.) And certainly, I could take those opinions into consideration. (By the way I have ocean front property to sell you in Kansas.) The problem is, Gone with the Wind rates high on the “does the movie touch you” and “is it timeless” areas of consideration. Even if I didn’t enjoy the movie in that classic “I had fun” way that I might have with other films, it’s a movie that just sticks with me. (Because obviously I am a masochist. I didn’t even walk out in the middle of Highlander 2. What was I thinking?!?!) And Gone with the Wind is a movie that sucks me in time, after time, after time.
As a side note, before I move onto a fairly conventional analysis of the film, I had one of the more bizarre experiences of film watching when I went to see this film with friends. (The friends who came with me that night certainly can attest) There was a theater in my area that played classic films one Tuesday a month. This one particular month they were going to play Gone with the Wind. I had convinced (bribed) several of my guy friends to go see that film. (Who said guys don’t have a soft side? Seriously. Who said it???) We all arrived at the theater, but we showed up later than we had planned. As a result, we were not able to get tickets to see the movie. But then, while we considered what we were going to do next, someone came out and told us that they were considering running it on a second screen given the enormous amount of people they had turn out for the screening. So we got in line on the off chance we would get to see the movie. Quickly, a large group of women lined up behind us, trying to do the same thing. We must have had several groups of women come up to us while we were in line telling us how it was a women’s movie. We did not belong or have a right to be at such a movie, so we should be forced to go to the back of the line because we were men. (Women can have Beaches, Steel Magnolias and Grease all you want. Leave me and my friends Gone with the Wind.)
Aside from the debate whether Gone with the Wind is a woman’s movie, let me make a straight forward analysis beginning with the performances. First of all, there is Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. I can tell you from the beginning that this woman annoyed the crap out of me. (If you like abusive, manipulative women, who chase other woman’s husbands, then you can have them.) She was temperamental, manipulative, egotistical, vengeful, spiteful, and too cute for her own good. But there is something about her that makes you relate to her. Maybe it’s her drive that she displays from beginning to end. She seems to have no limits to her ambition, but that makes her amazing in a crisis. She is overly enamored with Ashley Wilkes, played by a simpering Leslie Howard, but you can tell that she is led on by him. (Kind of. Sort of. Maybe.) And Scarlet seems to abuse the saintly Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), who eventually turns out to be more saintly on the outside than she is within. (If acceptance of hypocrisy makes you eligible for sainthood, then she is the patron saint, of hypocrites.) And finally, Scarlett keeps ignoring the one good guy in the picture, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). We hate her because she is us. (Did I just say that? I relate to her, not at all. Not. At. All.) And we like her because she is us. She is herself at all times on screen. Scarlett O’Hara is a character stripped of artifice and left to be herself in a society that was all about keeping up appearances. (Somehow, it came as a shock to these people that slavery was bad. I think people live in denial sometimes, but these people were champion deniers.) Vivien Leigh would later play a role in a Streetcar Named Desire that was a lot like the role of Scarlett, but much older, and to more tragic and horrifying results.
Then there is Rhett Butler. He is the perfect example of the American ideals of manliness and virtue, without being too virtuous. He is the American male who is drug into society by a woman that seems to fascinate him. (And given that he has a fascination with Scarlett, he must be drugged. I wonder what drugs they had available to themselves back then.) And he comes to participate in a world that he believes still has beauty and elegance. Unable to change it, at least from his perspective, he eventually leaves the screen to one of the most famous quotes in film history. “Frankly My Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.” (And who would about Scarlett? Really?) You could argue that there was no real depth to the role that Clark Gable was playing. In fact, you could say that he was just playing himself up on the screen, as many screen actors of the day did. (If you want to think modern screen actors who can’t play anything but themselves, think Tom Cruise. No he was not good as the Vampire Lestat. What are you smoking?) Sometimes, a role is meant for an individual. And Rhett Butler was Gable at his finest. While mostly smirking and smiling on the screen, being his usual jovial self, by the time you got to the end of the movie and could see the pain on his face as his daughter was dying, Gable reached inside himself to portray something deeper. This role was Gable plus. (Ok, maybe a B+, but you take what you get.)
Even the lesser roles of Ashley Wilkes, Melanie Hamilton, Mammy (Hattie McDaniel), Gerald O’Hara (Thomas Mitchell), and a bevy of other roles, including the future TV Superman (George Reeves) in a small role at the beginning of the film, contribute to the films poignancy. These players drive the story forward in beautiful and sometimes unexpected ways. From the Mammy who seems to hold the house together, to the weak father who cannot seem to control his daughter, to the weak Ashley Wilkes who cannot stand up and be a man, owning his decisions, Gone With the Wind is littered with fun roles that you begin to love or hate. (Mostly hate. Because weak men. But whatever.)
Novel and Transformation into film
I think Margaret Mitchell, the author of the novel and movie’s namesake, was not necessarily trying to get us to love her characters. She was bemoaning the loss of another world that had fallen into repute in the meantime. Many southern authors, including William Faulkner, would portray a South bruised and battered by what had happened in the Civil War and unable to get beyond that. Mitchell, through her work, exemplified the beauty of this bygone era and displayed all of the destruction that lay in its wake. (Now if you think we should go back to that time and place, again I ask, “What are you smoking?”) From being forced to do things in different ways, to the carpet baggers who would come in and take advantage of the broken and battered South, Mitchell showed a society that lay in tatters, hoping for its spirit to come out again.
As far as the story, it took at least four different people to sit down and work out the screen play. The Herculean length of the novel had to be shrunk down to movie size. It took several treatments in order to get it into a palatable size for audiences of the day. (Because if anyone went to see Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed, the eight hour silent film epic, I commend you. Or something. ) The original draft was set to be a six hour movie and that was not going to be workable. But many efforts of the day were collaborative. This did not seem to detract from the final work as it had a coherent theme throughout the novel. It was about the South, in the U.S.A., its death, and hope for reclamation. Maybe the South needed to die, being a society built on slave labor. (It is guilt, sin, and redemption. Now how often have we seen that plot in movies before? Oh yeah! Every other movie.) But Mitchell and the authors felt like it could be redeemed as well. In Scarlett the audience could see hope for tomorrow. (Because she was the model of civility, decorum and graciousness. Right.) Through this story, audiences could imagine the great Tara plantation be rebuilt, along with the South, through the enduring strength and will of the people who were in it.
The Cinematography of Gone with the Wind was a beauty to behold. Although the cinematic effort in this one was chalked up to three different people. The initial cinematographer, Lee Garmes, was replaced because his footage was too dark. Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan, who was a Technicolor specialist, would come in to replace him. Thankfully the collaboration brought unity to the picture in the end, with some of the most iconic images in film history. The burning of the South with Rhett and Scarlett in the foreground, the slow walk down the staircase of Scarlett O’Hara to the admiring gaze of Rhett Butler, and the ending shot of Scarlett staring off into the distance are all scenes and sequences that live on in film lore and are hard to remove from your head.
Gone with the Wind was such a monumental effort in its day, going on to win 7 Academy Awards of the 12 it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director of the year. (Of course, the fact that half of Hollywood worked on the picture, and therefore half of Hollywood would be voting for it, meant nothing.) While knowing a lot about how the Hollywood system works and having so many different people work on this effort, it was probably impossible for any other film to win that year. Whether or not it was aided by the magnitude of the effort Gone with the Wind remains the quintessential Technicolor epic. (The movie Epic Movie is not that epic. Seriously.)
My ultimate view
I know that many critics do not like Gone with the Wind. (I used to have a whole paragraph here dedicated to a defense of why people don’t like the film. Many people consider the film to be racist. Or sexist. Or any other name they can call it. I don’t think it’s worth getting into that kind of an argument. Films do have to be judged in the era in which they were made. They hadn’t even passed Civil Rights legislation by the early 40’s and some people thought blackface was still a legitimate art form. This movie was tame by that standard, and actually had a strong African American female in a major role, even if it wasn’t the lead. Maybe the movie hasn’t held up perfectly, but I think the performances and cinematography are on par with anything anyone else can come up with.)
Gone with the Wind wears well as a piece of cinematic history, containing good performances, a story that can reveal the brokenness of us all, and the human spirit which can overcome any obstacle. It is definitely worth a watch as a piece of film history, and I believe more than that.
This film is perfectly Toasty (Yes this was my crazy rating system to my old blog.)
*next up, the pies de resistance of my Top 5, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo* (And as you can tell, I took all the suspense out once again. Ugh!)
I won’t be revealing what my third favorite will be. But I will say you can look at the schedule on my previous blog and find out when I will be dropping my third ranked film. I would love to know your favorite films as well, in any genre. Enjoy your week. This is me, signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life
Links to top five of all time
Number 5 : Vertigo
Number 3 : Casablanca
Number 2 : Glory
Number 1 : Shawshank Redemption