Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Finally...Gone With the Wind

Last night, I saw Gone With the Wind at the Stanford Theater.  GWTW is playing nightly at 7:30 PM until November 21 with 2 PM screenings on Saturday & Sunday (November 15 & 16).

Gone With the Wind starring Clark Gable & Vivien Leigh; with Olivia de Havilland & Leslie Howard; directed by Victor Fleming; (1939)

I had never seen GWTW in its entirety nor had I seen it in a movie theater.  I had only seen parts of it on television and not even that for many years.  The version the Stanford is screening clocks in at about 3 hours and 50 minutes including an intermission. December 15 will mark the 75th anniversary of the premiere of the film (which took place in Atlanta).  I also notice that the Castro Theater will screen a double feature consisting of GWTW and Django Unchained on December 28.

GWTW was sparsely attended last night and David Hegarty stuck around to play the Wurlitzer during the intermission around 9:20 PM.  They have some interesting letters & memos from David Selznick on display in the anteroom of the theater.  I have always wondered what that room was originally designed for.  I notice some stairs leading down in the southeast corner of the room.  I wonder where they go.

I won't bother to recount the plot.  The film rambles too much for my taste.  It starts off as if it is going to be an epic about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy but for long stretches the film abandons this plot line.  Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara is the protagonist who undergoes a transformation as an attractive, willful, jealous, younger woman to an attractive, willful, greedy, older woman.   Watching the film, I was surprised at how much Leigh's performance reminded me of Joan Crawford.  Ten years older than Leigh, Crawford was too old for the role of O'Hara but it is fun to imagine the screen chemistry between Gable & Crawford would have had since the two had an intense affair off-screen.

I also couldn't help but think about the off-screen lives of the actors.  It was during a filming break on GWTW that Gable married Carole Lombard while Leigh was having an affair with Laurence Olivier (who was married at the time) throughout the filming.

I also couldn't help noticing that three of the four lead actors are English - Leigh, Olivia de Havilland & Leslie Howard (although de Havilland was raised in California).

As for the film, it never lost my interest but characters moved in and out with seemingly no purpose.  I have not read Margaret Mitchell's novel upon which the film is based but I have read that the film is atypically faithful to its source material.  I think an hour of film could have been trimmed from GWTW without much impact on the film's plot.

I was particularly looking for blatant and latent racism in the film.  There are certainly scenes depicting both forms of racism but it wasn't any more prevalent than I remembered.  Butterfly McQueen's turn as the slave maid Prissy was difficult to watch at times but her character has always bothered me due to her voice, duplicity and weakness.  Hattie McDaniel received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Mammy.  Mammy is meant to serve as a counterpoint to Prissy but in my opinion, her performance was more rooted in racial stereotyping.

Leigh & Gable commanded the screen in a manner which today's actors cannot match.  Leigh showed quite a bit of acting range in her role and I could never quite come to dislike her character despite her many flaws which I suppose has a much to do with Leigh's performance as the screenplay and direction.  Gable is as debonair & impish as he is in any film I can recall.  When his Rhett Butler banters with O'Hara, it is as enjoyable as any exchange from Hollywood's Golden Age.

Having seen the film from soup to nuts in one sitting, I'm not sure what elevates it to its iconic status.  As I mentioned, the plot meanders and at times, the character's motivations and behaviors change with little rhyme or reason.  I assume these inconsistencies are better explained in the novel.

I would be hard-pressed to recommend GWTW to anyone on the basis of the film itself.  If it is on your cinematic bucket list or missing from your viewing filmography, seeing it on the big screen is much preferred to any other media.  I think due to the racism inherent in the film, GWTW is not often on television now.  I cannot recall the last time I saw it on television whereas I recall its television screenings were heavily advertised in advance in 1970s and 1980s.

I don't think GWTW is part of society's collective conscious anymore so there are fewer people who feel compelled to see it.  To be frank, I don't think people are missing much by not seeing it.  Off the top of my head, if I had to recommend one Clark Gable film it is It Happened One Night and for Leigh, it is A Streetcar Named Desire.  Many people will point to the racism in GWTW as a reason enough to avoid it.  I think any film about the American Civil War has to depict racism since it was integrated into the fabric of the era.  For me, GWTW just doesn't live up to its reputation.

No comments: