Monday, December 28, 2009

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Can one sum up one of the greatest films in history in one word? I'll try: stunning. Not only is this a fascinating tale, but it serves both as a historical service and a comment on society in 1939 and impending war.
Technilogically, this film was a breakthrough in many ways. First, for its superior use of technicolor, which until then was only used in pieces of films (see early 1930s musicals like Dixiana or the fashion show in The Women). GWTW and The Wizard of Oz figured out how to light and costume a technicolor picture without the awkward amount of time that sound technology took to perfect. GWTW also maintained historical and logical integrity in the costuming department by not using wild colors just for the hell of it, like most technicolor musicals of the 1940s (ahem, The Harvey Girls anyone?).
Another unprecedented technique was the use of mattes combined with shots. Not only did it save money on set construction, it painted the full picture and gave the movie a more dreamy look. I had no idea that this was used until after I finished the movie, but now that I look back I can just barely see the difference between the real and the painted. For 70 years old, that's pretty damn good.
I say I'm not a huge fan of Vivien Leigh, she overacted just the right amount for Scarlett. I don't think there could have been any other interpretation of the character, although I really would have liked to see alternate versions with some of the other actresses who were considered (especially Paulette Goddard and Carole Lombard). Speaking of screen tests: if you're looking for a laugh, look no further than Jean Arthur's. Poor thing, just try to keep a straight face while hearing her say "fiddle dee dee". It seems like every actress in Hollywood but Ginger read for the part. Does she mention it in her autobiography? I can't remember off the top of my head.
I also LOVED Olivia DeHaviland as Melanie. Andre Leeds (Kaye from Stage Door) also read for the part. She would have been wonderful, but I think it was Olivia's role from the day she was born. No one can deliver a line as sweetly as she can. The only casting decision I did not understand was Leslie Howard. He was too old, and his reservations about playing the part came through on screen. He's just not the siren that it seems like he should be in order to catch the eye of the young and flirtatious Scarlett. Perhaps if he has been played by more of a heartthrob, more people would have understood Scarlett's undying love for him. On the other hand, maybe that was the point: he wasn't anything special, he was the one she couldn't have, and that's the only reason she wanted him. Hopefully I will understand better when I read the novel.
And oh, the costumes. I can't decide which dress is my favorite:
Weird, because I don't usually go for Red.
I usually balk at long movies because I have become used to the classic model of no more than 1.5 hours. However I was so enamored with GWTW that I didn't even notice that it was approaching 1 AM when it ended. Then I stayed up even later and watched the "making of" documentary that followed.
I am really happy I finally sat down and watched this movie. What I expected to be a melodramatic and overrated epic was actually a fantastic piece of cinematic history. I was pleasantly surprised, and I hope this happens more often.


  1. Was it the first time you saw it? I envy you! I watch it almost every time I have a cold, so I just can lie down for 4 hours and feel that at least the South knows how much I suffer. (Yes, I compare a runny nose with the Civil War.)

  2. It was my first time to watch it all in one sitting. Before last week, I had seen all of the movie over a course of the past 10 years.

  3. Oh how fab, my favourite! I watch it every time I get dumped by a man! Just love the moment when Rhett arrives at the bottom of the stairs...

    I'm having a Gone With the Wind lunch party on Saturday - all recipes by Hattie McDaniel. I shall emerge from the kitchen during the interval waving a carrot and shouting, "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!"

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