It’s been a while between my last old movie review and my latest – Gone with the Wind, 1939. There’s a good reason for this – the movie is a bit of beast. It’s almost four hours long with the lengthy introduction song and intermission included. The music, while memorable, is limited to about eight bars. To make sure I didn’t miss anything, I listened to the soundtrack on YouTube and found – much like the movie in general, the soundtrack has a few good moments interspersed between passive melancholy.
For a movie from the era, my pre-conceived notions were entirely wrong. I expected it to be like a Nick-At-Nite show of the 1980s and 1990s, meaning, shows from the 1950s and 1960s where couples slept in separate beds and the worst think you saw or heard was, “golly” and “gee wizz.” Wow, was I wrong.
The movie centers around Scarlet, a female protagonist who, gee wizz, she’s proper on the outside and disgusting on the inside. There’s no growth – just a shallow shell of a person who wants to fit into the right corset size and connives to get the man she wants who doesn’t want her and having not more than one child because her corset has to be laced one size up. After leaving the plantation when the south loses the civil war (which is nothing more than a passing backdrop to the movie) she marries an abusive man for … it’s not really said. It seems to be for financial support and the fear of being alone. Well, actually she says “no” but when a woman says no, that means yes if you force your way onto her and skip the marriage scene. Funny, because “Singing in the Rain” in 1952 has the same exact motif.
She has an extreme case of insecure anxious-preoccupied attachment which somehow preoccupies most of the movie. That’s really the movie in a nutshell. The rest is backdrop and seeking / being with men who don’t want her because, I don’t know, she’s shallow eye candy that just wants a guy who she thinks is better … and when that doesn’t work, she’ll take whomever else – three times. It gets worse each time as she digs herself into a deeper hole – no gore like a Darren Aronofsky movie (whose early movies were brilliant), but same idea in girly form.
Suffice to say, I can see how this was a major work in 1939 and won multiple awards. Clearly lots of thought and hard work was put into this movie. The acting is stiff and some of the shots are back lit by the sky leaving partial silhouettes of people. Still, I’m overall impressed with the technology they had to work with. In many ways, it’s more real and artistic than all the perfectly set compilation of false visuals in modern versions of such movies like The Greatest Show.
Along these line, where the movie really shines is with the use of color. Technicolor was fairly new – it’s a process of shooting with three cameras simultaneously, each with a different color filter recording on each of three different black and white negatives. Put them together and you have a nice color image. Wow, did they take advantage of this – the dresses are beautiful beyond anything seen in modern movies and they just keep coming at you with the next one and next one. There are entire articles and videos dedicated to why certain dress colors were used in one scene and then a different in another. It’s like the sequel to Tron – beautiful shots and very artsy … and they forget everything else.
With that segue into the plot, I will never complain about modern movies that leave out most of the book. There’s nothing worse than reading a good book to have it ruined by a bad movie. You know what’s worse? Having the book be the movie. Different mediums and no further complaints from me. Every Les Miserables production missing most of the book – fine!
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss race in this movie. Until June 2020 I couldn’t understand why Gone with the Wind is this “wonderful classic masterpiece” and Song of the South, with very similar depictions of domestic servant slaves is banned even by it’s own company. (It’s on the internet – I watched it – because, you know, it’s banned. … and I wanted to understand Splash Mountain. Why does Disney have a ride dedicated to a movie they don’t want people to see? I digress …) Well, HBO put Gone with the Wind on their streaming service and then took it down. Finally! Consistency!
That being said, I get why you don’t want to show overt racism in a kids movie. I have no problem showing it in adult, or even teen, historical fiction. Does every movie set in other time periods have to be white-washed (err…) to meet today’s moral standards? Of course not. Prove me wrong, but modern movies about the oppressed are typically about the oppressed breaking free from the mold. 12 Years a Slave, the Island, the Matrix, Castaway, Legally Blond, The Hunger Games, Schindler’s list – you name it. Do I want to watch a movie about the norm, e.g. a protagonist who dies in the Holocaust like 5/6 of European Jews or Tom Hanks dying on an island alone? No, not really – well, maybe. Do you want to include an accurate depiction of a Jew in a shetel in Poland – that’s not racist. That’s historically accurate – when done with honesty.
I love Darren Aronofsky movies because they’re real. The Wrestler was genius. Requiem for a Dream was brilliant. They were real! He also got called out for racism. nonsense! His characters were based on real wrestlers! (Then his movies became unwatchable…)
Moreover, you can learn more from this time period from the black characters than from timeless stereotypical convincing white women who achieve nothing and are worth nothing but for gold digging to support their primp. If we are judging the characters by their character, the two black characters are the only honest and complete (but simple) people in the movie. Who wants to see another conniving pretty white woman use her looks to marry the biggest jerk in the world? (Side point: I don’t let my girls watch Little Mermaid.)
Unless your home during a pandemic and are giving your kids a class on historical film appreciation, just watch some of the beautiful scenes online, read this review, and move on.