Gone with the Wind (1939)

Standing as an essential piece of film history and the most iconic drama ever created, to tackle "Gone with the Wind" in anything less than novel form would almost seem unjust to the picture. Yes, you could talk about the oddities of Margaret Mitchell (her death is most curious), you could talk about how the movie flip-flopped between Victor Fleming and George Cukor as the director, David O. Selznik's presence as producer, or the fact that Vivian Leigh (the actress almost inseparable from the role) was not the first choice as Scarlett O'Hara and there were fights about the lead actress casting decision. You could talk about all that; but I think it all boils down to being in the right time at the right place and the right movie for an era.
"Gone with the Wind" begins on a Southern plantation named Tara. Scarlett (Leigh) is the daughter of two successful plantation owners/philanthropic parents. Her father is an avid horseback rider (he broke his knee that way) and her mother is a woman of great heart. But Scarlett seems to have missed all the virtues that her progenitors display in such wealth. She's spoiled, bratty, manipulative, and never satisfied until she has what she wants.
Right before the outbreak of the Civil War, Scarlett's last thought is of war, which is on everyone else's tongue. Instead, she's more concerned that the man she considered to be her beau is now engaged to his cousin (remember the time frame, people). Enraged and betrayed at this man's infidelity, Scarlett is sent into a jealous rage and—after proclaiming her love to the man, getting reciprocation of love and then rejection—she marries his brother to make him mad. The poor brother then promptly dies of pneumonia in the war. This is the first of many tragedies that the war will claim on the characters in "Gone with the Wind", though the film is never a 'war movie'.
Now widowed, Scarlett has the questionable pleasure of bumping back into Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) at an event. She had met him before back home and his impression on her was not very good. Scarlett likes men to treat her like a goddess and Rhett is not one of those men. His quick-fire insults and witty comebacks to her tongue lashings don't get her in the most jovial of moods.
But then Scarlett moves to Atlanta when the war gets worse and finds herself at the mercy of the Yankee army as Sherman marches into Georgia after the turning point of Gettysburg. Scarlett is separated from her homeland of Tara, and now she is set in charge of caring for the wife of the man she is in love with, the woman is very pregnant.
So you can see the complications that might arise from this.
But that hardly does the plot a just synopsis, because that takes you not even to the intermission point, there's three hours of film after that, and it just spirals downward with as much intensity as Scorsese even managed to muster from his characters.
"Gone with the Wind" may seem like a melodrama in today's eyes; but this is a hell of a nervy piece, if only for the aspects of the movie. You have the word "damn" used, which had to be approved by a special board. You have a true antihero, nobody to really cheer for, the brutality of death, and fake blood—murder!
It's all so soap-opera-esque that in the hands of lesser men and women, the film would have been fumbled. But no, "Gone with the Wind" is given its emotional due and the grand view it deserves to occupy.
There are many things in the movie that make it compelling, most of all is Vivien Leigh's deceitful and perfect performance. Her batting eyelashes and rouged cheeks, fake Southern accent, are enough to make anyone want to reach through the screen and smack her...and yet...and yet we all have some sort of vindictive pleasure when the camera zooms up close to her and she sets her jaw. You go girl! Show them bitches how it's done.
But seriously, Scarlett O'Hara is the original gold-digger, the femme fatale and this is her story! "Gone with the Wind" such an abnormality, it's a phenomena. It's so dark and so twisted, and yet at the same time filled with the same puffy drama that fueled every piece of the time.
It's the first movie in color to win the Best Picture Oscar and its record 10 Oscars would go undisturbed until "Ben-Hur". This is also the first movie that saw a black woman win an Oscar. Hattie McDaniel blows me away because she's smart, sassy, and gives perhaps the best performance in the whole movie. The power she carries isn't quite evident until the last few scenes.
There is so much to say about "Gone with the Wind"; but not enough time to say it. It stretches the space of a decade, makes you care about those who shouldn't be cared for, and is just as dramatic as Shakespeare.
It's fairly cosmic and a feat is rarely replicated in cultural impact alone.

Score: ★★★★

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