Monday, December 22, 2014

Passing "Wind"

"Frankly, my dear...."
`
From the film's opening credits:

"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called The Old South....Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies fair; of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books for it is no more than a dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind...."

 And that's a jolly good thing, too!
`
Howard and de Havilland
I'm sorry if the title of this piece seems a bit rude. I'm just in one of those moods today, I guess.

The fact of the matter is that I love Gone with the Wind and believe it to be as fine an example of film making as one could possibly come up with. When it first came out on video cassette in the late 1980's, I was living in New York City. On the day it was released I rushed down the block and around the corner to the old Video Shack on Broadway and 49th Street to purchase a copy. Likewise when it came out on DVD a number of years later. There's no rational argument against the truth that it is a very entertaining movie - a masterpiece even. My only problem with Gone with the Wind is that, as a work of historical fiction, it's pure bunk. But since this month is the seventy-fifth anniversary of its release, I can't help pausing for a bit of critical reflection.

Although not the greatest movie ever made, it has got to be one of the best examples of how to go about telling a good story on film. The characters within this plot have got to be some of the most reprehensible people one could contrive in fiction:

Thomas Mitchell
Scarlett is, from the beginning to the end, completely selfish, incapable of empathy or any real compassion; Rhett is an opportunistic rascal; Ashley is a simpering wimp. Even Scarlett and Rhett's daughter, little Bonnie Blue Butler, is a spoiled brat. I mean, don't get me wrong, I thought it was just awful when the poor kid got thrown from that pony but - jeez Louise! - the little gal was insufferable. The only two people in the entire film who posses any redeeming personal merit (at least for my tastes) are Melanie and Mammy. 

And yet, for almost four solid hours, we are irresistibly drawn into the drama in the lives of these horrifically flawed people. We just can't take our eyes off them! Three-quarters-of-a-century after the film's release, at a time when all but one of the principle cast members are long dead, the fact that we're still talking about Gone with the Wind is impressive in itself. 

Buster Keaton, in referring to his 1926 Civil War comedy, The General, once remarked to an interviewer that the only way one could make a successful film dealing with that period of American history is to tell the story from the Southern point of view. "You cannot do it any other way", he said. What he left unsaid was the sad fact that - at least during Hollywood's "golden age" - very few people in dear ol' Dixie would bother to pay money to watch a film that depicted those nasty Yankees as anything less than blood-thirsty savages and "nigger-lovers". This is, more-or-less, the idea put forward in Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell may have been a competent writer but she was a lousy historian. The same could be said, I suppose, for Sidney Howard, who posthumously won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Consider the film's opening scene. Slaves are depicted laboring away on the O'Hara family plantation. One of them decides that it's time to call it a day.

Slave: Quitin' time! Quitin' Time!!
Big Sam: Who says it's quitin' time?
Slave: I says it's quitin' time!
Big Sam: I's the foreman of Tara. I says when it's quitin' time. Quitin' Time! QUITIN' TIME!!!

At the outset, the nation's worst, most unpardonable sin is given the treatment of some sort of screwball comedy. The depiction of the old south as a paradise "of master and of slave" is a screaming  flaw in an otherwise impressive production. Incredibly, the caricature of the banjo playin', happy-go-lucky Uncle Tom - shufflin' 'cross the ol' plantation - was still in vogue in 1939. 

Hattie MacDaniel
Much controversy has been generated across the decades by Hattie McDaniel's work in the Hollywood of the thirties and forties. Personally, I always admired her image in film as the straight talking, "take-no-shit-from-these-honkies" kinda gal she usually portrayed. In real life, she and Clark Gable were close, devoted friends - years before Gone with the Wind. It is said that Clark never missed Hattie's annual Christmas party. By all accounts, they adored one another.

When Gable got word that the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce refused McDaniel an invitation to the premiere, he hit the roof. He adamantly refused to attend without his dear friend. No one could change his mind - no one, that is, except Hattie. She gently persuaded him that it was probably the best thing for the film's success that he attend. Only then did Clark Gable agree.

Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to receive the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She deserved it. Incredibly, at the 1940 ceremony that awarded her the statuette, she and her escort were required by the management of Hollywood's Coconut Grove nightclub to sit at a table-for-two in an area segregated from the rest of the cast. Even Tinsel Town had a long way to go in 1940.

The last one standing
The irony of Gone with the Wind is that the best actor in the film gives the weakest performance. Forty-six year old Leslie Howard thought that he was too old and too British for the part of Georgia-born Ashely Wilkes. He only agreed to do the film when producer David O. Selznick promised him that he would be allowed to produce "Intermezzo", co-starring Ingrid Bergman, which also went into production in 1939 and was completed by the end of that year. It is obvious throughout the film that poor old Les is less than comfortable in the role of Ashley.

Even Clark Gable did not want to do the film he is best remembered for. He was literally forced into playing Rhett Butler. Under contract at the time to MGM, the head of that studio was Louis B. Mayer, who was only-too-happy to loan-out his biggest star to Selznick International - for a substantial price. David O. Selznick was married to Mayer's daughter, Irene. He readily complied to his father-in-law's demands. To the end of his life, Gable did not regard Gone with the Wind as one of his career's milestones. For reasons known only to him, he always seemed somewhat embarrassed by it. One would hope that one of those reasons was the film's flawed historical interpretation. Good for him if that's the case. 

Could the people who had a hand in making this film have possibly known in 1939 that, seventy-five years later, it would still be as fresh on the public's mind as it was then? It's easy to imagine that - flawed history notwithstanding - they knew they were onto something bigger than themselves. The passage of three-quarters of a century reaffirms what an outstanding technical achievement Gone with the Wind was - and is.

Tomorrow is another day
Thanks to modern technology, the audiences of 2014 have much easier access to the film than did the audiences of seventy-five years ago. If you loved Gone with the Wind in 1939, you had to wait for it's short revival nearly a decade later to see it again. After the late forties, one had to wait until 1961, the centennial of the start of the Civil War. After that, audiences would not be able to see it again until it's revival in the late sixties, and then, in the early seventies. It wasn't shown on national television until 1976. Today anyone with a DVD player and a few dollars can add a pristine print of Gone with the Wind to their personal library and watch it at their leisure. It's a different world. The ol' plantation sho' has changed - for the better.

One wonders if there was a curse on this film. So many of the people connected to it would die young. 

Writer Sidney Howard died in a tractor accident on his Massachusetts farm on August 23, 1939 while the film was still in production. He was forty-eight.

Leslie Howard, age fifty, was killed on June 1, 1943 when the plane in which he was a passenger was shot down by the Nazis over the Bay of Biscay. His body was never recovered. 

Director Victor Fleming passed away on January 6, 1949, at the age of fifty-nine.

Margaret Mitchell was forty-eight when she was struck and killed by a car while crossing an Atlanta street on August 16, 1949.

Where Hattie Sleeps
Hattie McDaniel died at the age of fifty-seven on October 26, 1952, a victim of breast cancer. Her final wish was to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery. She was refused that honor because of the color of her skin. Still another indignity to be borne, even in death, by this superb actress. In 1999, nearly a half-century after her passing, the owners of that establishment (in a fit of remorse no doubt) offered to pay to have her body exhumed and re-interred there. Her descendants politely declined.

Ona Munson, the actress who played Belle Watling, died by her own hand on February 11, 1955. The note she left behind said, "This is the only way I know to be free again...Please don't follow me." She was fifty-one.

Clark Gable died suddenly on November 16, 1960 of a massive heart attack. He was fifty-nine.

After decades of chronic alcoholism and incapacitating mental illness, Vivien Leigh succumbed  to tuberculosis on July 7, 1967. She was fifty-three.

As for the producer, David O. Selznick's most famous movie would end up being a mixed blessing for him. Every subsequent film in his career - regardless of the quality - would be judged by critics and film-goers alike as inferior to Gone with the Wind. He was sixty-three when he passed from the scene on June 22, 1965.

No doubt about it: Gone With the Wind took a decided toll on quite a few mortals. As of this writing, only Olivia de Havilland survives.

So rent it, buy it, celebrate and savor it as a high mark in the history of American film making. Just don't use it as an American history lesson, okay? It falls dreadfully short of the mark. For a more accurate picture of what life was like for African Americans in the mid-nineteenth century, go and see "Twelve Years a Slave". After a good look at that one you'll never again view Gone with the Wind in quite the same way.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGGSTED VIEWING:

The Making of Gone With the Wind

This two-hour documentary from 1988 on the film's making was narrated by Christopher Plummer. It is as riveting as Gone with the Wind itself, and only half as long. At the time it was made, a lot of the people involved with GWTW were still living. That's not the case today. It was made just in time. One of the most impressive things about viewing this film is taking into consideration the technical innovations that went into the creation of Gone With the Wind. Almost eight decades later, well into the digital age, it still impresses.

AFTERTHOUGHT: 12/23/14, 4:27 AM:

While doing a little research on this piece, I discovered that in 1963 Vivien Leigh performed in a musical comedy called "Tovarich" (This I never knew!) Here she is performing a number from the show on the Ed Sullivan program:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7Ghdnfo21E

This was the moment before she succumbed to illness and madness.

14 Comments:

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Amanda Sowards said...

You know my ex's grandfather, Yakima Canutt, was the second-unit director who filmed the burning of Atlanta and had a brief role as the rapscallion who accosts Scarlett when she's driving the buckboard across the bridge.

It wasn't just the movie that was historically bunk. The book is a downright celebration of "the Good Ol' Days" in the South... you know.. when we could buy and sell people and all was right with the world.

Oh, well... C'est la vie.... Long live GWTW, and long may Atlanta burn. (On film, that is. It's a nice town these days, in spite of those nutty real housewives.)

 
At 5:04 PM, Anonymous sore loser said...

In entertainment news about something more recent than a 75 year old move about slavery that ended 150 years ago,
Joe Cocker died today.

RIP Joe, 'You Can Leave Your Hat On".

 
At 8:31 PM, Anonymous A Man With His Head Up His Ass said...

I think we have to be intellectually honest... do our markets today really appear to be "free"? Not to me. They appear to be in the control of a very few central planners made up of western banking interests.

 
At 2:44 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

That is quite interesting about your ex's granddad, Amanda. Thank you for that!

Tom

 
At 4:17 PM, Blogger Mozart1220 said...

Didn't "It's a Wonderful Life" bomb at the box office when it was first released?

 
At 4:56 PM, Anonymous sore loser said...

Merry Christmas Progressives everywhere!

WASHINGTON (AP) — For as often as Democrats attack the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch for their heavy spending on politics, it's actually the liberal-minded who shelled out the most cash in the just completed midterm elections.

At least, that is, among those groups that must disclose what they raise and spend.

Among the top 100 individual donors to political groups, more than half gave primarily to Democrats or their allies. Among groups that funneled more than $100,000 to allies, the top of the list tilted overwhelmingly toward Democrats — a group favoring the GOP doesn't appear on the list until No. 14.

The two biggest super PACs of 2014? Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC — both backing Democrats.

In all, the top 10 individual donors to outside groups injected almost $128 million into this year's elections. Democratic-leaning groups collected $91 million of it.

Among the 183 groups that wrote checks of $100,000 or more to another group, Democrats had a 3-to-1 cash advantage. The biggest player was the National Education Association, at $22 million. Not a single Republican-leaning group cracked the top 10 list of those transferring money to others.

 
At 5:25 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

It did minor business at the box office, Mozart. They made a small profit - that's it..

 
At 9:24 PM, Blogger Mozart1220 said...

Sore Loser again comparing apples to bicycles.

THOUSANDS of Liberal donors compared to TWO conservative donors.

The Kochs, along with Rupert Murdoch, Are trying to buy the UNited States government.

Sore Loser (Anonymous) thinks it's the same thing, but what do you expect from someone who doesn't know who his congressmen are, and doesn't know that the Senate is part of congress?

 
At 10:16 PM, Anonymous sore loser said...

Mofart,

Did you even read the article?
Based on your response I'd say it's doubtful.
"Among the top 100 individual donors to political groups, more than half gave primarily to Democrats or their allies. Among groups that funneled more than $100,000 to allies, the top of the list tilted overwhelmingly toward Democrats — a group favoring the GOP doesn't appear on the list until No. 14.

The two biggest super PACs of 2014? Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC — both backing Democrats.

In all, the top 10 individual donors to outside groups injected almost $128 million into this year's elections. Democratic-leaning groups collected $91 million of it.

Among the 183 groups that wrote checks of $100,000 or more to another group, Democrats had a 3-to-1 cash advantage. The biggest player was the National Education Association, at $22 million. Not a single Republican-leaning group cracked the top 10 list of those transferring money to others.


Anyway, Merry Something for you.

 
At 4:39 PM, Blogger Dave Dubya said...

So why would Sore Asshole forget to include the other key facts of his article?

It can only be because he didn't read it, or because he wishes to deceive.

Both are his proven MO.

At least, that is, among those groups that must disclose what they raise and spend….

Left undisclosed are the specifics of the fundraising and spending of politically minded non-profit groups, such as the Koch-backed conservative network of Americans for Prosperity…

That leaves a gaping hole in the effort to follow all the money in politics, especially among Republican patrons who tend to favor those organizations that do not have to disclose how they raise or spend donations.


It is called "Dark Money" that the Dark Side needs to keep the public in the dark, as they subvert and suppress democracy.

Corruption is now legal.

Great news for those who believer a corporation should be endowed with more rights than a human being, and regard the wealthy as superior beings who should be given the reigns of government and power.

This of course, delights Sore Asshole, the sworn enemy of democracy and toady for the servants of mammon.

Otherwise, why would he not bother to read the entire article, or selectively use it to deceive?

I report, you decide.

 
At 1:18 PM, Anonymous sore loser said...

P.S.

Dumbya,
What was the source of your "key facts"?
The AP article is posted as printed.

 
At 2:36 PM, Blogger Dave Dubya said...

As I said,

So why would Sore Asshole forget to include the other key facts of his article?

It can only be because he didn't read it, or because he wishes to deceive.

Both are his proven MO.


I report, you decide.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/democrats-best-tapping-rich-political-cash-27789235

 
At 4:19 PM, Anonymous sore loser said...


Democrats Best at Tapping Rich for Political Cash
WASHINGTON — Dec 23, 2014, 1:25 PM ET
By PHILIP ELLIOTT Associated Press
Associated Press

For as often as Democrats attack the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch for their heavy spending on politics, it's actually the liberal-minded who shelled out the most cash on the just completed midterm elections.

Charles and Elizabeth Koch reported just $2 million in giving to groups that must disclose their fundraising. David and Julia Koch reported the same through mid-November. The puts the wealthy industrialists as tied for the 23rd spot on the list of biggest spenders.

Title of the article says it all!

Dumbya ov4r looked this little fact.

 
At 5:07 PM, Blogger Dave Dubya said...

How "Dumbya" must someone be to ignore this:

At least, that is, among those groups that must disclose what they raise and spend….

Left undisclosed are the specifics of the fundraising and spending of politically minded non-profit groups, such as the Koch-backed conservative network of Americans for Prosperity…

That leaves a gaping hole in the effort to follow all the money in politics, especially among Republican patrons who tend to favor those organizations that do not have to disclose how they raise or spend donations.


It is called "Dark Money" that the Dark Side needs to keep the public in the dark, as they subvert and suppress democracy.

Corruption is now legal.

The title "says it all" for the low information stooge.

This is the critical fact idiots ignore:

At least, that is, among those groups that must disclose what they raise and spend….

 

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