The Good: The acting of Gable, McDaniel, and (occasionally) Leigh
The Bad: Overrated, Long, Unlikable characters, Plot
The Basics: In this disappointing Southern epic, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler remind us that there are important principles worth fighting for: slavery, keeping women coquettish and marrying without love.
On the behind-the-scenes features for the film Brazil, Terry Gilliam notes that when the studio executives called Brazil the "Movie of the Decade," he knew the film was in trouble. He says he knew they had no idea what it was about and they had to sell it big, as the movie of the decade, in order for it to have a viable chance of success. The tagline for Gone With The Wind is "The most magnificent picture ever!" and man are they wrong.
The truth is Gone With The Wind is another in a long string of disappointments for me as I study film history (take that Citizen Kane and On The Waterfront!). I have spent my life listening to people pump up various classic films as the best in movie making and I keep watching them and discovering how wrong those people are. Gone With The Wind is an epic of the United States South in the build-up to the Civil War through Reconstruction.
Gone With The Wind follows Scarlett O'Hara, a young rich white girl who appears pretty much spoiled out of her mind. She claims to be in love with Ashley Wilkes (Ashley is a guy, though if he hadn't been, it might have made for a more interesting movie), who appears to be the only man not courting her and she otherwise appears indifferent to. In the days leading up to the Civil War, Scarlett learns Ashley will marry another woman and she marries some loser who she doesn't truly care about. Fortunately, he gets killed and she is expected to mourn.
She doesn't. Instead, she finds herself catching the eye of scoundrel Rhett Butler. Butler, about a thousand times more interesting than Scarlett, tries to woo Scarlett, but finds she is still attached to Ashley, who returns from the war still very devoted to his wife. As events in the South change as a result of the devastating attacks on Atlanta and the surrender, Scarlett is forced to accept that her life is changing. When Reconstruction taxes threaten to bankrupt her, she marries again.
Eventually, far too late for most viewers to actually care, she ends up with Rhett, they live happily for a while and have a daughter. Then, things fall apart.
My last strictly film comment is that this is one of the most overblown wastes of time I've sat through. At 238 minutes, this epic lacks all of the imagination and intrigue of other long movies that I have gladly watched repeatedly. From the extensive opening credits that tell more than once who most of the players are to when the television told me to change to disc two, I tried to give this movie a chance. The second disc, which ends almost the same way as the first, failed to grab me at all.
But one thing about the movie did engage me. That was how unlikable most of the characters were. Now, I'm from the North and I know most people from the South think we hate them. They tend to express viewpoints that indicate we dislike them and that we think they are dumb, backwards hicks. The truth is, I only have two beefs against the people who seem to rule the South and they are that the South clings to segregation ideals (don't believe me? Check out how in 2004 the people of Alabama voted to not change the language of their State Constitution to eliminate the references to differences between white and "colored" schools) and they produce loudmouth hypocrites like George W. Bush and then vote to keep him in power.
Watching Gone With The Wind, I felt like I was watching an idiot opera of America blundering pointlessly into conflict and stupidity. I call this opera "The Bush Years."
In the beginning of Gone With The Wind, proud Southerners rally around the idea of war with the North. They glowingly ready for war, declaring it will be over in a few weeks. When Rhett points out that it's stupid to go to war considering the North has all of the cannons, he is essentially told to sit down and shut up. This reminded me of how George W. Bush, at the outset of the Iraq War told people that it wouldn't take long and the Iraquis would welcome the U.S. And people who showed intelligence that illustrated the false premises the Bush Administration was using were pressured, fired, told to shut up or threatened.
Then there is the way the Bush Administration talks about morals. Never do they spout what Jesus says (like "Love thy neighbor" or anything to the effect of help out the poor), but rather they declare themselves the moral center and moral people and then go out to butcher people who are simply defending their homeland. And they lie, too. God, I'm fairly sure, has some choice words against lying in the Bible. And what does this have to do with Gone With The Wind? Well, there's the Southern idea of the noble Southern Gentleman (probably cooked up by the same people who invented the concept of the "Latin Lover"). The Southern Gentleman is a straightforward guy who is good to his word. Like Rhett. Rhett gives his words to the Northern invaders when he openly lies to them about where his friends were when they were out causing mischief. Perhaps the Bush Administration watched Gone With The Wind and said, "Hey, look at this! He says something, declares it true, stakes his reputation on it, and then lies. We could do that!"
Maybe the scene where the slaves are walking down the streets of Atlanta to go dig ditches for the Confederate War Machine gave the Administration the idea that the Iraquis would be happy to help us out in their "liberation."
And in Gone With The Wind, there is the greatest threat the South ever faced. Carpetbaggers. Now, I know there's a horrible connotation to "carpetbagger" and I can't say I don't understand it. You have a group of people coming into a region that is filled with people who claim to be Christians who are saying "Hey, stop beating and enslaving these other people!" And they tried to change the laws and the culture to make sure that happened. Those bastards! To carry my Bush Administration analogy to its close on this point, the carpetbaggers Bush faces are us, the normal citizens of the United States. We threaten his megalomaniacal reign by simply exercising our freedoms. We are people who believe that if terrorists are going to attack us because of our freedoms (another lie, by the way), the least we can do is actually have a free society. He calls those of us who would exercise our civil liberties and stand up for real freedom "terrorists."
The Bush Administration, if it hasn't, should watch Gone With The Wind with an American interpreter. Gone With The Wind is a portrait of a desperate people clinging to backwards notions, fighting progress and fighting for oppression in the name of culture. And given how unlikable Scarlett is, it's hard to argue that that culture should survive. Worst case, it's almost four hours the Administration is not out in the world threatening to blow us all up.
As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is part of W.L.'s Best Picture Project, which is available by clicking here!
For other historical epic and cinematic romances, check out my reviews of:
Charlie Wilson's War
The Spitfire Grill
The Red Violin
For other film reviews, please visit my index page!
© 2010, 2009, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.