Classic Films: GONE WITH THE WIND

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For the first article in this series, Kyle Jonathan and Ben Cahlamer revisit one of the greatest American films of all time: Gone with the Wind in an attempt to explore not only the film’s undeniable impact, but to perhaps discover if the film has held up throughout the decades.

BEN: It took me a few nights to get through, but I finally watched Victor Fleming’s Oscar-winning epic, Gone with the Wind.  I was not completely familiar with the story, but I’d been aware of several key sequences and the tale of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh).  As we follow her tragic story, we learn that the South is preparing for its part in the Civil War, that the men of the South such as Ashley Wilkes, whom Scarlett is very much in love with is a man of words.

KYLE: Being a southerner I grew up with the film and my fraternity watched it once a year as a tradition, so I was deeply familiar with the story, but I was eager to revisit it with a critic’s eye.  What were your initial impressions of the film?

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BEN: Margaret Mitchell created very strong characters in a time when women were very demure, where men were chivalrous, yet they knew how to speak.  Victor Flemings’ direction is tight for a film that runs nearly four hours.  He displays both the gentile Southern plantation life in contrast to the frequent struggles during the war.  Most importantly, he framed the romance and the final sequence with a sensitivity that is rarely seen.   Max Steiner’s score was a fine match to this epic as was Ernest Haller’s cinematography.  There was quaintness in his use of the Academy 1.33:1 aspect ratio, yet he used the frame to its fullest, especially in wartime scenes.  His use of silhouettes created thought-provoking scenes which will live on.

KYLE: The absolute pageantry of the film is perhaps its boldest attribute.  From the sprawling, almost whimsical opening sequence which is then contrasted with Atlanta’s destruction, the viewer is put directly into the past by way of gorgeous costuming, hand drawn backgrounds, and Ernest Haller’s unusual cinematography.  This is an epic film about the darkest time in American history and yet, every frame pulses with life and possibility.

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BEN: I couldn’t help but notice the foundation was laid for many future characters and stories, most notably  in George Lucas’s sprawling space-epic, Star Wars where Ashley is very much the idealist that Luke would be, willing to serve, yet not completely understanding his place; Rhett Butler, very much like Han Solo:  “I am neither noble nor heroic.  But you are a blockade-runner.  For profit and profit only.  I don’t believe in the cause.  I only believe in Rhett Butler.  He’s the only cause I know”; finally, the fiercely independent Scarlett O’Hara, whose world crumbles before her, only to see her stand up and become the very thing she understood, yet abhorred:  someone who would have to stand on her own two feet, who could not be loved by a man of similar character as she.

KYLE: I think one of the things that struck me while on this revisit was that both Scarlett and Rhett are…not good people.  This is a story about how two potent personalities come together out of inconvenience and sheer will that plays out amidst a war.  The notorious rape scene was particularly jarring, as is the treatment of slavery and slave characters; however, these controversies have been discussed and dissected for years.  For me, it was the idea that these are two selfish souls whose ultimate failure of a relationship makes them confront the consequences of their uncontrolled hubris and gives a glimmer of hope for their futures.

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BEN: I found myself shocked by the last frame of the film, because somewhere within the character of Scarlett O’Hara, she cared.  She cared for her children, she cared for Rhett.  I don’t think she was capable of showing that emotion, lest her steel shield of independence crumble.  As much as it shocked me, I am certain this is why she won the Academy Award that year.

I am recommending Gone with the Wind.

KYLE: We are in agreement!

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