Eighty years ago a movie came out that affected movies forever. Sure, the same could be said about a ton of movies, including other ones that came out that year, like Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But this one did so in a very specific way: it took some gutsy chances.
Incredibly dark themes. Gray characters. Cinematography that is gorgeous yet bone-chilling. The word “damn.”
Up until recently, it has wound up on nearly every “best of” list, and it has become one of the most famous films. Ever. Now it has a different kind of controversy surrounding it. A way less favorable controversy. But it is still a movie that has made a tremendous impact.
So here I am with another AFI top 100 movie (following loosely with the podcast that doesn’t give a damn, Unspooled), 1939’s Gone with the Wind, written by--a bunch of people, but most notably Margaret Mitchell, and directed by--a bunch of people, but most notably Victor Fleming.
Gone with the…something something
The movie has some dark themes, but probably the most prominent overarching one is “the things we lose are often a result of our bad deeds.”
Scarlett loses a lot in the movie. Two husbands, her parents, money, her children, her best friend, her hope that someday it’ll work out with Ashley, and, of course, Rhet’s love. Although some of these losses are more a direct result of her actions than others, they’re all set-off by a chain reaction of her doing not great things.
The same can be said of Rhet. He does some terrible things to Scarlett, and those things indirectly causes him to lose what’s most important to him.
The “old South” experiences this as well. They support the terrible abomination of slavery, and as a result thousands of soldiers lose their lives. And even many of those who survive still face tragedies, like the soldier losing his leg. We see the ramifications of their actions on the field.
There is some hope for Scarlett and Rhett at the end though. After truly losing everything once, Scarlett is determined to never be hungry again, and she succeeds. Then, at the end, she makes another vow to get Rhett back.So if she does turn herself around, she might be able to rectify things between them and finally have a shot at happiness.
Gone with the Wind is looked at in film schools so often for a reason: it does a lot of amazing things. I’ll look at a couple here.
I think everyone can agree that the film is beautiful to look at. It’s one of the first movies to use technicolor, and it does so awesomely. The ideal of cinematography is that every frame of a movie looks like a painting, and this movie succeeds in that.
It often makes even some of the most horrific things gorgeous. The scene of all the injured confederate soldiers on the ground is one of the most captivating images in cinematic history. They even manage to make a town burning into a romantic backdrop.
The colors in the movie tend to tell a story of their own. We see a lot of orange throughout it, especially associated with Scarlett and Rhett’s romance. But that final scene between them, where he walks out, all orange is removed. The sky has gone grey, devoid of any color. But then at the end, after she’s vowed to get him back, it’s finally orange again, adding to the hopefulness of their situation.
A love for its characters
These characters are very controversial ones, but it’s obvious that the movie cares deeply for them.
A two hour cut of this movie would be easy to do, but we’d lose a lot from it. Spending so much time with them and getting to know all sides of the character’s personalities makes them so much more real. We feel like we really know who Scarlett, Rhett, Mammy, Melanie, and Ashley are.
The casting was also spot-on. Most notably casting Hattie McDaniel as Mammy was one of the best choices the movie could have made, as she adds so much character, personality, and perspective (much much needed perspective) into the film.
When characters aren’t perfect, I think it’s all the more important for us to still be endeared towards them. To understand them and feel sympathy for them whether or not we’d want to hang out with them.
Discussing the controversies of the movie is a bit out of the scope of these articles, as I tend to focus on what each film does well.
I do believe that the movie is incredibly important for the reasons I mentioned, like the cinematography and characterizations, as well as the fact that it featured a strong female protagonist, and it was the first ever film where a black actor won an Academy Award.
And it’s, of course, a “damn” good story.
I also like to think we reflect on the realization that Scarlett had at the end. After she has lost everything, she seems to have realized that being cruel to people has caused her all these things. Ultimately, I believe, she realizes that she needs to be a better person.
That’s a lesson good for everyone from time to time. We can choose to be better. Tomorrow is another day.
Or even today.
Thanks for reading!
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