Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gone with the Wind

Tuulen viemää / Borta med vinden. USA © 1939 Selznick International. EX: David O. Selznick. D: Victor Fleming. SC: Sidney Howard – based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell (1936). DP (Technicolor): Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan, Wilfred M. Cline. AD: William Cameron Menzies; Lyle Wheeler. Cost: Walter Plunkett. FX: Jack Cosgrove, Fred Albin, Arthur Johns. M: Max Steiner. ED: Hal C. Kern, James E. Newcom. Cast: Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara), Clark Gable (Rhett Butler), Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Hamilton), Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes), Hattie McDaniel (Mammy), Butterfly McQueen (Prissy), Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O’Hara), Evelyn Keyes (Suellen O’Hara), Ona Munson (Belle Watling), Ward Bond (Yankee captain). 232 min - screened with a 20 min intermission at 105 min. A Finnish release print of the 50th anniversary version (1989) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (n.c.) at widescreen height viewed at Cinema Orion (History of the Cinema), Helsinki, 19 Dec 2010

Watching Gone with the Wind the 70th anniversary double blu-ray a year ago I realized I would soon need to revisit the film on a cinema screen. In my cinephilic youth Gone with the Wind was rarely mentioned among film aficionados, and I had a perception of it as a piece of lightweight mainstream romantic entertainment. (I started seeing GWTW first in the 1980s.) Still a common perception of GWTW, based on its poster images, would probably be that it is a period love story or historical romance.

In our well-attended screening the young audience (maybe seeing GWTW in a cinema for the first time) was obviously delighted, and I think a big part of the delight was based on the consistent drive of the film to break stereotypical romantic expectations. The film is full of subtle anti-romantic humour of a unique kind. The audience perceived this immediately, and the sympathetic laugher was essential to the experience. The top example is Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara's honeymoon: it got the biggest laughs.

Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara are not heroes. Rather one might call them anti-heroes.

Rather than a romantic film GWTW is anti-romantic. There is no real love story. All her life, Scarlett has loved only Ashley Wilkes, but after Melanie's death she realizes that Ashley has always only loved Melanie, and Scarlett's feeling has been an illusion. Rhett's deepest love is for Bonnie, his daughter with Scarlett. Bonnie changes Rhett from a reckless adventurer to a devoted father. Bonnie's death breaks Rhett's heart. The film ends with disappointment, loneliness and desolation for everybody. Rhett and Scarlett have lost their illusions, but their spirit is unbroken: "Tomorrow is another day".

GWTW is not an aggressively racist film but it fails to tell the truth about the conditions of slavery. It fails to condemn lynching in its veiled and indirect Ku Klux Klan sequence. The positive black characters are portrayed only in their relationships with their white masters and mistresses.

GWTW is a film about the Civil War without a single combat scene. We see the devastation of the war from the women's viewpoint.

Scarlett O'Hara is a portrait of a capitalist. She saves Tara by becoming a top manager of a sawmill, necessary for the reconstruction of the South. Her second marriage is for money only.

GWTW has sold more tickets than any other film of the Western world. In Finland it was released first in 1950. For the Finnish viewer the parallel would be the Niskavuori saga, the cycle of plays written by Hella Wuolijoki, started in the same year 1936 when GWTW the novel was written. Of the plays, seven films have been made. The Niskavuori estate would be the parallel for Tara, the Niskavuori mistresses Loviisa and Heta could be compared with Scarlett, and in the characters played by Tauno Palo parallels could be examined for Rhett Butler as portrayed by Clark Gable.

The special love of the land is shown as a characteristic of the Irish heritage.

Rhett Butler can be compared with Rick Blaine in Casablanca. Same initials even.

GWTW was produced when the Production Code was at its severest. Yet prostitution is a major theme. Belle Watling's bordello is an important location. There is even a sequence which might be impossible to produce in a mainstream film today: Rhett rapes Scarlett (shown only before and after). Never is Scarlett so completely radiant, relaxed and happy as after that night.

The performances of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable are great. But frequent viewers of GWTW start to realize that the best role of the picture is that of Melanie and the finest performance is that of Olivia De Havilland as Melanie. For me that realization happened a year ago.

In the print viewed today close-ups look fine. Otherwise there is a duped quality. The print has been struck from a source where the match of the colour separations is imperfect. The Finnish subtitles seem like they have been taken from an old translation with Tarzanese for the dialogue of the black people.

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