GONE WITH THE WIND 70th Anniversary Blu-ray Review

     December 4, 2009

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There is nothing wrong with Gone with the Wind. Yes, it’s a bit racist. Heck, it’s a lot racist and you get to cringe listening to Clark Gable say things like “darkie.” The black characters are mostly shameful, and the film revels in the greatness and loss of the South. There are interesting ambiguities, though. Rhett Butler (Gable) recognizes that the civil war is stupid and bound for failure, but later on enlists. Okay, there’s a lot wrong with the film, but it’s also one of those films of such grand dramatic heft that it is also undeniable. My review of Gone with the Wind after the (Kris Kross will make you Jump) jump.

Gone With the Wind movie image (2).jpgIt’s hard not to wrestle with the history of the film, and Spike Lee has decidedly dismissed it. He’s not unfair for doing so; there are a lot of problems with the text. As directed by Victor Fleming, the film plays with enough ambiguity that you can watch the film and actively hate Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and have that not ruin the film. She is something of a spoiled cunt, a precursor to Paris Hilton, the rich girl who resorts to whoring herself to keep her land. But the land is family, so you can also see Scarlet as a woman who is willing to sacrifice petty social norms to make sure the things that are important to her stay within her family at whatever cost. You can look at the text either way and find it to be satisfactory. There’s also the god quotient as the film throws interesting things as O’Hara. You can either sympathize or enjoy her torments.

The O’Hara’s are a successful Southern family living on the verge of the civil war. Scarlet is in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), but as the film begins he gets engaged to Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), the nicest woman ever. She also meets Rhett Butler as many of her kin decide they’d like to go to war. From there the film goes into epic mode as Scarlet gets married and widowed, the war wages, Atlanta is burned, the war is lost, Scarlet returns to Tara, decides that she would rather marry for money, and then Ashley is saved by Rhett. When her second husband dies she finally marries Rhett and they try and have a life, but her long held torch for Ashley interferes, even though they have a daughter.

Gone With the Wind movie image (3).jpgGone with the Wind is an epic melodrama told from the perspective of Southerners. The title says it all in that way, and because the pre-civil war lifestyle is no more the nostalgia (though gross) can be seen as a farewell.  What – as a film critic of the 21st century – I’m left with is that the thrust of the movie is heavily engaging, but the film itself is stuck in a time capsule and not my cup of tea. Casablanca, even Wizard of Oz (from the same director) offer more interesting cinematic questions. This is interesting because it is such a period piece and because it became so successful. And I think it became successful for the same reasons that Twilight is successful. Female audiences can both hate and/or identify with the protagonist in Scarlet O’Hara. As a modern audience there are things that are very questionable about the film, its politics, all that.. But as a film person, there is the Technicolor cinematography, and this is one of the highpoints of the format. There are some great crane shots, swoops, and pull outs, and it’s fun to watch for that. It’s also a cavalcade of talents, as all the performances are top notch. But this film is hard to process now without feeling like its encased in Amber. It is both a film about a period in time of the civil war, and a film about cinema in 1939. Here we see something that is both awesome and terrible. Inarguable, amazing, and indefensible.

The triumph of the film is obviously David O. Selznick’s, the producer, who shepherded this project onto film and turned it into the biggest film of all time. In that it is very American, for better or worse.

Warner Brothers presents the film in a 70th anniversary edition version in 5.1 True HD surround and in full frame (1.33:1) in a brand restored transfer that is why Blu-ray exists. You watch the new transfer, and the colors… The colors. This is a handsome film from frame one and the transfer makes it more fun to watch than any previous home video version. It’s also on one disc, so there are absolutely no interruptions from start to finish (I think for the first time on home video that way). Extras on the first disc include an insightful commentary by Rudy Belmer and the original mono audio track.

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On to disc two: The supplements. “The Making of a Legacy: Gone with the Wind” (123 min.) was done for home video in1988, and gets everyone that they could at the time to talk about the making of the film, narrated by Christopher Plummer, and written by David Thomson. This is a fairly thorough telling of the tale of how the film came to be and the people involved, with interview with the then living cast members, like Evelyn Keyes, Butterfly McQueen, and Ann Rutherford. It’s a nice piece from the period.

Gone With the Wind movie image (5).jpgThe newest supplement is “Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Presents: 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year” (68 min.), narrated by Kenneth Branagh it walks through some of the biggest and best films of the year, including Wizard of Oz, The Women, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, Gone with the Wind, and more. “Gone with the Wind: The Legend Moves On” (33 min.) gets Ted Turner, Leonard Maltin, Rudy Belmer, Camilla Pagilia and many others to talk about the film and its impact for this release. “Gable: The King Remembered” (65 min.) gets people like William Wellman and costars to speak well about the inimitable legend. “Vivien Leigh: Scarlet and Beyond” (46 min.) gives the leading lady her propers from her costars and from Jessica Lange. “Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland” (39 min.) gets one of the oldest stars of the film to talk about the making of the film, and you’re getting into recorded history with this stuff. In “The Supporting Players” section of the second disc, each area of the film is broken down in to cast members. You get Thomas Mitchell and Barbara O’Neill (4 min.) Evelyn Keyes and Ann Rutherford (2 min.), Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk and Butterfly McQueen (6 min.) in Tara. At Twelve Oaks you get Leslie Howard, Rand Brooks and Carroll Nye (8 min.), and in Atlanta you get Laura Hope Crews, Eddie Anderson, Harry Davenport, Jane Darnell, Ona Munson, and Cammie King (8 min.) and in exit (1 min.) you get a summary of this.

Gone With the Wind movie image (6).jpg“Restoring a Legend” is about the 2004 restoration (18 min.), but much of that was carried over for this. “Dixie Hails Gone with the Wind” (4 min.) is an excerpt from the News of the Day (4 min.), while “Historical Theatrical Shot: The Old South” (11 min.) sets up the history that GWTW would get into for the audiences of 1939. “Atlanta Civil War Centennial” (4 min.) was a promo for the 1961 re-release. With all these long-form docs, the rest of the disc is smaller, you wouldn’t expect a feature length film to also be included, but, there you go. There’s five trailers and then the moviola piece “The Scarlet O’Hara War” (98 min.) a TV movie starring Tony Curtis as David O’ Selznick from 1980 which looks okay because it was shot on film. It’s also not that bad because of the historical background, but shot like a TV movie.  The Blu-ray supplements are rounded out by additional footage (4 min.) for international territories, and dubbed footage of some of the film’s big scenes.

And I ain’t done. Like Wizard of Oz, this comes with a DVD copy of “When the Lion Roars, “the six hour documentary on MGM. It also comes with an eight track CD Soundtrack sampler of the film’s score. Though it doesn’t come with a watch like Wizard of Oz, or a dress (which would be the most fitting), there are a number of text documents to compliment the set. There’s a 54 page book that covers the cast and crew, and offers foreign posters and behind the scenes photos and factoids and min-bios.  There’s a ten postcard gallery of “The Art of Gone with the Wind” which offers production art from the making of the film. There’s a reproduction of the original program, and then ten pages of archival correspondence from David O. Selznick on the making of the film. This shit is deluxe, and the movie is housed in velvet packaging. Warner wins this, don’t they?

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