Gone With The Wind (1939)

June 16, 2010

“We’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd.”

Adjusting for inflation, this is the highest-grossing film of all time. Gone With The Wind is a film richly deserving of the term epic – it’s a love story, of sorts, played out against a backdrop of the civil war, and of the reconstruction that followed.
Gone With The Wind is not a “problematic” movie, it’s a movie that goes so far beyond any use of that word that it is almost laughable. It’s clear from the opening caption that this isn’t “The South” as it actually was, but an idealised, romanticised and mythologised “South”. It’s also a racist portrayal of a racist time. There are cringe-inducing portrayals, stereotypes and derogatory terms and phrases thrown around like confetti.
As a bonus, there’s a “rape makes things better” scene, and random other sexist moments thrown in.
The problem is, Gone With the Wind somehow manages to transcend these issues – not that they go away, but that there is so much to like and enjoy in the movie that it remains more than watchable.
Most of this is Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. There’s an astonishing scene, about half-way through the movie, where Rhett drives a carriage through the burning city of Atlanta. It’s the only time there’s something brighter that Gable on the screen. From the moment that he lifts his head above the couch at the start of his first conversation with Scarlett, his presence on the screen sizzles. He is charming, dangerous and wild and compulsively watchable. Vivien Leigh is astonishingly beautiful, appealing and dislikable in equal measure, and the centre of a movie that’s visually astounding and ambitious.
The second half of the film does not have the drive of the first half, the end of the civil war and immediate aftermath giving way to a rather more contained (and less interesting), mostly domestic, narrative.
For an epic film to work, it has to be involving, a film that you can wallow in. Gone With The Wind is certainly that, even if you come out at the end feeling stained and uncomfortable. It’s easy to see how people become obsessed by it. It’s also easy to see how dangerous that obsession could be. In many ways, Gone With The Wind is like its main character – flawed, objectionable, magnetic and enthralling.

Adjusting for inflation, this is the highest-grossing film of all time. Gone With The Wind is a film richly deserving of the term epic – it’s a love story, of sorts, played out against a backdrop of the civil war, and of the reconstruction that followed.

Gone With The Wind is not a “problematic” movie, it’s a movie that goes so far beyond any use of that word that it is almost laughable. It’s clear from the opening caption that this isn’t “The South” as it actually was, but an idealised, romanticised and mythologised “South”. It’s also a racist portrayal of a racist time. There are cringe-inducing portrayals, stereotypes and derogatory terms and phrases thrown around like confetti.

As a bonus, there’s a “rape makes things better” scene, and random other sexist moments thrown in.

The problem is, Gone With the Wind somehow manages to transcend these issues – not that they go away, but that there is so much to like and enjoy in the movie that it remains more than watchable.

Most of this is Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. There’s an astonishing scene, about half-way through the movie, where Rhett drives a carriage through the burning city of Atlanta. It’s the only time there’s something brighter that Gable on the screen. From the moment that he lifts his head above the couch at the start of his first conversation with Scarlett, his presence on the screen sizzles. He is charming, dangerous and wild and compulsively watchable. Vivien Leigh is astonishingly beautiful, appealing and dislikable in equal measure, and the centre of a movie that’s visually astounding and ambitious.

The second half of the film does not have the drive of the first half, the end of the civil war and immediate aftermath giving way to a rather more contained (and less interesting), mostly domestic, narrative.

For an epic film to work, it has to be involving, a film that you can wallow in. Gone With The Wind is certainly that, even if you come out at the end feeling stained and uncomfortable. It’s easy to see how people become obsessed by it. It’s also easy to see how dangerous that obsession could be. In many ways, Gone With The Wind is like its main character – flawed, objectionable, magnetic and enthralling.

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