Movies 23 Feb 2010 10:20 pm
I’ve been on a classic movie jag of late, having watched Citizen Kane and now Gone with the Wind in a two-week span. I said Citizen Kane is a film that needs no apologies, one that is still startlingly modern (with the exception of a single hokey close-up of Welles that seems to last forever) and can hold its own against anything up for Oscar contention this — or any — year.
I can’t say the same for Gone with the Wind. First of all, it’s a gross romanticizing of slavery, one that would have audiences believe most Southern blacks were happy with their lot on plantations and dreaded the coming of the evil Union army just as much as their white masters. It’s hard not to notice this jarring misappropriation of history once you’ve read Alice Walker’s tremendously entertaining The Same River Twice, where she talks about how the power of Hollywood was sufficient, in her youth, to fool her into believing that the problems of one skinny Southern belle (fiddle-dee-dee, it’s Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara) are somehow of more importance than the enslavement of an entire race.
So the movie is filled with the kind of drivel spewed out by Ashley Wilkes (Lesley Howard), pining away for the days of honor and cool lemonade beneath the weeping willows and “darkies” that he was going to free anyway, once his father got around to dying, as if that makes the entire war about as useless as an appendix or nipples on a boar. If you can overlook that — or turn the sound down when the roar of racism gets too deafening — there’s probably no better example of mainstream Hollywood circa the late ’30s and ’40s than this monster of a movie.
Most of the good stuff is loaded in the front half (or disc one in DVD talk), with the second part descending into a seemingly endless pattern of birth, death, birth, death, hold up some dirt, birth, death, more dirt, and so on, including no less than two scenes of death by horse jumping. But Clark Gable is terrific (and where the hell was his Oscar?), Leigh pouty and pretty (and she fires a mean gun, too), and the burning of Atlanta (the one that consumed the Great Wall used in the original King Kong) is stunning.
Good picture, some bad karma. I became so wrapped up in that I almost forgot reading somewhere that Gable’s halitosis was a major problem for Leigh, who spends approximately two-thirds of the movie locking lips with him. Frankly, my dear, I don’t need a damn Certs. Or something like that.