Thursday, 8 October 2015

"Gone with the Wind," Victor Fleming, Film Review

"Gone with the Wind," Victor Fleming, Film Review

The depiction of slavery in Gone with the Wind is less Niggaz Wit Attitudes and more Niggaz Wit Artichokes.  "Boss Wilkerson sure done love them sweet, sweet artichokes, missy."


In fiction there is a fine line between political incorrectness being legitimately expressed by characters and enough common threads appearing to suggest an authorial political incorrectness.  Worse still is political incorrectness expressed by an omnipotent narrator or through directorial choices.

So when Scarlett awakes in Gone with the Wind the morning after her marital rape looking extra cheerful and humming a song, it's the former.  And when the plantation slaves seem so dedicated to their white overlords that they'd serve them for free given half a chance, it starts to seep into the latter.

But just as in Breakfast at Tiffany's (the novel rather than the sanitized film) the characters in Wind are full of moral complexity.  So after abolition, Scarlett takes on convict labour rather than pay for 'darkies' and makes it clear that she's happy for them to be starved and beaten.  For all the cosy on-screen texts about the loss of a gallant and beautiful era of the South, some of the South's citizens are shown acting in a merciless way.

Review continues below...

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Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) are explicitly depicted as amoral self-serving individuals – and it is a sign of the film's greatness that although both characters change over the film's (considerable) length they don't necessarily change for the better, or change in ways that make them more compatible with each other.

Rhett's famous dismissal 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn' comes after his thoughtful lines:  'No, I'm through with everything here.  I want peace.  I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace.'

Both characters end up returning to their homelands.  Rhett 'back to Charleston, where I belong' and Scarlett to her father's beloved red earth.

Having loved her for so long, Rhett isn't prepared to accept that she only stopped loving Ashley on her own terms, not his.  He remains a non-gentleman to the end, but he seems to have discovered along the way what's really important to him.

There are some nice threads developed through the film.  For example, how characters deal with first plenty, then scarcity, nothing and finally regained wealth.  And how society deals with peace, war, defect, humiliation and breakdown of law of order.

And through it all, Scarlett never learns to carry her own handkerchief.

Personal Score: 9/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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