As I mentioned earlier, Warner Brothers recently sent me a free copy of Gone With the Wind (1939) as part of the Blu-ray Elite program. I didn’t actually watch Gone With the Wind for the first time until a year and a half ago. There was no real reason that I’d avoided it. There simply had never been an occasion to watch it. I walked away impressed with the technical aspects of the film, but loathing a lot of other things. After that viewing, I dubbed it “the best movie I’ll ever hate”. Receiving it on Blu last week provided me a chance to possibly recalibrate my opinion, so I popped in the new format and gave it a second watch over the weekend. Had I hastily misjudged it?
In short, after the second viewing, I felt the exact same way. The technical aspects were greatly enhanced in the Blu-ray format. The wide-angle cinematography, the vivid colors, and the use of light and shadow… it was all absolutely masterful. The Blu-ray version of the film was tremendous, a real treat. I can’t say enough good things about the transfer. As for the film itself, I remain annoyed by Gone With the Wind.
From the outset with the film’s opening title card, Gone With the Wind romanticizes and glorifies the antebellum south, pairing the phrase “master and slave” with “knights and ladies fair”. Lest you think that it’s a one-off line, the theme appears over and over again throughout the film. Slaves are dejected when the south loses the Civil War, some slaves enthusiastically fight for the south, and the majority of African American characters are there only for humor (Prissy, in particular, was an especially appalling character). I fully understand that it’s a film about a racist institution- the antebellum south. The problem is that the racism in the film wasn’t coming from an accurate portrayal of the antebellum south. It was coming from the late 1930s, projected onto history. Some people like to claim that it’s merely a product of its time. That may be true. Racism was very rampant in America in the 1930s. But does a filmmaker really need to be told that slaves wouldn’t be dejected about attaining their freedom? I don’t care what era you’re from. That assumption is asinine in any year.
The portrayal of “yankees” is equally absurd. At every turn, yankees are lecherous thieves, plucking every last bit of humanity out of the “noble” confederacy. They’re “cruel and vicious”- a phrase used in the film. At the beginning of the second half of the film, “carpetbaggers” are introduced the way one might introduce Frankenstein or Dracula, each and every one of them a villain out to oppress and punish the south. The whole notion grates on me.
The film’s protagonist is Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett O’Hara is one of cinema history’s biggest assholes. She spends the entire film trying to break up her friend’s marriage. She also shuns the one man who’s actually willing to deal with her bullshit. And I might add that her friend is the most noble and genuinely good character in the film. Along the way, she pouts and whines and seduces her way towards survival, sort of a cockroach with curls.
The beau that she shuns, Rhett Butler, is refreshing, a saving grace of the film. He’s quick to point out the ridiculousness of the social conventions of the antebellum south (and the era in general). He’s also quick to point out Scarlett’s obnoxious behavior. He’s flawed morally but ultimately does what he feels is right, which makes him seem very human. He’s one of the few likable characters in the movie.
As I mentioned, the technical side is amazing. The silhouette of Scarlett against the Georgia sunset as she bellows “I’ll never be hungry again!” is one of the most amazing shots you’ll find in film history. The long shot showing the carnage of the Civil War is equally skillful, and there are flourishes of rich color throughout that are breathtaking. The story itself is an impressively deep saga. Even as much as it grates on me, I can’t deny that. And that’s where I arrive on the whole with Gone With the Wind. It’s a brilliantly made, horribly misguided film. In short, it’s the best film I’ll ever hate.