Every week, Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies (and my mother) present:
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Back when this feature was first conceived, it was meant to be a way to showcase older movies that might not necessarily get love normally. Good, solid films that deserved a chance in the spotlight again. This week’s entry definitely doesn’t fit under that category – it’s an icon of film, perhaps the best film ever made, and we’re featuring it because it’s my mom’s favorite movie. What better gift can a totally broke son give his mother?
As you can tell, my mother has impeccable taste in movies. Gone With the Wind is a towering achievement in filmmaking – a sprawling story with complex, fascinating characters built with some of the most gorgeous film imagery to date. It won 8 Academy Awards (if you’re into that thing) including Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture up against the toughest competition (The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dark Victory, Stagecoach, Goodbye Mr. Chips) that any single year has seen before or since.
So, it’s difficult to say much more than what’s been said over the course of the 70 years since its debut. Instead of bringing it back into the spotlight, I’m seeking simply to celebrate its genius and give one fan’s perspective on why its her favorite film of all time.
The Love Story
“I love all the beautiful costumes,” my beautiful, smart mother begins. “I love the story line where [Scarlett] really loves Rhett but she’s fighting it the whole time. She’s against it. She’s seeking things that don’t exist – like her love for Ashley – to avoid her real feelings.”
I ask her if the ending is hard to take because of that.
“Of course. She messed up because she couldn’t see what was real. I think that’s what the movie is really about: learning to try to see what’s really there.”
The War Story
Of course, the beauty of the film is that it follows one woman’s personal struggle in life against the backdrop of a very intense, intimately affecting war that tears apart the entire nation. Scarlett rises to an overwhelming amount of challenges, not meeting them all, but surviving through the toughest ones.
“There’s a lot of it. A lot that goes on. They still have to deal with the war and the sacrifices they had to make because of it. I love the strength of her character in dealing with all of that. The strength of dealing with things because she had to. She was a Southern Belle, but she was a lot stronger than most Southern Belles, you know. She takes care of everyone.”
My mom brings up the sequences where the family is eating onions to survive because they’re so poor, mentioning that while Scarlett’s sisters complain – “Scarlett is just trying to put food on the table.” Another testament to the strength of her character. She grew up under the same circumstances as her sisters, but she deals with hard times in a far, far different way.
Vivian Leigh and Hattie McDaniel both won Oscars for their roles as Scarlett and Mammy respectively, and Clark Gable and Olivia de Havilland were both nominated. In fact, Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to be nominated and to win an Academy Award – further establishing the epic mythos of the film and its impact. Of course, Scarlett and Mamie are the characters that most resonated with my beautiful, charming mother.
“I’ve seen Vivian Leigh in other things, and she’s good, but never this good. Maybe it’s the character, but I couldn’t see anyone else playing the part.”
She brings up the mid-90s television mini-series “Scarlett,” as an example of an actress that couldn’t quite bring the character to life in the same way. Sorry, Joanne Whalley.
“And I really loved Mammy. She was a very wise person in her own way,” my mother says, evoking the scene where Scarlett wants to make a dress from the drapery, and Mammy tries to stop her.
The Emotional Impact
Perhaps the strongest feature the film has going for it is that it runs the gamut when it comes to experience. The story is an engaging one that manages to remain energetic and interesting despite the fact that it takes place over a huge stretch of time (both within the film’s time-line and the running time of 238 minutes (4 hours)). My mother points out that the film also creates a wide scope of emotional responses.
“It pretty much has every emotion there is in it. Anger. Sadness. Romance. Triumph. It’s tiring in a good way. There’s a feel-good feel to it.”
Her Favorite Scene
And, of course, my mother has a favorite scene from her favorite film.
“My favorite scene, the one that comes to mind first, is where [Scarlett] first accepts that she loves Rhett. It’s after the funeral in the parlor. She’s still wearing her mourning dress, and she swishes perfume in her mouth to wash out the bourbon she’s been drinking. She’s tired. She’s a needy person in the scene, and [Rhett] knows it. He brings her that hat, and there’s a back and forth between her wanting to take it and knowing that she can’t.”
It’s a really beautiful scene – probably the turning point of the story. She’s not quite fully accept that she’s in love with Rhett by that point, but it’s a scene that starts to turn her character in that direction, to where she’ll finally accept and succumb to her true feelings.
Of course, my mother also brings up the scene where Rhett stays in Bonnie’s room even after she’s died. It’s a touching, tragically sad scene where the consummate gambling man laments that she was the only thing that ever really belonged to him. If you’ve ever needed a good cry, that scene will definitely bring the water works.
Where Shall I Go, What Shall I Do
Gone with the Wind is the type of film that will still be studied and watched and loved by film classes and audiences for thousands of years. It is a masterwork, the kind of movie that only comes along once in a lifetime. The costumes, the scenery, the breath-taking cinematography. All of these factors build a fantastic piece of artwork that displays some of the finest acting from perfectly cast heavy-weights in their field. Simultaneously it showcases an intimate story of a family, specifically a daughter of the Old South, during a time of great national crisis, and it does so through brilliant writing and Victor Fleming’s deft direction. Like I said, I could go on and on, saying things that have already been said about this movie, but, on a personal level, the film works best because the main character resonates.
At least my mother, in her infinite wisdom, thinks so. She says that she can relate to Scarlett because they are both women that had to go through hardships and remain strong – to face head-on the tragedies of life while taking care of others and being resilient against the harsh winds that sometimes hit us when we least expect it. Through Scarlett, she has found a fellow Southern Belle that is much stronger than she first appears.
“Plus, Scarlett and I don’t do politics.”
Well said, mom. Happy Mother’s Day.