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Gone With the Wind: The Epic Standard,
This review is from: Gone With the Wind [VHS] (VHS Tape)
GONE WITH THE WIND is the movie epic by which all other movies are judged. During its nearly four hours, the audience can see several movies in one: a love story, a war epic, a portrait of a self-driven woman to succeed regardless of cost, an historical saga, and the need of a displaced formerly proud people to regain their roots. Much of the sweep of Margaret Mitchell's novel is retained while losing only extraneous material. Director Victor Fleming presents a vision of the South that existed only for a precious, priviliged few. The first half centers on this ante-bellum image of a julip drinking South peopled mostly with polished gentlemen and marriage-hunting women. The dramatic focus of both halves is, of course, Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh in the role of a lifetime. Scarlett shows none of the monomania for success that drives her later on. Here, she is vain, flirty, and totally self-centered, except for her obsession for Ashley Wilkes, who as played by Leslie Howard, comes off as the last of a dying breed of Southern gentlemen. She throws herself at his feet, promising to love him eternally. When he rejects her, she slaps his face, now promising to despise him. As fine an actor as Leslie Howard is, he cannot set himself up as her power equal. For that, Clark Gable enters as Rhett Butler, a man who sees the world as it is and people as they are. In nearly the same scene, he announces to all the Southern gentlemen present that their beloved South has no chance to win the war. Moments later, he informs Scarlett that he will have her as surely as the South will lose the war.
As the first half proceeds, the audience can see the proud South slowly crumble under the might of the industrial North. This crumbling is measured in blighted landscapes and human lives lost. One of the most powerful scenes in any movie is the one in which Scarlett leaves the Confederate hospital because she is too spent to care for the constant influx of dead and dying men. As she emerges into the sunlight, the camera lingers on a few bodies lying in the street, then expands into a vast panorama of thousands more waiting helplessly for women like Scarlett to tend to them. It is this vision of a dying way of life that propels the first half into Scarlett's return to Tara.
Her metamorphosis from vain party girl to a driven monomania for money is punctuated by the impossibly dramatic silhouette of Scarlett ripping out shrubs and eating them raw, all the while shaking her fist at God promising Him that she will prevail.
Following the intermission, the pace of the film slows and becomes less sweep and more soap opera. Events happen in a whirl. Scarlett has one husband, then another, a child is born, a child dies, a husband leaves her. The finale of Rhett storming out into the night with his now cliched 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn,' is the final lesson that Scarlett has to learn. She has stepped on those whose only offense was to love her. Ironically, as she gains the riches that she thought she wanted more than anything else, she now sees those riches as hollow as the magnificent but empty mansion in which she now lives quite alone.
The amount of pity that the audience feels for Scarlett is a function of how they evaluate her justification for the pursuit of wealth. Scarlett may be wounded at the end, but if the audience feels a lack of pity for her, then surely they also see a woman whose bravado has stood her in good stead often during past crises. Her new solitary existence promises to be the most severe test yet of that bravado.