I recently read a Medium article from Victoria Z. that critiqued the classic film, “Gone with the Wind.”
The film was removed from HBO Max in 2020 because of “Black Lives Matter” and the near hysteria of not trying to offend any segment of America’s population. When it was returned to the catalogue, it had a ridiculous pre-viewer warning attached. This is all clearly spelled out in the article by Victoria Z. You should read it for her perspective here https://medium.com/fan-fare/a-great-american-classic-that-didnt-age-well-3ac0443ff584
I may now have a different perspective on this classic movie that I first saw in October 1971 in a movie theater with my grandmother. The 1939 picture was being re-released after years of being locked in a vault. I was a college student, and for my entire childhood I had heard about this classic from Grandma.
By the time I was around, my grandmother seldom went to the movies. But she was an ardent tv watcher of film. As a child, I would frequently join her on weekends and stay up watching pics from the 1930s and 1940s. She would know all the gossip about the movie stars from their past lives and, I would suspect, a few fan magazines she read thirty or more years ago.
“Gone with the Wind” would never have been broadcast on television in those days because it was too valuable a property for anything but theatrical re-release. When I read in the newspaper that the movie had been restored and was being re-released, I told my grandmother we should go. Tickets had to be bought in advance and I went to the box office of the nearest theater that was going to show it.
When the big evening arrived, we joined our place in line and waited to be let in. Once seated in the balcony, I anticipated the start of the film. When the lights went down and the curtain went up, “Tara’s Theme” began, and I was finally going to have a chance to experience viewing a mythic film I had heard about my entire life
Seeing a movie on a screen in one of the old “movie palaces” was something special. The majesty and architectural detail of the theater itself was beautiful. Even with the faded elegance of that theater, it still was superior to any movie theater today.
I think my grandmother had a crush on Clark Gable who played Rhett Butler. She introduced me to his films at an early age. He was the classic early and mid-20th century ideal. That was especially true for women before WW II who had bleak lives outside of a few hours at the movies every week. By the time Gable had hit his stride in the early 1930s, my grandmother was already married and had two kids.
Her true movie love had been Rudolph Valentino of silent fame. He died in New York in 1926. That was the year she arrived in New York City as a new bride. Grandma claimed she and her sister attended the wake with thousands of fans at Frank Campbell Funeral Home. Maybe her attachment to Valentino was because he was an Italian immigrant. And then came Gable.
Even more than 50 years ago when I first saw “Gone with the Wind,” of the four stars only Olivia de Haviland was still alive. Gable had died in 1960, Vivian Leigh (Scarlett) had died in 1967, and Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes) had died in 1942. His plane was shot down by Nazis while working for Britain on their war effort. That was the same year that Gable’s real-life wife, actress Carole Lombard, died in a plane crash on a war bond tour.
Any time you have unrealistic expectations, you are bound to be let down. While I enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t as good as I had been expecting it to be. Even back then, there was the racial component that made me a little uneasy. And just like Victoria Z, I found the character of Scarlett vacuous at first. But in subsequent years, saw her through the prism of growing into an independent and stubborn woman from the spoiled child she was when the film first begins.
I look back at that night when my grandmother and I saw that movie, and it marked the end of a chapter in my life. The viewing of “Gone with the Wind” was really the last time she and I did something special together. It was a coda on our shared movie viewing experience. It was the end of our adult/child relationship.
As we walked back to her apartment, we really didn’t say much. I think she was reminiscing about the movies of her early adulthood and married life pre-WW II. Though there was not much money, my grandfather always worked even through the Depression. During the war, he had an accident while working as a welder that left him disabled.
It was then my grandmother had to become the bread winner. I guess the movies that came after the war never caught her attention the same way. As a waitress, she worked nights for almost the rest of her life. There wasn’t much time for Hollywood dreams and Hollywood also began to change which was accelerated by the advent of television.
I attempted to read Margaret Mitchell’s book a few times. I thought it was overwrought and boring. I never did get through it completely.
Once Betamax and tapes of movies were available, “Gone with the Wind” was in our collection. My daughter watched the movie many times. I watched it several more times mostly when it was on Turner Classic Movie channel. I probably won’t see it again.
But I do love pre-WW II movies including “Silents.” I now am older than my grandmother was when we saw “Gone with the Wind” together. I majored in history in college and those films from that era are a way for me to experience another time without having lived then. Watching “Casablanca” is like reading a Hemingway novel…dated but still good.
Perhaps “Gone with the Wind” is like my own “Rosebud,” and if you must ask, then I cannot explain it to you.