Review: Gone with the Wind

First time watching this.
Now I shall wait for you to stop hurling abuse at me, please begin reading the review when you have recovered your composure…

Okay? Feeling better?

Set in the 1800s at the beginning of the American Civil War, Gone with the Wind follows the young, selfish daughter of a plantation owner in the South and her turmoil love interest in two men: a married man and a handsome rogue.

So there’s one reason and one reason only that I hadn’t actually seen this film before. It is four hours long. I know, I know: “Cinema Cocoa you’ve surely watched the Lord of the Rings Extended cuts multiple times by now!” but actually you’d be wrong, I’ve only watched each of them once.
It is also a romance epic, generally not a genre I tend to watch in my free time, especially when it requires a third of my day.

Apparently this is a troubled time to watch Gone with the Wind. Despite it making $1.6 billion in ticket sales (adjusted for inflation) upon release and being regarded as one of cinema’s most crowning achievements, winning eight Academy Awards, there has been some recent dispute about the film, to the point of it needing to be banned. This came about the same time as recent debates over the representation of the Confederate flag…
There are some extreme views against Gone with the Wind as pro-slavery, what with its point of view glamorising and even (at times) humourising the upper class society found on the plantations.
Indeed, watching Gone with the Wind after the production of such films as 12 Years a Slave or even Django Unchained. It can feel quite… uncomfortable. It even opens with text including:

“Here in this pretty world gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave…”

But I don’t want to read too far into it; this controversy is completely unnecessary in my eyes. Audiences should appreciate that regardless of which side of a war, there are still people; and the film represents people suffering in events outside of their control.
Plus, I gotta say, if the character of Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) is supposed to be our heroine… let’s just say the film isn’t being kind in its representation of our “protagonists”. Scarlett is completely insufferable!
The first act of Gone with the Wind (a film that is edited as a theatre production, with intermissions, an Overture and Exit Music) is aggravating and painful to sympathise with. Scarlett is prancing around, flirting with every man in the myriad of parties ignorant of other women’s feelings, being a complete egomaniac born from luxury and riches. The men are all completely stupid and falling over her every whim. But as this act went on, I realised that I was supposed to feel this way, certainly towards her at least, and during the second act when the war begins and her life is broken, it was fully realised.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of this film was Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, the outsider who is completely aware of how lost and selfish Scarlett is, more than she knows herself, and who slowly becomes obsessed with her. He has this quizzical expression for every situation that befalls Scarlett, a shoulder-shrugging amusement at her inner plight that sarcastically screams: “Well, you deserve it”.
It is a wonderfully shot and acted film with almost every scene in four hours of footage being beautifully composed and lit. It is sometimes hard to fathom the scale of it, such as when you see a massive wooden building burn to the ground, or a near endless field of dying men. No smoke or mirrors, no effects, just real film-making of the time.

Like a lot of drama epics, I found myself floundering towards the end. I guess after so much carnage and loss I felt beaten over the head by it all, and yet one character (yes, I am trying to not spoil a film that is seventy-five years old) apparently not feeling the same, and not learning anything! It was hard to comprehend and quite infuriating.
But again, perhaps that was the point.

It is hard to generalise such a huge film, and I am sorry that I must. It did not feel as laborious as I was dreading it would be; it is a packed film and keeps its pacing well, it never feels too much or too little in terms of content or drive. It has great performances, great music and great visuals and remains a classic piece of cinema regardless of (or perhaps more so with) its mildly controversial perspective.

The important thing is, I do feel bad having not watched it until now. It may not be my “type” of film, but I appreciate it now more than ever.

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