Gone With The Wind --- Part Two
Gone With The Wind seemed the ultimate collector’s dream in 16mm. To own it was something I dared not conceive. Dealers seldom listed GWTW. Bootlegs off 1967-68 prints were out there, but color and running time dictated a cost beyond what most could pay. You’d spend upward of $400 for any rainbow’ed dupe back then (I worked a sawmill not unlike Johnny Gallagher's the summer of 1973 to get up scratch for The Adventures Of Robin Hood). One startling occasion found Tom Osteen offering a black-and-white 8mm magnetic sound Gone With The Wind, difficult to imagine then as now (how and why would someone have generated such a hybrid?). Think of the hundreds he wanted for that (in the early seventies!) against today’s cost of a Blu-Ray with its quality to surpass any of the 35mm eastman prints in circulation then. My biggest collecting score was a Gone With The Wind in 16mm from a procurer of seemingly boundless resource who made no disclosure as to origin of his treasured find. Suffice to say he had it, and among collectors circa 1977, that was ‘nuff said. Possession of a classic movie in those days was a huge source of pride and accomplishment. I preened not unlike a peacock when opportunity arose to display my bounty. Never mind that Films, Inc. or Metro could have swooped down on unauthorized shows I was giving to slap cuffs upon me. Aggressive enough collecting took a lot of us far afield of copyright observance. Those were the only laws I broke then, but break them I did with impunity. Temptation to impress and be a center of attention guided many a reckless step. One occasion found me dragging Gone With The Wind and necessary equipment into a girl’s college where hundreds of quivering Scarletts gathered round my Bell and Howell to watch GWTW and hear my discourse as to history surrounding it. Robert Osborne never had it so good as this boy then twenty-three showing off his prize in that Garden Of Eden.
As stated previous, Gone With The Wind was always best viewed with a crowd. I’m less patient with it alone. It’s taken a week getting through GWTW in clumps. Different reactions came over me this time. Wind’s first hour is fun, the rest somewhat less so. What harrowing hours these are, and so many! There’s an awful lot of death and lice and men chopped up. I knew a girl in college who left the theatre at intermission thinking it was over. Salvation for Gone With The Wind lies in humor salted throughout. Screwball comedies of the era weren't nearly so funny. Who among the many contributing writers do we credit for infusing this show with such wit? As Selznick put a final polish on every page going before cameras, I’d suspect he was responsible too for easing intensity throughout GWTW via welcome levity. Clark Gable’s Rhett was the writer’s primary instrument for lightening the burden of heated dramatics between Scarlett and Ashley. The character plays modern still and exhibits likeable cocksuredness to relieve our march toward four sitting hours. Patrons I was with never failed to audibly gasp (or sigh) when he first appeared at the bottom of Twelve Oaks' stairs. Gable’s iconic status indeed maintained past his 1960 passing, but for how long? Would a full 2010 house react the same at his entrance?
Vivien Leigh was fortunate casting as Scarlett. She has sufficient appeal for contemporary eyes to justify Rhett’s tireless pursuit throughout GWTW. Imagine how some of those other candidates would play now. Such speculation could veer us toward considering what 30’s actresses still register on (male) audience desire meters. Not so many do on mine, even as I admire their performing. Once around the Wind might have been enough had Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn done Scarlett. The level of passion Gone With The Wind maintains must have stunned patrons five years into rigid enforcement of the Code. Kissing scenes are intense and dialogue is way more sexually coded than any other pic I can think of past mid-1934. Domestic/bedroom exchanges vis-à-vis Scarlett and Rhett achieve intimacy other movies got nowhere near. Do we credit Selznick here? --- or primary director Victor Fleming? There were other shocks I absorbed in 1968 that must have rocked earlier crowds. How often was someone shot full in the face close-up, as the Yankee deserter here? Melanie’s follow-up line, Scarlett, you shot him … I’m glad you shot him, used to get all but a standing ovation in shows I attended.
I’m now seven years older than Clark Gable when he played Rhett Butler, yet he still seems older than I guess I’ll ever be. Can we ever age to parity with film idol images, much less surpass them? Would anyone say they’ve been around the block more times than Humphrey Bogart? Gable and the rest represent ideals of maturity and worldliness seemingly unique to that generation. I can’t imagine our present one ever saying the same about Matt Damon or Leonardo De Caprio (aren’t they really the same person?). Rhett was surely Gable’s hardest act to follow. Even he knew there’d never again be a role so good, acknowledging on more than one occasion that reissues of Gone With The Wind was what really kept his name alive with a postwar public (you can be sure as hell it wasn’t "Betrayed," he said in 1954 upon release of this last for MGM). Vivien Leigh might have enjoyed Hollywood’s outstanding career as a leading woman had she regarded movies higher. As it was, the stage beckoned, and with it desire to live up to expectations of husband Laurence Olivier and legit figures who’d never afford screen efforts so much respect. Seems I read somewhere that Leigh’s problem onstage was a voice lacking punch beyond footlights and initial rows. Remarkable that greatest female part Scarlett O’Hara (maybe in all of American films?) was never followed up. Going back to routine work must have disheartened much of GWTW’s cast. Olivia De Havilland was soon humbled (deliberately so) by Warners via further girl roles opposite Errol Flynn. She alone survives among Gone With The Wind four principals (and beginning her forty-third year of doing so!).
The Blu-Ray Gone With The Wind comes in a big velvet covered box. I don’t really have a place to store such luggage. Who has? Extras and then some are proven necessities for selling product that’s been marketed to death, thus here are booklets, photo cards, and a touted eight hours of supplemental material. I got over intense curiosity as to how GWTW was made back in eighth grade, but acknowledge others only now discovering epic accounts of Selznick’s struggle (Molly Haskell’s Frankly My Dear is the latest thread in a ribbon extended back to souvenir books like mine from 1968). All I really sought out of this weighty trunk was the single disc housing the feature, and purpose there was mainly to see how much improved the picture would be since GWTW’s last DVD release. Those with a near-lifetime invested in classic shows have to take into account exhaustion setting into repeated purchase of ones we long since saw enough of. I’m alarmed to realize I no longer possess heightened senses to evaluate Gone With The Wind color values the result of millions Warners spent to render it most pristine ever. I remember watching several times a 1954 dye-transfer 35mm print at a friend’s house and pitting every frame against presentations myself and others had given over years of GWTW exposure. That archival print, said to represent the last run for which Selznick personally supervised lab work, had a look unique and not unlike seeing a painting as opposed to a reproduction. Is it unrealistic to think we’ll ever get imagery like that on a home disc? The gulf between film and digital remains vast, though I wonder how close modern technology will finally take us. It seems Blu-Ray compliments black-and-white more than color in any event, as Warner’s rendition of Casablanca remains for me the most impressive vintage title I’ve seen delivered on high-definition format.