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Monday, January 04, 2010




The Wind That's Now A Breeze --- Part One





I can’t believe Greenbriar’s run over four years with so little mention of Gone With The Wind. Well, here’s where I make up for it. Warners is recently out with a Blu-Ray that hopefully represents the best this show will ever look. There’s also a book called Frankly My Dear in which Molly Haskell claims GWTW is still running strong. I agree it’s still running, though not nearly at strength once had. Those days are as past as cavaliers and cotton fields. Look for Gone With The Wind only on TCM, for no other outlet uses it to my knowledge. This was for years the one you never thought would play television. Now it’s just another TV movie. The fade began in 1976 when NBC scored a bicentennial run. Pretty soon GWTW limped out of theatres, even in the South where we figured it would never die. Turner headquarters in Atlanta used to play Wind on a loop in a dedicated on-site theatre. We peeked in once and saw pinkish 35mm that looked to have survived the 1967 reissue where blow-ups for 70mm first-runs gave new meaning to desecration of art (but not commerce, as that round was MGM’s most successful GWTW revival). February 3, 1968 was when I saw it first, and here’s the stub to prove same. My mother drove me to Greensboro’s Terrace Theatre (practically new at the time, torn down since). We had reserved seats. There was no bigger deal than going to see Gone With The Wind, even as it was closing on thirty years old. I brought my Tommy Traveler suitcase to sit on in event someone taller occupied seats in front of us (everyone towered over me then). Consider four hours astride a suitcase. That’s wanting to see GWTW bad. It hardly mattered our watching a 70mm aberration where tops and bottoms were clipped amidst grain the size of meteorites. Still, I was enraptured. Here was a 1939 movie in a big theatre. You could even buy a souvenir book with color stills for a dollar. Mom asked coming back how I’d enjoyed GWTW. The best, I replied, nothing ever so great. She’d seen it first run, probably late 1940 or early 1941, so I figured we were in agreement. Actually, I thought it was a little old-fashioned, came her devastating rejoinder. Miles after that found me in stunned silence. It seemed almost a betrayal to turn on a movie that (she always said) meant so much over the years. Shouldn’t I have been the one to call Gone With the Wind old-fashioned?










From there, I seized every opportunity to watch it. There were plenty. Gone With The Wind remained as sure fire in a late sixties South as ever. I tagged a ride at fourteen to Winston-Salem's Carolina Theatre, a downtown palace on wobbly legs. Entering their virtually empty auditorium for a matinee made me appreciate how pointless reserving a seat had been, though for at least the first few minutes, I dutifully sat in my assigned row. Later I campaigned our eighth grade teacher to arrange a Greensboro field trip based on GWTW’s historical value, and to my gratified amazement, she managed it. That day off school to watch Gone With The Wind was indeed one to savor. I was even put wise to the bottom line of a particular scene in the film by a wordly boy sitting next to me. Larry had been around and done things I’d only imagined from seeing movies like Goldfinger and The Sandpiper. So far as I understood from previous viewings, Scarlett waking up so cheerfully the morning after being carried upstairs by Rhett amounted to nothing other than having had a refreshing sleep, but my friend set me straight. Boy, he really gave it to her last night, was Larry’s whispered assurance. Here was a window toward maturity suddenly thrust open, even if I still had many miles to go. I’d write Larry now and thank him for said enlightenment but for fact that, last I heard, he was still imprisoned at an undisclosed location.






















A quick break here for GWTW trivia you might not know. According to trades, Clark Gable accepted MGM’s invitation to attend the Atlanta 1961 premiere of Gone With The Wind’s centennial revival. This was announced but weeks before his death on November 16, 1960. How many thousand such GWTW factoids are out there? I’ve met people who memorized them all. One friend saw the film over 150 times theatrically. Drove to Charlotte every weekend through the whole of 1968 and ‘69. I toted up ten auditorium rounds, which for me was a record (guess it still stands). Why then, do I now have a tough time getting through a start-to-finish look, even on Blu-Ray? Maybe it’s diminished special-ness of GWTW. When I was at college, it was still Number One in everybody’s book, especially the girls. You could always break ice with that subject. A freshman crush spoke of how she’d gladly submit to a Rhett Butler, launching me upon a mercifully brief period of emulating Clark Gable around campus (I do still maintain that purposeful stride he used in the opening scene of Mutiny On The Bounty). GWTW’s leads were persuasive role models. Impressionable girls wanted to be Scarlett and cuter ones managed it. Boys like me who longed to be Rhett probably ended up more like Charles Hamilton. I always sympathized with Charles and was glad to tell Rand Brooks so when we met at an Asheville cowboy show back in the early nineties. Rand did a great impersonation of Gable as he recited both Charles and Rhett’s dialogue from their Twelve Oaks confrontation (Apologies aren’t enough, sir!). Surviving GWTW cast members developed callused fingers signing for fans. One who shunned them was/is the very holdout I’d like most to meet. Alicia Rhett played India Wilkes and still lives in Charleston. She made her living as a portrait painter and would slam the door on anyone mentioning Gone With The Wind. The imdb says Alicia’s ninety-four and the oldest cast member still alive. A guy I once met had a friend who was a friend of Alicia Rhett. He managed to wangle her autograph on several GWTW stills. Those must be rarities indeed.































The big moment at college came when Films Inc. finally made Gone With The Wind available for 16mm rental. I believe that was 1974. They wanted something like $400 for a non-theatrical booking. I’d been showing movies at Lenoir-Rhyne since arriving there in 1972, mostly stuff I’d collected. Offering GWTW at our P.E. Monroe Auditorium would crown my preeminence as resident classic movie geek, but where would the four hundred come from? A rival programmer was Dr. Ellis G. Boatman, history professor, lifetime film buff, and my nemesis. He and I never really hit it off, in part because of my childish determination to prove I knew more about old movies than he did (never mind his having seen the best of them growing up during the 30’s and 40’s). Dr. Boatman jumped on GWTW (with his own cash?) and sold it like the Atlanta premiere. I was pea green with envy. Everyone attended who could take a seat or stand beside one. Here was further opportunity to study audience reaction, something I’d taken up from the first time seeing GWTW in 1968. Clocking laughs has always been a major joy of sharing this film with an audience. There are so many throughout, more so than in most comedies. In fact, I think humor is primarily what makes GWTW wear so well as it has. The biggest reaction then? There were two in particular I remember. The most appreciative laugh came with Gable’s line when Scarlett donates her wedding band to the cause: And you, Mrs. Hamilton, I know just how much that means to you. The audience is in on his joke even as characters surrounding Rhett aren’t, and that always flatters as well as amuses a viewing crowd. The next, and probably most explosive guffaw, came with the cutaway to Aunt Pittypat fainting after Scarlett yells Oh Yes, I Will! at the Atlanta bazaar. It was fun sitting in wait for these moments. Too bad Gone With The Wind is gone out of theatres, for watcher's reaction really makes a difference in how it plays.

Part Two of GWTW is HERE.

28 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Cobb said...

I too experienced GWTW for the first time in its 70mm road show (here in Richmond, Va at the Westhampton, twinned but still open). Richmond audiences were the best for seeing this film and I have been to many memorable screenings. One of the most hilarious was in 1989 when Turner had done a restoration. They had the screening at the Carpenter Center (formerly the Loews, where the film had originally run in 1940). There was a parade, folks in costumes, the governor spoke, etc. But, during the screening, some of the audiences kept trying to take flash pictures OF THE MOVIE! They had to be reminded not to do this at intermission. I agree... the audience response makes all the difference. I guess what I have always noticed is the reaction when the camera tracks down to find Clark Gable early in the Wilkes barbeque scene. Usually a big sigh goes out in the audience. Richmond audiences also tend to applaud wildly when Scarlett shoots the Yankee soldier. Thanks as always for your wonderful site.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

For years Steven Scheuer's "Movies on TV" ratings guides assured readers that GONE WITH THE WIND would not be shown on television. When it finally was scheduled, I promised myself I wouldn't watch it on television until I'd seen it in a theater.

My local theater was an art-deco palace that opened in 1933, became a second-run neighborhood house in later years, and was a revival house in the '80s. By then they'd torn out the balcony and turned it into a second house, seating about 300, I think.
When they booked GONE WITH THE WIND in the '80s, I made it my business to attend.

The shortsighted management had booked GWTW for the limited-seating house upstairs, and the place was packed. It was a summer day and the air conditioning was inoperative, which in a house that crowded wasn't the most comfortable experience.

The print was a monstrosity. It must have been the print you saw, John, because by this time the color had gone reddish, and there were THREE emulsion scratches running through the entire length of the picture! (Two scratches were yellow, one green.) The print had a few chunks of footage missing (as I later found out), and whoever patched the warhorse print together failed Splicing 101, because the picture went out of frame TWICE for minutes at a time. We saw Gable's chin at the top of the screen, a big, broad, frame line, and Gable's head at the bottom.

The crowd booed and yelled but nobody did anything about it, so I left the auditorium and told the one person working the lobby about the problem. Took about five minutes before the operator made the adjustment, and when he did there was a derisive round of applause.

After the show I promised myself I'd watch it the right way, on television. (And as a screening-room veteran, I'd never thought I'd say that!)

This same theater, by the way, booked the 1943 Batman serial at the height of the Batman craze in 1966. Maybe it was the same projectionist, because Chapter 2 was followed by Chapter 15, followed by Chapter 9.

10:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Jim, what you said about Gable's introductory scene comes up in my Part Two post, as that audible sigh you mentioned used to come up at screenings around here as well ...

Scott, those bad prints of GWTW were rife in NC as well, especially by the early to mid seventies when most had been in service a long time and really getting worn ... and the Metrocolor wasn't so hot even when they were new in 1968.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous East Side said...

I saw GWTW at a revival house circa 1975; it looked like a 1950s re-release print. The opening credits were completely different than what I later discovered were the originals.

My problem with the movie is that, other than Rhett and Mammy, all the major characters are utterly unsympathetic. Scarlett's a bitch, her sister's too good to be true, her dad's a crazy drunk, Ashley's a wimp... Still, Gable gives a first-rate performance. I just wish I liked the others.

12:20 PM  
Blogger The Great Bolo said...

I'll confess up front to being the guy mentioned in the blog who saw GWTW (at least) 150 times theatrically, the first viewing in May, 1961, while celebrating our Civil War Centennial (didn't we all celebrate that?)

After the ritual of seeing it almost weekly during its 70mm revival (some of the theatres I attended had 35mm prints), I stopped counting the number of my viewings.

Then, from 1971-1977, during my run as a theatre manager, I exhibited GWTW each year as it was then in constant release. The full houses continued. I even ran it as a Saturday night Midnight Late Show one year, much to the displeasure of my staff. "You can all go home by 2:30 a.m.." I promised, "right after the second half starts" (probably a violation of some Labor Dept. work permits.) Each of these years, we doubled and / or tripled the weekly gross of the film by having school showings in the mornings. Six hundred kids every weekday morning the movie was booked.

These showings sent me back in time as most of these kids were seeing GWTW for the first time as I had in 1961.

They loved it! I recall one girl remark at intermission (actually, they had a thirty minute lunch break around 11:00, and their schools actually delivered the students bagged lunches), "That woman (Scarlett) slapped the hell out of that girl (Prissy). Another jumped in, "Heck, she slapped everybody!"

Flashing forward to the DVD years in which we live...I have watched GWTW on DVD a couple of times and still find it as enthralling as I did as a ten year-old.

Last month, I tuned in to TCM to hear Osborne's remarks about GWTW since TCM was running it on the exact 70th anniversary of its Atlanta World Premiere. I planned to watch a few minutes of the movie since it was being broadcast in HD. Three hours and forty-five minutes later, I turned off the light and went to bed.

12:27 PM  
Blogger The Great Bolo said...

I would hardly consider Melanie and Belle "unsympathetic" characters.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Muscato said...

I've always had a fondness for Mrs. Meade, myself. Thanks for a great essay on one of the greatest pictures.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Dugan said...

My first experience with GWTW was my mother taking me to the notorious 70mm blowup in 1967. At the time I was completely overwhelmed with the film and probably watched it 3 or 4 more times that week. It wasn't until later that I learned what MGM had done to the film.

I remember attending the 1989 restoration in a theater and was very disappointed in the film at that time, the matte paintings and the rear projection made the film look kind of cheap and finally seemed to date it for me.

Still Gable, Leigh, Howard and De Havilland were great.

Only an actress like Olivia De Havilland could have made something out of the tiresome Melanie Wilkes, the same way she brought some life to Maid Marion.

2:12 PM  
Blogger erix138 said...

I lay off watching this film for as many years as I can, as familiarity breeds boredom. Or maybe that other curse of watching too often: memorization.

Did see it at the Avalon in Washington DC in 1998 or 1999 with a nearly packed out house. Seemed to do better sales than the TOUCH OF EVIL redo which played around that time at a better theatre closer into DC.

For comparison sake, a big difference were the ages: GWTW had kids to the quite old, TOE had a generally professional 20s-40s age group.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Samuel Wilson said...

My big-screen experience of Wind came around 1991 when the '89 restoration hit the historic Proctor's Theater in Schenectady. Said theater at the time lacked air conditioning, so souvenir cardboard fans were handed out. These probably enhanced the experience for some viewers. The film is pretty good until the repetitive crises of the final hour, but the scene with Mammy and Melanie on the stairs is great stuff. By itself it would have earned McDaniel that Oscar.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

I first read Gone With the Wind in 1962, exactly one year too late to catch the '61 reissue, so (alas) my first experience of the movie was also that wretched 1967 release, easily the worst act of vandalism ever perpetrated by a movie studio upon its own product. (And note I said "product," not "production." The big shots at MGM always liked to take on airs about "their" movie, even though all they did was shake down Selznick for a piece of the action, then buy him out at a piratical rate years later, when he needed fast money.)

That hacked-off Metrocolor ("ScummiChrome") travesty was, of course, the version of record for years, and I probably saw it nine or ten times, little suspecting what I was missing. But then I really saw GWTW in 1979, at a multiplex in Orange County, CA. Don't know how it got there, but I perked up when I saw they were projecting it in 4:3 aspect. Then, when those huge yellow letters began their march across the screen, I nearly jumped out of my skin. "My God!" I hissed to my (then-)wife. "They're sweeping across the screen!" She looked at me with alarm. "Huh?? So what?" "Never mind, I'll tell you later." To this day, I wonder how a pre-'67 IB Tech found its way to that little crackerbox in Costa Mesa.

Oddly enough, I later saw that selfsame 35mm print in the basement theater of a collector friend of my uncle's in Indianapolis. This was in 1988, and I know it was the same because it had the identical double-splice between WITH and THE in the opening blow-by. I'd love to know where that print had been over the years. And for that matter, where it is now.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

If Scarlett's father gets a bad rep for being "a crazy drunk", then I'm in deep you-know-what (and so is the entire male side of our family)!

I can remember a major revival out here in Los Angeles at the old Carthay Circle, where I think, if I'm not mistaken, it had had it's L.A. opening in'39. (You've surely seen that great MGM promotional short, "Hollywood Goes To Town", heralding the Premiere of "Marie Antoinette". That was at the Circle. Anyway, it was shortly after that, the theatre was grazed to make room for aprtment complexs. I regret to say I did not attend the revival of "Wind" there.

3:20 AM  
Blogger The Great Bolo said...

Forgot to mention that my mother (now 89) was nineteen and attending college in LA when the west coast premiere of GWTW took place(at Carthay Circle). Mom and her friend Stella were there. She told me that she remembers the theatre had fans blowing the screen curtain before the show for that "WIND" effect.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Oh, and here's another amusing splice-in-GWTW story: In 1990 I saw it at the Moderne-ornate Orinda Theatre in the hills east of San Francisco. It was a splendid print, not a scratch, line, or speck of dust on it, but it did have one lone splice. It was obvious that somebody had trimmed out a single frame to keep as a souvenir, for Clark Gable's last line came out as, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a -amn."

5:04 PM  
Blogger Dazzling Urbanite said...

I went to the recent showing here in Atlanta (at the fabulous old Fox theater). Hosted by Robert Osborne, and a nice Q&A with Molly Haskell (and some other fellow I forget).

Nearly sold-out crowd...all ages, all races, even some folks in costume. Biggest laughs (besides the classic moments mentioned in the artcile) went to Hattie McDaniel--she really steals the movie, doesnt she? Lots of applause and laughter throughout.

Was a real joy to experience this movie this way.

7:41 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

My first big-screen experience was, perhaps, the strangest of all.

I was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in the mid-90s shooting a documentary when GWTW was playing and I saw it in a downtown theater.

As a Southerner, it was like watching it surrounded by Yankees, but it was worse - these were Canadians ... nice Canadians.

I still remember the tv premiere on NBC in '76 - it was really one of the last big "events" on network television, just a few years before cable would eat away at the shared experience of viewing the three tv networks.

I've seen GWTW many times. I think the remarkable craftsmanship of everyone involved is what keeps me coming back to it.

9:41 PM  
Blogger The Great Bolo said...

Well, GWTW still holds the record for selling the most theatre tickets than any other film, so what does that tell us?

9:09 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I read yesterday that "Avatar" has just passed a billion dollars worldwide. Has any film done that before?

9:20 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I heard on a radio report that James Cameron has now gone "billion" twice (first with TITANIC).

9:23 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

25 years ago, when I worked for a bookstore and helped review applications for a new sales clerk, the book mentioned on most of the applicants' forms as a favorite was Gone With the Wind (Rebecca was second).

I very much doubt that's true today, and not just because kids only read new stuff now (hey, plenty of Tolkien and Ayn Rand readers out there). The real issue is that the myth of the Old South is just no longer all that resonant for young people, partly because of the racist component, but just as much, I suspect, because the South is economically so vibrant that the sense of romantic victimhood just isn't there any more (maybe we should look for what the great romantic novel of the industrial upper midwest will be).

I also suspect that feminism has robbed Scarlett of much of her appeal. She was thrilling back then for the same reason that daring pre-Code heroines such as Ruth Chatterton in Female were-- she crossed the line between the sexes and played by both men's and women's rules as she pleased. (For contrast, there was the most hidebound female friend ever, Melanie; and equally clueless males such as Ashley.) In the era of The Devil Wore Prada, though, Scarlett's transgressions hardly seem daring.

So, yes, I suspect GWTW has had its day at last.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I've seen it several times in theaters as well and I agree that Mammy/Hattie gets most of the biggest laughs. My favorite is where she tells Scarlett " and you'll be there waiting for him - LIKE A SPIDER"

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I used to joke that I was deported from the South since I couldn't sit through GONE WITH THE WIND again.

I too remember when Films Incorporated had it for rental in the 1970s and I seem to remember the rental as being $500, which was WAY too expensive for my pinchpenny film program at Catawba College. I had reassembled one of their prints of NIGHT AT THE OPERA (God only knows what the previous renter had been doing with that print) and the folks at Films Inc. were so grateful that they offered me quite the deal on GONE WITH THE WIND.

In retrospect I'm not to sure that turning it down (4 hours in folding Samsonite chairs?) was wise. At that time some Southern gals would've really rocked my world to have had a private screening of that film.

Blogger Michael said "The real issue is that the myth of the Old South is just no longer all that resonant for young people, partly because of the racist component, but just as much, I suspect, because the South is economically so vibrant that the sense of romantic victimhood just isn't there any more (maybe we should look for what the great romantic novel of the industrial upper Midwest will be)."

Wow! I happen to agree with that observation. All of this "glorious cause" stuff gives me a swift pain in that it willfully ignores the slavery/racism and the blatantly anti-American aspects of such a mind-set. Mind you I grew up in the South and was all of 11 years old during the big Civil War Centennial celebration (that's when I saw a marvelous 1:33 IB Tech print) and I really did enjoy it immensely. Scarlett (who in the book uses the Klan to help her out) is so damned vile that I really have trouble with the film as an adult. I do treasure seeing the actual locomotive THE GENERAL at the local Norfolk & Western station. THAT was cool.

Spencer Gill (opticalguy1954@yahoo.com)

10:40 AM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

A quick break here for GWTW trivia you might not know. According to trades, Clark Gable accepted MGM’s invitation to attend the Atlanta 1961 premiere of Gone With The Wind’s bicentennial revival. This was announced but weeks before his death on November 16, 1960.

I presume your are referring to the centennial of the Civil War, commemorated for several years beginning in 1961. I'm guessing that bicentennial showing from NBC in 1976 had entered your mind.

As for me, the first time I saw it was at the University of Maryland in 1974, when our campus cinema group showed one of those 16mm prints you referred to. (On another night, that group showed "To Be Or Not To Be," probably the first Carole Lombard film I ever saw.)

11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know Ms. Rhett, I assure you she doesn't slam the door in anyone's face. I've spoke to her about GWTW on several ocassions and she doesn't seem to mind at all; in fact she talks quite a bit about it and has told me that it was great fun and a wonderful experience. She is also amazed at the length of time the movie has endured.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous France said...

Beautiful! The acting is as good as you can get! Clark Gable brings Rhett Butler to life! It's amazing! I've seen Scarlett, but I still consider Gable to be 'the Rhett Butler.' None ever has or ever will portray Rhett the way he did! Vivien Leigh is amazing as well! She's just Scarlett! That's all I can say.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Sgt Friday said...

Were you a teacher at LRC? I, too, had Dr. Boatman for history classes..

1:57 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I never taught there, but I was a student between 1972 and 1976.

5:47 PM  
Blogger April said...

Every year or two the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, NC still shows GWTW in it's full glory! You can also find David and Kathleen Marcaccio 's GWTW alert which shows where not only the film - but plays such as the wonderful "Don't Cry for Me Margaret Mitchell" can be found showing! GWTW is NOT gone with the wind!

4:39 PM  

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