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Monday, April 15, 2024

An 85th Anniversary Surprise Booking ...


Gone with the Wind Blew Back Last Week

A part of me is for shortening Gone with the Wind to simply Gone. And yet there are pockets that care, 116 of them showing up for a Fathom Events run this past week, my local six-plex using GWTW for one matinee (Sunday) and two evening runs (Monday, then Wednesday). Admission was $10, which means they collected $1160 total. That may have been more than Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire or Kung Fu Panda 4 took for comparable play. I dealt myself in for Sunday afternoon, time served one hour, as here is where audible reaction most occurs, at least that was case on distant occasions when me and audiences intersected. Back then prints were bad, good, worn, intact … one never knew. This time GWTW was digital and that translates more/less to idiot proof, so worry not of wrong ratio or faded color. This looked and sounded OK if dimmer, though I’d guess audiences by now are resigned to that. GWTW ran in a smaller room to seat 125, so Sunday’s 55 seemed a crowd. Here was chance to see what Rhett and Scarlett could do with 2024 viewership. Obviously none came on casual impulse … not to a four-hour film, most having seen GWTW I expect, never on a big screen perhaps, as was case with the lady who cuts my hair who pledged weeks ago not to miss her all-time favorite movie “as it was meant to be seen.” I had ears up for response to specific scenes well recalled for how each played a half-century back. Would they go same directions again? Answer was yes, with a few surprising no’s.

Gone with the Wind
was pondered last at Greenbriar in 2010. Many comments were posted, these worth a latter look after fourteen years elapsed. I tried this time to put myself in the place of today-folk watching a 1939 release. Were any there who had never seen GWTW? If so, they were in for something unlike all that is modern filmmaking, and more so, storytelling. Is any current film so heavily scored? I’d like to think someone among the uninitiated might “discover” the music and want more of same sort, or is that too wishful thinking? Love for lush accompany might be too high a hill for anyone young (even old) to climb, for didn’t movies abandon classical/romantic models by the sixties, certainly the seventies? I felt keenly Wind's age when Thomas Mitchell did his Tara speech and the camera rolled back for a majesty take. When was this sort of thing last attempted? Gone with the Wind defines narrative-driven, bearing in mind this isn’t something moderns necessarily want, so does GWTW suffer for its discipline and careful construction? Characters are dense and piled high. Could you scroll, text, as so many do, and still keep up? Lots insist a movie permit all this, which may be why coherence matters so much less now. No film today is remotely like Gone with the Wind, whereas on 1967-68 occasion for a major reissue, there were still features that harked back, at least tentatively, to the epic original. Imitators stepped boldly forward just ten years before, Raintree County and lately mentioned Band of Angels. I wasn’t nervous watching GWTW for not being responsible for how it would be received, my days for bringing anything vintage before current lookers happily and mercifully passed.

Gone with the Wind
was for years a gateway drug to old film addiction. Exposure enough, repeated enough, made a rest of the Classic Era simpler to access, easier to enjoy. How possible was it to sit a civilian down for black-and-white recital by faces all of which were unfamiliar? During the sixties-seventies at least, more people saw GWTW than any way-past title save The Wizard of Oz, opportunity arising to widen their acquaintance with at least the four principals from Wind: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Olivia DeHavilland. Gable as lure brought groups of sorority girls to my 1975 collegiate run of Honky Tonk, all of them there for knowing him as Rhett Butler. My sister long ago sat through televised Intermezzo with me after recognizing Leslie Howard, and how many tolerated Errol Flynn pictures I showed at school for familiar face Olivia DeHavilland showing up in them? Clark Gable acknowledged in later years that Gone with the Wind was what primarily kept his name alive and enabled public forgiveness for weaker movies he had done. Ever asked someone who liked GWTW if they’d seen anything else with one of its stars? Had they not, chances are they might be willing to. Wish I could have polled Wind’s exiting audience last week, me as modern-day Johnny Grant with Rock, Pretty Baby’s crowd. As it is, my stay was less than whole of runtime, truth of matter being I’m hard pressed to sit among an audience that long. Comfort of home has become too comfortable. When Blu-Ray looks hands down better than anything they can project upon public screens … well, that’s progress of a sort I suppose, but are we richer for it? Me for the door once data was gathered.

Query to all: Was Gone with the Wind the only Clark Gable starring feature where he did not end up with the girl? Did Leslie Howard really sacrifice himself so the Germans would not realize the Brits had broken their code? Had Vivien Leigh’s bipolar condition become a handicap by the time she played Scarlett, and if not then, when? I knew a collector named Herb Bridges who lived in Atlanta and had the largest GWTW stash of anyone under one roof. We visited him once and I got to hold the green Paris hat that Rhett brought Scarlett. Also went to a high school basketball gym where the Scarlett portrait hung, and you could still see a dent where Rhett threw his glass against it. Pleased to report 2024’s audience laughed at same spots they had before, the biggest when Aunt Pitty fainted at the bazaar, a most appreciative when Rhett says “And you, Mrs. Hamilton, I know just how much that meant to you.” Suppose Selznick penned that line? It could have been any of a dozen credited, or not, scribes. Either way, it's deathless. Most interesting and unexpected was the viewing 55’s non-reaction at Rand Brooks’ proposal to Scarlett, specifically his skipping away after her acceptance for “Mr. O’Hara, Mr. O’Hara!” Later when we’re shown a letter from the War Department informing Scarlett of Charles’ death wherein Measles is listed as the cause, audiences of my past tittered or laughed outright once eyes scrolled to the bottom, but this time, and for a first time I’ve experienced, there was stillness. Do present-day neighbors feel a greater compassion for Charles Hamilton than crueler counterparts I grew up among? What a difference fifty years makes. Ann recalls patronage stood up the street and around our local bank’s corner to see a Sunday matinee for Gone with the Wind at the Liberty in 1972. Comparing this with the 55 I saw it with seems a considerable drop down, but saints be praised for mere fact Gone with the Wind was shown theatrically, it among oldies I’d least expect to turn up in this or any present year.


Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

My mother only saw a half dozen movies in her childhood, GWTW one of them. Mom was born in '35 so it had to be a re-issue. She always described the viewing as a major event. However she never mentioned the showing lasting four hours. Were the re-issues trimmed? Later in the '60's Mom and Dad went to see it in a theater.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Well, it looks like the move to ban GWTW from cinemas never happened. I never took it seriously as a history lesson, and found the main characters (other than Mammy and the brothel madam) quite unlikeable and/or annoying. I had a girlfriend who pretty much used Scarlett O'Hara as her role model, which wasn't a healthy thing for either of us.

11:50 AM  
Blogger J Hall said...

Was there a recognition of George Reeves among the crowd there? I remember every time I saw the film during its various revivals you could hear a majority of the patrons saying "That's Superman".

12:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

No reaction to George Reeves, at least not an audible one.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I suspect that today's viewers don't know George Reeves. Adventures of Superman is no longer as prevalent.

I vowed that I would not watch GONE WITH THE WIND when it made its network television bow, because I wanted to see it the right way, on a big screen. Sure enough, my local revival house played it and I was there -- under the worst possible conditions. The vintage-1933 theater had transformed its balcony into a separate house, and they ran GWTW there, in the height of a summer heat wave, packed house with no air conditioning. Adding to the enjoyment (ahem) was a reissue print that should have been junked. Somewhat faded, with two green scratches and one yellow scratch running through most of the picture, and at least one jump splice with a few minutes missing. The film went out of frame twice -- so we saw Gable's chin at the top, then the wide frame line, and Gable's hair at the bottom. So much for my seeing this picture "the right way."

I had a similar disappointment at a recent "Event with a capital E" revival of WHITE CHRISTMAS at a local cineplex. These Events are a Racket with a capital R: $25 apiece. My wife and I noticed that Bing Crosby seemed awfully arthritic when he crossed the frame -- the sound was continuous but the picture was staggering. "They're streaming this thing!" I gasped, and my wife said, "We could do better at home."

That very night we bought an extra-wide tripod screen from a supply house, bringing us into the new, widescreen show world of 1953. Now WHITE CHRISTMAS fills our screen, and Bing Crosby is no longer arthritic.

2:32 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I remember seeing this in the 60s as a grade school field trip. We rode up from Morgan Hill in a bus to a huge Cinerama dome somewhere south of San Francisco. There was a similar excursion for the musical "Oliver." Was there a point when such quasi-educational screenings finally went the way of the dairy tour?

While I enjoyed both adventures, I can't pretend I learned something or was motivated to read up on the subjects. GWTW certainly offered historic spectacle, but this was an entertainment, after all, Nothing could be allowed to upstage Scarlett and Rhett or muddy their characters. "Oliver" made Dickensian poverty and injustice into, well, musical comedy. God help the kid who incorporated either into homework.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Great post. Digital has saved us from the days of worn out prints with faded color. I don't miss them.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

*All of its politics aside, I just don't think GWTW is a very good movie. It's bloated, Gable and Howard palpably dislike the characters they're playing, and Leigh is so busy chewing scenery that there's nothing left for De Havilland to act in. The characters are static, learn nothing, don't change, and it's all just too much.

The one joy I had the last time I watched a scene (Butler's first appearance on the couch) was taking Mitchell's suggestion of Groucho as Rhett seriously, and plugging his voice and cadences into Gable's dialogue and, guess what?, it really worked and made things almost entertaining.

Give me a Warners B over this one any day.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The first time I saw any part of GWTW was back in the days of rented videocassettes - the girls had brought a rented two-tape edition of GWTW along for a weekend party at some summer cottages we were staying at, and they all settled in with their infants in a large room to watch this during a Saturday afternoon on a 24 or 25 inch color TV. This would have been in the 1990s sometime.
I watched for a half-hour or so before I left to join the rest of the guys hanging out in the garage; but I do remember that GWTW seemed to be very much a "chick flick" to me then - and hours later, when I saw that the film was still ongoing, I marveled that GWTW was a like a television "mini-series" or daily TV soap opera in its duration and plot, but that it was created long before television was even a thing.
So I thought GWTW was ahead of its time, in that sense, while for me it was then as it remains now, primarily a curious antique.
This column did spur me to double-check some discs I inherited a few years ago now from a late relative, and it turns out that as I suspected I actually do have a copy of GWTW on blu-ray, as a part of a five-film package of blurays celebrating the film production year 1939 (The title that first caught my attention in that set was 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', long a favorite of mine; I watched that title very soon after receiving this inheritance).
As we now use a projector and enjoy viewing films in our small home cinema, that bluray of GWTW is now "in the hopper" to watch on our "big screen".
We shall see if this makes any difference in my opinion about this film - sometimes the size of the image alone can make all the difference in appreciating these antique films. But not always.

8:34 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I saw this multiple times at Rutgers College from 1978-1981. There was always a good turnout, and the audience reactions were consistent: applause for the intros of each main character (it occurred to me later that each scene may have been shot for just such a purpose - every one got a "stage" intro). And you could bet money the loudest applause and cheers came when that camera panned down the staircase to reveal Gable himself, equalled only by his "Frankly, my dear" exit line.

On a personal note, my fellow students and attendees really appreciated these classics (Saturdays were usually MGM musical marathons), and it was here I really experienced the collective joy that audiences must have felt during the Golden Age at your local Loews, Stanley, Embassy, or Mayfair (to name the "nabes" of my youth in Hudson County, NJ).

8:52 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

You asked if any film today is so heavily scored as GWTW. Yes, last year's Best Picture Oscar winner, OPPENHEIMER. The music doesn't stop for a minute, even for scenes that don't cry for music. I mean, it never, ever stops. I can even picture Dimitri Tiomkin, known for his overscoring, watching OPPENHEIMER and putting his hands over his ears exclaiming, "Dear God, make it stop."

The big difference between the two is Steiner, besides being a superb composer with an inexhaustible supply of melody, had a very keen dramatic sense, for me one of the best in Hollywood's Golden Age. With OPPENHEIMER, I never got why many of the musical choices were made. It becomes musical wall paper after a while. Naturally it took the Best Score Oscar as well. Musical illiteracy continues to rule in the film industry.

I also agree about the character of Mammy in GWTW. I've always been struck that the biggest and most celebrated film of the Golden Age has an African-American slave character as the sanest and most sensible person in the whole movie.

10:30 PM  
Blogger FrankM said...

I'd rate the first half of "Gone With the Wind" among the best films of it's time. The second half, once the war is over, puts me to sleep. I slept through it a few times at our local cinema and, not many can claim this, I snoozed blissfully through the 70mm reissue at the Odeon, Marble Arch! The Odeon had panels on the walls which gently changed color and was most restful.

4:26 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Having watched this on our "big screen" (110 inches) in our little home cinema, and all the way through for the first time ever (although broken into four 1-hour sittings) I was surprised at how 1930s the Technicolor looked; to my eyes it has a similar look to "The Adventures of Robin Hood" or "Drums Along The Mohawk" rather than a late forties Technicolor film. For me, it gave a kind of antique patina to the whole film, which pleasingly complemented its antique subject matter.
It was also beautiful to look at (I'm not referring here only to the beauteous Vivian Leigh); the makers of this made sure each shot looks good, and that there was always something in the frame to look at, regardless of whether or not the drama being depicted was compelling (and for me, much of it wasn't). This effect was enhanced by the sheer size of the image we watched.
So for us the bottom line is that this particular movie is well worth seeing on a large screen; as to whether or not the story is worthy of the quality of its presentation is an open question, and its answer must depend on the individual viewer - but to my eyes, the film makers have made a thing of beauty.
This film is well worth seeing at least once on as big a screen as you can muster; but I am thankful that our venue permitted us to take breaks from time to time beyond the intermission provided by its makers.

8:28 AM  
Blogger dlc320 said...

Steiner's score here, as is all his work, breathtaking and truly enhances the drama. But, for my dime his most powerful effort will always be King Kong from 1933.
at age 76 I first saw GWTW on "the Big screen" in the fifties because it was never going to play on the "boob" tube. As a preteen it was engaging but, after all I was a movie nut....
I remember less than ten years ago feeling badly for the movie house crowd upon hearing that a local cinema palace in Memphis Tennessee dropped this epic of the old South from its Summer Film Festival so as not to offend the public with non-PC views.

4:31 PM  

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