Monday, October 6, 2014

Scarlett Loves WHO?

Gone with the Wind on a big screen - can it get any better than that?  Thanks to TCM and Fantom Events, we got the opportunity to see this magnificent movie where it deserves to be seen, in a theatre, on a huge screen, surrounded by fellow devotees of Ms. O'Hara (Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler) and Captain Rhett Butler.  We've had a prior discussion about the film, in the context of Olivia de Havilland's superb depiction of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, but it's impossible to talk too much about Gone With the Wind.  Every time you see it, you see something new.  (By the way, my favorite of her many glorious dresses is to the left).

Let's get one thing out of the way.  I love this film (surprise!), but I'm always waiting for the alternate reel wherein Rhett finally figures Scarlett out and doesn't leave.  Sure, we'd lose some great lines, but Rhett frustrates me a lot.  He knows from the get-go that Scarlett is stubborn, that she has a crush on Ashley, and that she doesn't think she loves him.  But at the first sign of moon-face from her, he gets mad.  It also doesn't help that the motivating factor is her weight gain (after all, he was the one that told her "If you don't stop being such a glutton, you'll get as fat as Mammy. Then I'll divorce you.").  In fact, in the novel by Margaret Mitchell, she's already had three children - can one blame her for wanting to stop being a baby-making machine (the poor woman gets pregnant if a man LOOKS at her)?  

The problem is, I like Rhett so much, I just always think he should know better.  It also struck me this time that, by the end of the film, what he wants most is to become Ashley - "I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace..."  The very thing he always ridiculed about Ashley is the life that he himself desires.  But, Rhett is a continual source of self-contradiction - he loathes the war, but runs off to fight as the cause is lost; he laughs at polite society, but struggles to join it when his daughter is born, and he claims no ability to love, yet loves Scarlett with a depth it is hard to fathom.
There are a lot of people who don't like Ms. O'Hara, but I'm one of the ones who does like and rather admire her.  Scarlett is someone I want on my side.   I know that, if the chips are down, and I'm one of her "folk", I'll be protected.  Think about her relationship with Melanie: Scarlett claims to disdain Melanie, to want her gone, so there will be a clear path to Ashley.  Yet, she puts herself in danger to protect Melanie when she could easily leave Atlanta in advance of the invasion.  With cannon-fire surrounding her, and no one to support her, Scarlett stays to safely deliver Melanie's baby, then transports Melanie and baby Beau (and Prissy, who anyone else would have left behind) to Tara, where Scarlett becomes responsible for their care and feeding - when there is no food for anyone.  And, when they do have some food, and Melanie is handing it out to every soldier that comes by, Scarlett chides Melanie, but there is no animosity in her comment.  She says it for effect.  Scarlett knows very well that Melanie will not stop.  Let's not forget Scarlett is 19 years old when she is forced to assume responsibility for Tara, and she and Melanie are afraid that Ashley is dead. Certainly, Scarlett is a lot harder in the novel; the film does clean her up a bit.  But all in all, she handles her responsibilities pretty well for a teenager.  Visit A Person in the Dark for yet another fan of the magnificent Ms. O'Hara!
I had a rather amusing realization this viewing (the big screen helped a lot).  Olivia de Havilland knows how to crochet!  In the scene where Melanie, India, Mrs. Meade and Scarlett are waiting for the return of their men from a "political meeting" (translation - a raid on Shanty Town that will have very bad results), Scarlett is embroidering, India is knitting, and Mrs. Meade and Melanie crochet.  First off, the distribution is interesting.   Scarlett is the only one performing a purely decorative craft - there's not much practical use for crewel work except to ornament a home.  While the other three ladies work on projects that are practical.  But while it's not clear if Alicia Rhett and Leona Roberts know what they are doing, Ms. de Havilland clearly does.  In fact, her crocheting speeds as she becomes anxious - the true sign of an experienced handcrafter - the craft acts as a stress reliever.

Obviously, there is a lot of information available on this film.  One interesting take is Gavin Lambert's The Atlantic article "The Making of Gone With the Wind."  We learn that Gable was terrified to break down in front of Melanie, and even threatened to walk off the set rather than cry.  But his respect for Victor Fleming won the day, giving us perhaps the most remarkable scene of a wonderful career.  We also learn that, since only 1,500 extras were available to film the railroad station scene, 1,000 dummies were interspersed among the extras to portray the vastness of the war's damage.   My husband was particularly looking forward to this scene.  It is a stirring moment, displaying all that is now lost, and the endless suffering caused by a pointless war.  Done with the special effects capabilities of 1939, it is nonetheless a breathtaking scene

We leave you with two clips this time - first, the railroad station scene...

And since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, here is Carol Burnett's over-the-top homage to Ms. Scarlett Went with the Wind

Next time, back to our regular discussion.

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