Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Gone With the Wind is the greatest movie of all time

Gone With the Wind. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. Starting 1939 in my Greatest Years in Cinema Project with the behemoth. Seen cherry picked scenes all my life but never sat down from start to finish. That four hour runtime has always been a bit intimidating. After my first true watch, oh, it's dope. Groundbreaking and epic. Clark Gable (sort of reminds me of a George Clooney, who also reminds me of Cary Grant) as Rhett Butler is really fucking good. So are Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes nee Hamilton, Leslie Howard (sort of a 1930s Michael Fassbender) as Ashley Wilkes, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, and Hattie McDaniel as Mammy. But I'm not sure it really says anything. Slavery. Meh. Rape. Eh. The South. Take it or leave it. The overwhelming thing I walked away with is that Scarlett is a bitch who will apparently never go hungry again.

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Filmed and presented on a scale not seen in modern productions, Gone with the Wind is, if not the definitive Hollywood film, then certainly near the top of the list.

Unsure of how to describe the movie. The first half is a Civil War flick while the second is one dealing with Reconstruction. All the while plantation heiress and Kim Kardashian prototype Scarlett O'Hara, whom I'm pretty sure was called a "whorlet"which I am totally going to use, pursues one Ashley Wilkes who marries his cousin Melanie but marries a couple of fucking losers who can't even stay alive and rich badass Rhett Butler who rapes her and she eventually comes to love only to have him leave, telling her he doesn't give a shit about her no mo.

Now for some of the bullet points...

Some of the most impressive feats of the film come in the first half of the flick, before the intermission. First we get this scene right after the war breaks out where everyone gathers in town to hear which of their sons and husbands have died. It is super heavy with old folks sort of losing their shit and little kids crying. After it is over, the band, mostly children, standing with their instruments at attention, play "Dixie", most of them crying. By the by, based on this one scene I am convinced the movie is supposed to be ironic. Then we have the big dance that was a fundraiser for the war efforts that is decadent and awesome. The truly moving scene where Scarlett goes to find the doctor to help Melanie who is in labor and she crosses a street with thousands of wounded soldiers lying there dying and hopeless. Then the burning of Atlanta which is incredible by any standard. The second part, the sequel, I guess, sort of drug and was mostly a bunch of preachy talking. Like the Old vs. New Testament. There's some sacrilege for ya.

Early in the movie, after Ashley tells Scarlett he is into incest at this big Confederacy pro-war meeting of the minds (of note, while the dudes have wargasms all over the place down stairs, the ladies nap with slaves fanning them, of course not batting an eye at having human air conditioners), she goes off and marries some dipshit who practically creams his pants at the prospect of war (and he basically calls Butler a pussy), and breaks up his relationship, I think,  just to make the dude she really likes jealous. He immediately dies in the war of pneumonia, which he was fucking really into, and she doesn't give a shit and is more upset that she is too young to be a widow than anything else and decides to try to break up that other guy's marriage. When she is "in morning" it is sort of like in Seinfeld when Susan dies from glue poisoning from licking their wedding invitations and the doctor tells him and he realizes that he doesn't have to marry her, because, you know, she's dead, and he has a look that the guy later describes on the stand during "The Finale" as "restrained jubilation." That is what we get in Atlanta. She is pissed and sad but she is only pissed that she has to pretend to be upset and sad that she is too young to be a widow. And that is the first half hour of the movie. She only becomes more of a bitch as the movie goes on and she becomes wealthier (going from the use of one type of slave labor to another first having the traditional black slaves and then hiring the prison for the newer kind of slave labor that we still have today) and more "independent" which is bullshit. Rhett dodged a fucking bullet. I'll tell ya.

But Rhett, he fucking sucks, too. Early I thought he might be alright as he is (toxically) manly and dashing and what not. It doesn't seem like he has slaves but I may have missed something. And he and Ashley (want to reiterate that he is marrying his cousin, Melanie, who is lovely and the only main white character who isn't terrible, but yeah, your marrying your cousin is fucking gross by today's standards but was socially acceptable then, I guess) are the only two Southerners who are fucking stoked about the War of Northern Aggression. Says "All we've got is cotton, slaves, and arrogance." Pretty cool. And he says "damn". But there towards the end, dude loses us. First he helps cover up what sort of sounds like a lynching that Ashley and Scarlett's second husband, who died there, partake in. This was in retaliation for a deranged attempted rape from a pair of morons in a shanty town. Rhett says Ashley, the doctor, and him were all hanging out at the brothel (also, I feel a Civil War era prostitute would be really disgusting which this one that keeps showing up is not). It is an obvious lie but he is so convincing, I guess, that the local doctor's wife thought they were really at the whore house even though she knew they were going to kill the folks in this shanty town. Supposed to think he is just that smooth but really it just makes the doctor's wife look like an idiot. Once he and Scarlett finally get married and she gets caught throwing herself at Ashley by the sister whose dude she keeps stealing, he gets drunk and rapes her. Not cool, man. I already hate him at that point but then he goes a step further to lose me when after his and Scarlett's idiot child rides off on a pony that she forces to try to jump a fence but instead throws her into it and dies, he fucking shoots the pony. What the hell, dude?

The real Gable, whom was the MVP of the movie, was sort of an enigma like this as well. Like how he was really cool and progressive when it came to the treatment of African Americans, but not so much with homosexuals. Like whilst shooting the movie, legendary producer David O. Selznick’s set had segregated bathrooms which pissed Gable off. He went to friend and director Victor Fleming, who was chosen by Selznick to direct in part to appease Gable, and threatened to walk if that shit didn't stop which it did. Then when Hattie McDaniel, whom he was friends with prior to working with her on the film, wasn't allowed to attend the premier in Atlanta, GA, he flipped and shit and threatened to boycott. Same with the Academy Awards, where McDaniel fucking won (the first black actor to win an Oscar) for Best Supporting, when she had to sit in the back of the audience. So, yeah, as cool as you could be, racially speaking, when you are most known for starring in a deeply racist movie.

Politically he was extremely conservative though he voted for FDR when he was married to Carol Lombard, a liberal democrat. Like how with Gary Cooper, the future president who prior to Trump fucked up the country more than any other in the modern era Ronald Reagan, and draft dodging "man's man" John Wayne he formed the pro-McCarthy bullshit Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. I guess you could be a winger and a Republican and not be a racist back then. Meanwhile, according to David Bret in his book Clark Gable: Tormented Star, dude spent his early years in Hollywood as a sort of gigolo among the homosexuals in Hollywood's elite, "gay for pay," if you will. All of this was probably horseshit but he was known to go on a homophobic rant in his day, t'were the times, I guess. Also, hearsay rumors to this day, the professor of this "1939: The Greatest Year in Hollywood" class I audited earlier this year said this was most likely true, persist that Gable wasn't comfortable with original Gone with the Wind director George Cukor who was openly gay and had him fired. This was likely because of his whole machismo bullshit. How much of this was because of Gable and how much because Selznick and Cukor constantly argued about details, Selznick was famously hard to work for and saw this as his baby. Some had it that Cukor knew of Gable's homosexual hustling, he probably did sort of hustle single older rich woman though, and that is part of why Gable didn't want to work with him. You can read about the book in this review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review since it doesn't appear the book is really worth your time.

Overall, Gable was a pretty interesting guy. Was married to Academy Award nominated actress Carole Lombard who dead in a plane crash in 1941. She was selling war bonds in her and my home state of Indiana. Traveling with her were Lombard's mother and Gable's press agent who were both afraid of flying. Lombard, however, wanted to get back to Los Angeles as quickly as possible because, it is rumored, he was going to be working with supposed sexpot Lana Turner in the movie Somewhere I'll Find You. The mother and publicist left the decision up to chance whether they would would head back by train or fly, flipping a coin at Lombard's suggestion. She won and the group, along with 19 others, mostly soldiers, died when the plane crashed into a mountain outside of Las Vegas due to visibility issues caused by the fact that it was practice at the time for turn off safety beacons at night so that Japanese bomber couldn't navigate the terrain. Fucked. A month later, after a legendary bender, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corp and made propaganda films for the war effort even though he was 41 when America joined the war, put him past the age where he would have been drafted or indeed been able to enlist in today's military. He worked his way up from private to major and even "won his wings" as an aerial gunner flying in five real war missions one in which his plane was damaged in combat. You read more about it at this seemingly nonpartisan military information site Defense Media Network.

Finally, there is Melanie, played by Olivia de Havilland who as of this post is still alive and kicking at 103. Poor, sweet, dumb Melanie. From her perspective Scarlett is the kindest most generous friend anyone could ever have. Everyone else except the dudes she marries minus Butler fucking knows Scarlett is the fucking worst, but to Melanie, Scarlett is the woman who looked after her while Ashley was away at war, delivered her child, supported her financially for a time, and saved her life by shooting a Union soldier in the face in one of the movie's most shocking scenes. But in the end she dies of bullshit as she has been exposed to it all her life.

So that was Gone with the Wind. Great and epic, for sure. Racist and irritating as well. Don't think I'll be watching again anytime soon but I'm glad I finally sat down and watched it from start to finish. Totally deserves being high on the American Film Institute Top 100 list and is a huge part of why 1939 is maybe the greatest year in film of all-time. 

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