Title: “Gone with the Wind”
Director: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood
Release date: Jan. 1, 1939
Sometimes, a work of art is so influential that it starts to look like a cliché. “Gone with the Wind” is just one American epic among a select few to have that kind of influence. Watching it today is a weird experience: It’s beautifully shot, melodramatically acted and served in a bundle of clichés. This year, it celebrated its 75th anniversary and showed at Century 16 on Sept. 28 and Oct. 1.
Set against the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, “Gone with the Wind” follows Scarlett (Vivien Leigh, “A Streetcar Named Desire”), through her desperate pursuit of her cousin-in-law, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard, “The First of the Few”), to her marriage to Rhett Butler (Clark Gable, “The Misfits”).
By today’s standards, “Gone with the Wind” feels bloated at four hours. It’s long, but not as much of a drag as one might think. Gable is here in top form — a man’s man with the morals of a bygone era. While the movie’s treatment of gender and race feels horribly antiquated, each actor brings flair and characteristic ham to his or her role. The wonderful Hattie McDaniel (“In This Our Life”) brings humanity to her otherwise type-casted role.
The fact is that the acting just seems cheesy now. Mugging men and fawning women enunciate every consonant and play up the movie’s drama, though it comes off as more natural than other flicks of its time. And while the first part has the drama of the Civil War to lean on, the second half focuses on the characters, and the characters just feel too shallow to fill the screen.
One thing that has aged well is the cinematography. Still today, especially on the big screen, “Gone” is beautiful. The colors are rich and deep, the Georgia landscape and Reconstruction Era America are characters in themselves thanks to the deft eyes of cinematographer Lee Garmes, Technicolor cinematographer Ray Rennahan Kand Ernest Haller. The climactic Atlanta depot sequence burns just as brightly as it did 75 years ago.
While it may not have changed cinema in general, it did change American cinema. The sheer scale of it is still staggering, especially considering the technology the crew worked with. It’s undeniably epic and undeniably clichéd. At the same time, it basically started all those clichés. The widowed wife searches to fulfill her unrequited love in the arms of a mysterious, dashing stranger. Even though cinema’s come a long way since, “Gone with the Wind,” should be required viewing for any fan of the movies. Sure, it feels overstuffed at times, but it’s charmingly unabashed in its ambition, and that’s certainly something worth seeing.