(“New To Me” is a column wherein your intrepid reviewer watches the classics — both mainstream and cult — in an effort to fill in the holes in his pop culture literacy and avoid the garbage that generally defines modern cinema. Related thoughts below. See other entries here.)

Obviously, Gone with the Wind is a Big Fucking Deal. Every critic puts it at the top of their “Best Movies of All Time” list and I get it. It’s the ultimate epic made in a time when they barely knew how to make movies in the first place. And it’s still the highest grossing movie of all time after you adjust for inflation. (Avatar can suck it.) But here’s the thing: watching this movie now is like taking medicine — and not the good grape-flavored kind that makes you want to swallow the whole bottle and maybe see unicorns — you know it’s probably good for you, but it tastes so terrible that you’d kind of rather stay sick.

Essentially, Gone with the Wind is a four-hour romantic comedy with no jokes and two borderline sociopaths for main characters. I mean, these are terrible people. Scarlett O’Hara is a nasty, entitled bitch who seems to exist as the argument for spousal abuse and Rhett Butler is a charming sex offender with a mustache (I know, kind of redundant). I guess there’s supposed to be a love story in there but Rhett’s most effective romantic gesture is the ol’ rape move, which of course causes Scarlett to fall madly in love with him. It’s an interesting tactic but as far as romantic plotlines go, it doesn’t change the fact that these two are some pretty unlovable assholes so it’s hard to care about what happens to them. Hey, but at least there’s casual racism. So that’s nice. Obviously we’ve got “best ever” material right here.

Now I know people dismiss the whole racism thing because “it was another time.” But I’m pretty sure there was no time when slavery was considered the equivalent of a cool career choice for a black person. Of course, the black people in Gone with the Wind are all just depicted as simple-minded caricatures anyway, so I guess that’s supposed to be fine. I mean the housemaid Mammy (and so begat a thousand stereotypes) is more or less an Aunt Jemima bottle come to life and she’s not even the most embarrassing person in the film. The fact that they gave the actress that played her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, making her the first African-American to win an Academy Award, has to be one of the earliest sightings of so-called “white guilt.” And believe me they had every reason to feel guilty.

Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch Gone with the Wind. It’s pretty much required viewing for anyone who considers themselves a movie buff of any depth. It’s definitely an impressive achievement for a 70-year old film. But I get the feeling that more people love this movie because they’re supposed to than because of its actual merit. So, on the one hand, for its historical significance/critical acclaim you’ve got to give this a 9.

But this ain’t history class, Johnny. I’m giving it a …

DYL MAG Score: 6



One Response to New to Me: Gone with the Wind

  1. 6 years ago by eugenia kolec

    okay, i read the book before i saw the movie so maybe i have that advantage of perspective. but i do think a movie should be able to stand on it’s own without having a book as reference.

    producing a movie about the civil war era and not showing slavery is like producing a movie about the mafia and not showing the violence. it WAS part of the times, but the movie is not about racism, house slaves had relatively comfortable jobs as slaves compared to field hands and other slaves. again, i’m not saying it was right it just was.

    this movie probably should have been called “scarlett o’hara” instead of “gone with the wind”, but the wise editors of margaret mitchell’s book thought that a character book set in the civil war era would be taken less seriously than a book about the civil war and how it changes everyone’s life. this book is completely a study of the narcissistic, hedonistic and selfish scarlett. it goes from scarlett being a conniving, beautiful, selfish, manipulating young woman to scarlett being an older and even smarter woman with the same qualities. the people that are part of scarlett’s life do little to change her view of the world and herself. even the civil war just makes scarlett more conniving because she has to work harder and smarter to get what she wants. the land that scarlett loves (her beloved home, tara), might be the only redeeming quality scarlett possesses, but even then she only loves the land for what it can do for her, not for it’s intrinsic beauty.

    rhett butler is ultimately a character of redemption and change. he does start out as a scoundrel, but he joins the civil war effort and does his wheeling and dealing to benefit the boys fighting. he comes back into scarlett’s life and city to woo her, but her mind is on the next person who will further her desires. rhett continues to get scarlett out of trouble and win the respect of the community, because he wants to win the respect of scarlett. he see’s her as an exciting woman, one on par with himself, but he wants her to have the goodness and moral character a complete woman should possess. he wants her to grow up! he marries her finally and that is a comedy of miscommunication, uncommunication and battle of wills. he courts the members of society so his child will be accepted and grow up a part of that society. scarlett scoff at this. she doesn’t care what society thinks, only how much power and money she can amass. after their child is killed in an accident, rhett realizes scarlett will never change and leaves her with his infamous words.

    you miss the emergence of probably the first “hooker with a heart of gold” characterization in belle watling, rhett’s prostitute friend. you miss the excitement of war talk, the bravado of the young tarleton twins who predict a glorious rise of the south after the war. you miss the horror of the rows of dead and dying soldiers laying outside a battlefield hospital. you miss rhett buying mammy a red petticoat to win her over and making her lift her skirt an inch to show him that she is wearing it.

    because an epic is so magnificent and huge in scope, sometimes you overlook all the moments that give it meaning and charm and importance.

    but i think it should just make you look harder for those moments.


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