May 24th, 2006

Elvgren girlie

Gone with the Wind: film review

First, the good:

Casting, most cases: Vivien Leigh was a joy to look at and listen to, throughout. Hard to picture a better Scarlett. Clark Gable was similar, for Rhett, despite the big ears and odd teeth (false, weren't they?). Chemistry between them was great. Mammy was simply perfect. I liked the guy who played Frank Kennedy, too.

Costuming: They followed the book to a T, and it was beeyootiful.

Set and effects, for what could be done in 1939: Obviously this was a landmark film in terms of its scope, and a lot of scenes that were probably jaw-dropping at the time are still pretty impressive. The burning building in Atlanta collapsing at the heels of the escapees looked awesome, and must have been highly dangerous, considering it was not CGI. Some of those Tara sunsets still bring a tear to the eye. And the camera slowly pulling back, back, back to reveal the vast ground of wounded soldiers, through which Scarlett is picking her way, has likely influenced battle and desolation scenes in a thousand movies since (including 'Lord of the Rings').

Don't say the K phrase: I have to agree that there's no way to include the involvement of the Ku Klux Klan, either in a '30s film or a modern one, and expect the tiniest bit of sympathy from a normal audience. Historically accurate, yes. But completely unworkable. Scarlett may say in the book that Ashley and Frank are fools to be in the KKK, but 20th-and-21st-century viewers would think them not merely foolish but downright evil. So, I understand and stamp a "pass" on that change.

The "needs improvement":

Casting, other cases: Leslie Howard's performance was good, but he didn't look quite right for Ashley, I thought. Ashley needs to be total gorgeousness, and probably younger, to justify Scarlett's obsession. And OK, Melanie is a hard character to play without being rather annoying, but Olivia de Havilland did come off as a bit too precious.

Not long enough. Seriously. This book needs more than four hours to do it justice. The film, though an admirable condensation, felt almost like the "condensed parody version," it clipped along so fast, introducing and resolving new developments within five minutes. I propose either a trilogy or a miniseries. That way, they could include somewhat important characters that were entirely missing in this version, such as Scarlett's first two children; or Will Benteen.

California-as-Georgia: All too often, exterior scenes were clearly interior sets; and when they were outdoors, it looked suspiciously like California countryside rather than Georgia. Not that I've been to Georgia. But still. Think what could be done, this day and age, with sweeping gorgeous outdoor shots. As for "you can tell we're in London because you can see Big Ben through the window," we will not speak of the silliness.

Wedding rings playing musical chairs: elycia warned me about this one, and I have to agree it's messed up. In the book, Scarlett throws her wedding ring into the jewelry collection basket for the Confederate Cause, because hey, she doesn't care about it, and it makes her look good; and Melanie, moved to tears, donates her precious ring too. Rhett later buys Melanie's back and sends it to her--but not Scarlett's, for he knows very well what her true feelings were. In the film, Melanie throws hers in first, and Scarlett follows suit; and then Rhett redeems both rings. Huh?

What is that green velvet dress REALLY for? In the book, Rhett flat-out invites Scarlett to be his mistress, with no mincing of words; and later, Scarlett needs money and says she'll do it. Though of course he doesn't take her up on it, it's important that we see just how much Scarlett is willing to give up here. The movie was too shy to include the mistress bit, so her trip in the velvet dress to entice Rhett ends up a little aimless: he won't marry her, so she just asks for the money, offering only her earrings as collateral. Come on. Our Scarlett is braver, and a better businesswoman, than that.

You really were more scared than hurt: Scarlett getting attacked in Shantytown didn't end up looking very scary. In the book she gets her dress torn halfway off--you know, an actual reason for the menfolk to seek lethal revenge.

Boys don't cry: The women in this film did a fine imitation of crying. But when it was the turn of Rhett or Ashley, the actors seemed to be of the school that says all you need to do is cover your face with your hands and put a slight strain in your voice. Would it have been totally emasculating to try a sob or a hiccup? Probably a '30s-movie thing. Men Do Not Break Down.

Just that general '30s feel: The whole thing carries a certain cheesy melodrama tinge, as all films from that era do. Ever-present sappy background music distracts from a lot of mellow scenes. Intonation on many lines feels like Drama, not like reality. ("Oh, Ashley!" is said in almost exactly the same way as Dorothy's "Oh, Toto!" from the same year.) And those neck-spraining head-bent-backward kisses look not only painful but dated.

Now. Time to take the baby for a walk. Discuss or something.