Books
1:14 pm
Mon March 2, 2009

Frankly, My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited, by Molly Haskell

Familiar to many from her guest appearances on Turner Classic Movies with Robert Osborne, Molly Haskell is one of our country's foremost movie critics, historians, and interpreters. Haskell has every credential needed and brings all her skills to bear in this book on GWTW. It is often said of Venice, there is no more to be said about Venice. One might think that about GWTW also. But Haskell has taken some new approaches towards this classic book and movie and there are new insights.

Familiar to many from her guest appearances on Turner Classic Movies with Robert Osborne, Molly Haskell is one of our country's foremost movie critics, historians, and interpreters. Haskell has every credential needed and brings all her skills to bear in this book on GWTW. It is often said of Venice, there is no more to be said about Venice. One might think that about GWTW also. But Haskell has taken some new approaches towards this classic book and movie and there are new insights.

First of all, the film. It is a film and films are not novels. Haskell reminds us why and how the experience of the cinema is different in kind, not better and in fact not less than fiction. The emotional response of the viewer is created by text, yes, but also by spectacle?of which Aristotle himself approved, although the percentage in recent films of car crashes and other explosions is downright infantile?and by the cinematography, the visuals, sets and costumes and the music, which in the case of GWTW was thematic and powerful, and, most of all, by the actors, the stars themselves, their voices, their body language, and their eyes.

It is Haskell's contention that the actors chosen for GWTW were just about perfect for their roles. Clark Gable playing Rhett was handsome and a real man, sure enough, with muscles and mustache, but perhaps because of Gable's confidence in his maleness his character is able to love and appreciate a powerful female and to serve, when needed, as Haskell asserts, as a kind of surrogate mother to Scarlett, as well as a loving devoted father to Bonnie. After the death of Bonnie, Rhett weeps, not common for rugged male leads in the thirties.

Vivien Leigh was the perfect Scarlett too. Although English, she actually mastered the southern accent. (Gable, happily, gave up on it.) Leigh had "Jekyll-and-Hyde mercurialism, the wide eyes narrowing into harsh willfulness." Her fluctuations?"angry, saucy, coquettish, peevish, tragic?come rapidly, fluidly, coexist organically within the same volatile person." She is both out of control and manipulative. Haskell believes Leigh's neurotic intensity was powered by an obsessive lust for Lawrence Olivier, with whom she was having an abnormally passionate illicit affair. Leigh's animal energy and the bipolar character of Scarlett, passionate, ruthless, cunning, amoral, highly organized and determined, thrust Scarlett forward, although Mitchell had intended Melanie as the heroine, from the start.

The casting of these two was no easy matter. The search took two years, cost ninety-two thousand dollars and involved 1400 candidates, with 90 taking screen tests. A lot of the search was conducted in the South to placate southerners who felt an ownership in the book and the forthcoming movie. Finally, although some were disappointed that the Alabamian Tallulah or another belle was not chosen, one member of the Daughters of the Confederacy is quoted as saying "better an English girl than a Yankee."

Of course there could be no film without the 1000-page, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, which has sold about 30 million copies, and Haskell's character sketch of Margaret Mitchell is fascinating. Mitchell was herself a conflicted woman, a debutante who rejected the role and in fact, with wild behavior, sabotaged her own chances of ever getting into the Junior League. A poor student, Mitchell became a tireless researcher. She was often ill, accident prone, hypochondriacal. She had two marriages, one abusive, one to a weakling, and apparently had very little sexual passion of her own. No surprise, she also had a "horror of pregnancy." There was a lot of Margaret in Scarlett.

In modern dollars GWTW cost $67 million, but grossed $1.3 billion. MGM sold 202 million tickets at a time when the population of the USA was 130 million. Frankly, my dear, it's hard not to give a damn.

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