In the pantheon of classic cinema, there are few films as notable as director Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind. Upon its storied premiere in 1939 in Atlanta, Georgia, the film has gone on to have quite a reputation. Who could blame it. Based on the highly successful novel by one-and-done author Margaret Mitchell, the film is the equivalent to the Harry Potter franchise today. It was the most anticipated adaptation with an impressively complicated production history. It's a surprise that the film managed to be as successful as it was with a then-record breaking 8 Oscar wins and the highest grossing box office when adjusted for inflation. However, at 75 years old, the four hour romantic epic feels like it is unappreciated. Hopefully with this weekend's Fathom Event that plans to show the entire film on theaters nationwide in America, maybe it will give people a new reason to appreciate the film.
For majority of contemporary audiences, the epic is one of the most daunting genres ever. Films like Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur are lost to time because a four hour commitment is often too much, or at best, needed to be spread out over multiple viewings. This isn't a problem in today's go-go world, though there is value in the longer films. It gives the viewer time to be consumed in the moment and lets things resonate long enough to meditate and find deeper meaning. In all honesty, the majestic nature of Lawrence of Arabia is something that couldn't be done in a shorter run time because the magic would be lost and Peter O'Toole's performance would be pretentious. Instead, it is a masterpiece of meditation and egos. Epics are a special form of film that may be too far rooted in a bygone era, but still manage to bring magic to each new generations.
At best, the art of three hour films have returned with titles like Boyhood and The Wolf of Wall Street managing to be long and engrossing. Still, the contemporary titles like Avatar and Django Unchained owe a debt to the bygone era. Without those films, there would be no structure for how to properly make these films flow in a wondrous valley of awe, capturing the sheer essence of cinema. Short films are still necessary, but epics, when successful, are indescribably the essence of what cinema can strive for. It captivates and manipulates the audience into not wanting to leave. These are stories that matter and there's value in having to sit through extensive moments.
Of them all, Gone with the Wind is probably the most daunting. For starters, there's a lot of dated techniques to it. There's the racism and gender politics that don't mesh with today's progressive ways. However, to judge a film solely on opposing viewpoints is foolish. Fleming's film has so much else going for it. At the center is a career-defining romance between Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), which comes and goes in between the Antebellum South's fallout from the Civil War. This film is as much about love as it is the societal period in which it depicts. There's uncertainty and maybe Scarlett is a little foolish herself. To watch the city burn towards the end of the first half is a stunning moment in cinema that is only topped by even more amazing shots overlooking the O'Hara residence while the beautiful string orchestration of Max Steiner's score plays its soothing melody.
Most of all, the film embodies every single aspect of classic romantic cinema imaginable. Beyond the breathtaking shots and the iconic music, there's the Technicolor. Oh, how the Technicolor adds an authenticity to the hot plains of Georgia. The sky is red with passion and the outfits dazzle with elegance. Even the performances have a grounded sense of passion that makes the leads particularly exciting to watch. There's humor and sadness that play out in ways that are indescribable. Basically, Gone with the Wind has it all. It's historical and crowd pleasing. There's a glance into America's troubled history and a look into Hollywood's definitive film. As of 2011, Gone with the Wind has been declared the highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation with an estimated $3.3 billion.
So what keeps people from watching this masterpiece? The length is daunting. Had it not been for my personal Oscar challenge, I wouldn't have seen it any sooner. As it stands, Fleming's other 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, is more accessible and easy to get into. This is a commitment that may define the zeitgeist, but is done broadly enough where to know its name is to pass by. Nonetheless, I was thoroughly impressed with everything about the film. It's beauty is almost unsurpassed and later epics such as Ben-Hur pale in comparison to the heart and chutzpah at the center of the film. Its Oscar, box office, and other records are all deserving of its merit, as it reflected Hollywood's ability to make art. Even if films like Birth of a Nation came before, this was the likely transition into a more accessible period. Yes, there's still hints of racism and sexism, but that's the film's personal choices. It defines it in ways that give it a timeless quality.
Even if I have already seen the film once this year, I do plan to be there on Sunday, September 28 to see the Fathom Event showing of the film, which is set to feature special commentary by TCM host Robert Osborne. This event will be held on Sunday, September 28 at 2 PM and 6 PM as well as Wednesday, October 1 at 2 PM and 6 PM. Tickets and further information are available here on Fathom Events' website.
So please, if you want to see Gone with the Wind and have the time, check it out. It's one of those films that thanks to its lack of immediate recognition in today's visual pop culture will surprise you at every turn. It's a beautiful film warranting its big screen showing. If nothing else, it gives me the chance to join a small echelon of history that can proudly say that I saw it on the big screen, which up until the past few decades, was something almost everyone else could proudly say.