Finally watching ‘Gone With The Wind’

“Gone With The Wind” is a horrible movie. I know that it has been hailed as the greatest cinematic masterpiece ever to be found in mankind’s history. I know that it was of an epic scale in length and manpower. The scene with Scarlett walking through a field of dying Confederate soldiers must have been a bitch to plan. But, come on. I went my entire life not watching this movie, and when I finally get around to it, all I get is this simpleton drama?

Scarlett O’Hara is an awful person. As a protagonist, she sucks. She marries people she doesn’t love, some of whom are already spoken for, and the primary goal she always seems to have is money. She doesn’t give a damn about other people, telling the only doctor in a field of dying soldiers he has to come with her, and ignore all the men, because one of her friends is having a baby.

She is completely devoid of empathy, and I had an impossible time trying to identify with her. I got to the end of the excruciating four hours, stunned that the movie I had heard so much about in our collective lore was actually four early episodes of “The Young and The Restless.”

Now that I am done bitching about the poor qualities of the protagonist, I will make some grudging admissions. Like “The Pickwick Papers,” “Gone With The Wind” was a new concept in entertainment. It afforded an excuse to sit in an air-conditioned movie house and follow the same story for an entire afternoon.

It also had Clark Gable, and it’s really hard to fuck up a movie with him in it. This is another reason “Gone with the Wind” should be memorable: it very nearly did just that.  If it wasn’t for the constant reappearance of his character, and his elegant charm, I don’t think I could have made it through the whole four hours.

And what was with all the happy-go-lucky black people? Every single one seemed to be just pleased as punch that white folks were talkin’ to ’em. There was never any examination about how they felt about being freed – or being slaves. None of the white people really talked about it either, except for some brief platitudes like, “But we always treat our slaves well.” Okay, show me some Southerners who don’t and we can really look at this as a societal function by comparing the two.

My frustration with this movie fumed for a week, until someone pointed out that the characters were allegories. Scarlett was the spoiled, unchanging South that wanted everything the way it was. Everything had to be picture perfect, and if it wasn’t then it was ignored. Rhett Butler, Clark Gable’s character, was the elegance of the South, the transference of the gentleman to America, and had all the charm and ability in the world. But that gentleman had to walk out on the South, because she was just unwilling to change and adapt to her new world.

This gave me more grudging respect for the movie. But I still find two major flaws. First, the hero should not have been the villain. As a tragic hero, Scarlett doesn’t fit the bill. She comes to no realization about her misdeeds, and doesn’t have any qualities that make the audience want to feel her pain. She is the pretty girl who everyone hates because she won’t let anyone forget for a moment that she is the pretty girl.

Second, the genteel quality of the South (Rhett) did not just leave the South. It was strangled by it. Rhett should not have gone back to the idyllic Charleston, the place that may still be the repository of all Southern virtue. Rhett needed to die if he was to be an allegory. But the allegory gave the title some meaning, at least. The society that was, was gone with the wind.