Friday, September 25, 2009

Must-Watch Friday - Gone with the Wind

Modern Heat author Heidi Rice revisits the biggest movie romance of all time, David O Selznick's gargantuan version of Margaret Mitchell's best-selling American Civil War story which boasts Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh at the peak of their powers. The ultimate Hollywood blockbuster and still as larger-than-life today as it was on its release 70 years ago.

The bum-number to end all bum-numbers, Gone with the Wind has it's own special slot in movie history. Allowing for inflation, it's grossed more money than any other movie, got more bums on seats worldwide and can still wow audiences with the ideal casting of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as Scarlet and Rhett, its lavish sets, its lush Technicolor photography, its cast of thousands and the story of the film's making which includes that 'hunt for Scarlett' which has to qualify as the greatest publicity stunt ever pulled.

So, why hasn't it been featured on the good ole Pink Heart Society? Surely a major oversight which I feel honour-bound to correct. Not least because this is the movie that introduced me to the two greatest loves of my life (bar family and friends), namely romance and the movies, in the formative years of my childhood.

So here's how I became a romance & movie junkie. My mum, being a major fan of Clark and living in a tiny two-bedroom flat with four kids - and this being the days before DVDs and multi-channel TV and also the days before parents worried too much about appropriate entertainment for their little darlings - she had no qualms about dragging us along when she got her annual GWTW fix at our local Notting Hill Coronet — where they did a week of screenings every year usually to packed houses.

Now, I have to confess, the first time I saw GWTW, I found it kinda dull, being six and a tomboy and not all that impressed with having to spend four hours in a cinema watching people kissing and emoting in weird clothing. In fact I can distinctly remember playing tag in the aisles with my brother and getting severly reprimanded by the cinema manager.

So let's skip forward several years to my epiphany at 12.

From the moment the film's title scrowled majestically across the screen to the tune of Max Steiner's strident and magnificent theme tune I was blown away by the sheer size and spectacle of the movie. Because, let's face it, GWTW has enough spectacle for about ten movies.

There's the Twelve Oaks Ball, the Burning of Atlanta, the Charity Auction, the Fallen Soldiers in Atlanta's Railway station and that classic 'Red Earth of Tara' sequence at the start when Thomas Mitchell (as Scarlett's dad) and Vivien stand on a hillside in the setting sun and look out at a world that they think will be theirs forever but is about to die a long and painful death. Yeah, it's a cliché now, but this is the movie that invented that cliché!

So my imagination was immediately engaged, I felt as if I had been drawn back into a time and a place that was both strange and foreign and yet magical and intoxicating.

And then Clark Gable as Rhett Butler appears at the bottom of a staircase at the Twelve Oaks ball, looking gorgeous and alpha, and shoots Scarlett a roguish grin which makes her feel he can see 'right through my shimmy' and all of a sudden it wasn't just my imagination that was engaged it was my heart (and my rioting pre-teen hormones) as well!!

So I sat through the rest of the movie, rivetted to my seat, on a rollercoaster ride of blood, sweat, tears, war, peace and raw emotion, falling hopelessly in love with Clark Gable's Rhett and thinking Vivien's Scarlett was a bit of a silly cow (I mean, what on earth did she see in that plonker Ashley?) but liking her anyway for her spirit and her tenacity and her impulsiveness and her refusal to give up no matter what. We should all be so spirited and indomitable (and have Rhett Butler teaching us how to kiss properly!).

Of course, at the time, I took the film entirely at face value. It didn't occur to me that all the black people were slaves (and some, like Butterfly McQueen's Prissy, caricatures) or that Ashley and his friends attack on the settler camp had Ku Klux Klan overtones, and when I did figure it out I was devastated.

But since then I've come to realise that this is a movie of its time, that it's fiction, that while Margaret Mitchell may have glorified the old South and it's slave legacy, in real life she donated proceeds from the book's sale to Morehouse College to help train black doctors in the segregated South and was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr's dad - and that Hattie MacDaniel paved the way for other black actors by being the first to win an Oscar with her heartfelt portrayal as Mammie.

And that nothing is ever as simple or straightforward as it seems.

So I'm totally okay now with watching it and enjoying it in all it's OTT splendour while still being aware of its shortcomings. And if you've got four hours spare this weekend and you fancy transporting yourself to another era when men were men and women wore petticoats and Hollywood knew how to make an event movie without overdosing on CGI, feel free to join me.


And, by the way, thanks Mum!

Heidi's latest Modern Heat Hot-Shot Tycoon Indecent Proposal is out now in the US as a Presents. And her fourth book, Pleasure, Pregnancy and a Proposition is available as a free ebook to download here.

She loves to here from readers on her blog or through her website, so do get in touch.


  1. I do like GWTW and do know that it is a movie of its time. I did not know about MM donating money to Moorehouse College so that is interesting.
    It reminds me of the man who founded Xerox and bought up a large quantity of apartment blocks, and insisting that they be open to all. Little acts that proved to v practical.

  2. Heidi,

    How amazing this hasn't been on PHS earlier! It's a real block buster of a novel, isn't it? I couldn't agree more about you taking something different from it at different ages. Thanks for the info on MM. Like Michelle I didn't know her about her donations.


  3. Hi Michelle and Annie

    I know, isn't that an interesting fact, and I wouldn't have known about it except for the fact that while I was writing this blog in my lunch-hour yesterday I was sitting next to a fellow film buff who had visited MM's home in Atlanta...

    He also told me that at the ball they threw in Atlanta for the Premiere of the movie which Viv and Clark and the rest of the cast attended, Martin Luther King Sr's choir were invited to perform by MM and in pictures of the event, there on the platform in the front row was his son, MKL Jr!! Fascinating, eh.

    Heidi x

  4. It is such a fascinating fact, Heidi.
    I did go and search out. MM and later the Mitchell family support for Morehouse was significant. Interestingly, MLK jr was at Morehouse when MM was actively sponsoring men to go to Morehouse (Morehouse remains an all male college). One just does not know ultimately how much GWTW being published and made into a movie contributed to the Civil RIghts movement.
    I thought it interesting that MM was buried in her Red Cross uniform.

  5. Great blog Heidi! I've always loved GWTW - and I have to confess I haven't seen it for many a year. You've now whetted my appetite - I'll need to re-watch it - soon! Take care. Caroline x

  6. Now I know why you visit the south when you come this way... :-)

  7. Cheers Caroline, but be sure and get refreshments in before you watch, it's one seriously epic viewing experience.

    And yeah, Kim, totally busted!!