Directed by Victor Fleming
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989
I first watched it on July 17th, 2019
What It’s About:
Gone with the Wind follows the story of Scarlett O’Hara, an ambitious young woman, and her experiences living in the South before, during, and after the Civil War. Madly in love with a man named Ashley (who is already married to another woman), Scarlett will do just about anything to win his affection. Meanwhile, a similarly free-spirited man named Rhett Butler is determined to woo Scarlett.
My experience with the film:
I first watched this in the summer of 2019, and I don’t think I was fully aware of the controversy surrounding the film at the time. I say this because I’m strangely self-conscious about what I watch in public (I don’t like watching things that I might consider embarrassing), and I decided to watch this while flying home to visit my family during a summer break in between semesters of grad school. (It was something that I pre-downloaded to my tablet, it wasn’t “in-flight entertainment”). I didn’t get very far into the film before I realized “oh no, there’s gonna be some racist stuff in here, isn’t there?” I can’t remember whether it was because I didn’t have anything else downloaded (it’s a four-hour film, after all), or if it was just because I was determined to check this off of my to-watch list (specifically, as a part of my quest to watch all of the Best Picture winners, that I’ve mentioned before), but I proceeded to watch, only to pull down the notification bar of my tablet to cover any scenes that I found particularly embarrassing. (I think I also turned off the subtitles, which I tend to have on by default.)
There is obviously a lot that can (and should) be said about the problematic aspects of this film (not just the racist stuff, of which there is plenty, but also the marital rape scene, complete with the troubling implication that “she actually wanted it anyway”.) Much of that discourse has been covered by individuals that are much more well-qualified than I to discuss it, and I would point you toward the many resources that I have linked below, especially the YouTube videos.
I completely understand why some people don’t enjoy the film (even when people don’t enjoy it for reasons other than its problematic content). That said, while its problems made me uncomfortable, both during my initial viewing, and the rewatch that I did before writing this entry, I enjoyed the film overall. Or rather, I enjoyed a few specific aspects, namely: the grand/epic scope, the acting, and the melodramatic and tragic nature of the story.
The scope is captured by the score and the visuals of the film (comprised of elements like the cinematography, the large production design, and the visual effects), and I’m a bit of a sucker for movies that feel like “big” productions.
Likewise, while neither Scarlett nor Rhett are particularly virtuous characters, the two leads play the two toxic individuals with such charisma that I can’t help but enjoy seeing them on the screen (especially together). The tragedies of their own making are sad but strangely cathartic to watch. I guess I’m also a sucker for “tragedies that involve unlikeable but charismatic characters” (see: 2014’s Whiplash). It should also be said that Melanie is the real MVP of the film, and her story is one of the biggest (and most undeserved) tragedies.
In the end, does this film deserve a place in history? I don’t know, and I don’t feel qualified to say. I would again point you toward the videos linked below. There’s a lot about this film that is great; there’s a lot about this film that is terrible. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who aren’t already interested/curious enough to watch it, but for those who choose to do so, they may find aspects worth enjoying buried underneath layers of troubling elements.
Gone with the Wind (1939) is available to stream at the streaming services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/gone-with-the-wind
To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:
- The Blu-ray pictured above has an extensive amount of special features. Most (but not all) of those features are also included on Movies Anywhere.
- A brief introduction to the film from Turner Classic Movies that provides some historical context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DF2FKRToiQ
- “The Complicated Legacy of Gone with the Wind”, an hour-long panel discussing the legacy of the film from Turner Classic Movies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvoA1ke7l4g
- The official National Film Registry essay for the film: https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/gwtw.pdf
- A three-part series of articles about the film from The Horse’s Head, another blog that is also dedicated to watching and discussing the NFR films:
- The original 1939 review from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/1939/12/20/archives/the-screen-in-review-david-selznicks-gone-with-the-wind-has-its.html
- The original 1939 review from Variety: https://variety.com/1939/film/reviews/gone-with-the-wind-2-1200412649/
- A 1998 review from Roger Ebert: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-gone-with-the-wind-1939
- An examination of the historical context of the novel (and the film, to a lesser extent) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G24rgrtBa04
- A two-part video series “Should We Still Be Watching ‘Gone with the Wind’?”
- The Wikipedia page for Gone with the Wind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gone_with_the_Wind_(film)
For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory.