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IN SHORT: A Spectacular Restoration of a Spectacular Film
One of the perks of doing this job is that, occasionally, cranky gets to see stuff you never will. In the case of the newly restored Gone With the Wind, that's a shame, because until you have solid knowledge of how lousy the prints have looked for most of its life, you won't appreciate the hours that went into rebuilding this epic.
Then I went to see the entire epic. As the film ended, there was an audible sigh from all of the women in the audience, for the mother of all romance movies. . .
On this one very rare occasion, Cranky will unlock the door and let the film student out. Your are warned . . .
While producer David O. Selznick had used a new filming process called Technicolor twice before, Gone With The Wind sits in the film history books as the first major motion picture epic to be filmed this way. The original Technicolor three-strip exposed three black and white negatives, each representing the density of each primary color. These negatives would be used to trigger a dye transfer to the final positive print, the thinking being that dedicated colors would combine to give a more lifelike image than a combined negative. Problem was, the process was expensive. Later prints were cut on a combined stock that mushed the colors together, and lost close to a third of the screen image because of a new standardized projection ratio.
This being the year of its 60th anniversary, the people at Technicolor have gone back into the vaults and restored the original three strip negative giving us a positive to as close to the original color as possible. New prints have been struck in the original 1:33 projection ratio. Max Steiner's magnificent score has been digitally restored from the original optical recordings and all is well in the world.
It is a glorious four hours in the theater. [I can hear the gulps at monitors all throughout cyberspace: "FOUR HOURS??? NO WAY!!!"] Here's the deal: Selznick took a book which troweled the story on in very thick layers. He wanted to keep as much as possible and he didn't care how long it took. So, in the tradition of the Broadway stage, Gone With The Wind begins with a pre-credits Overture. There is an intermission halfway through, with its own Steiner music, and there is additional exit music. The rest of Steiner's scoring is as magnificent as his work on King Kong. The Main Theme is a classic in it's own right and there's even extra music playing as you walk out of the theater.
As for the story: Scarlett (Vivien Leigh, in her American film debut) loves Ashley (Leslie Howard) who is engaged to his cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), and Scarlett will do anything to be near Ashley including marrying Melanie's brother, Charles (Rand Brooks). Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) loves Scarlett, and pursues her and pursues her but when he gets her finds he can't stand her. As for that troweled on story, you get Jealousy, Murder, Theft, Lust, Deception, Greed, Deceit, Sexual Manipulation, Vanity and a whole bunch of class distinction (both white and black) packed into the 3 hours 42 minutes running time.
For the guys, the Civil War is the background story. If you look closely, you'll also see early work by George Reeves (TV's "Superman") and Eddie Anderson (best known as Rochester from the Jack Benny Show). Though even the name is considered racially stereotyped today, Hattie McDaniels "Mammy" won her the first Academy Award to go to an African-American.
Victor Fleming, who directed most of the film (and that's a whole another story) has staged some spectacular visuals and left for us all the first, and now template, for epic films all the way through Dr. Zhivago and, to a different extent, Reds.
As far as Gone With The Wind goes, teen boys may find themselves bored to tears once the second half hits, but the girls and the adults will all find themselves captivated, I'm sure. Clark Gable's presence is electric. Vivien Leigh is the gorgeous, spoiled brat turned that Scarlett is meant to be. And, frankly my dears, due to the racist setting behind it all, this movie could never be made again. I'm not going to dwell on the historical -- "gone with the wind" is a reference to the lost "culture" and "civilization" of the Old South -- which, I'm sure, descendants of slaves do not look back on fondly. The setting is in a war which trashed our country, most of the black actors are not forced into Steppin Fetchit roles, though the dialog language is sometimes painful. Running through it all are references to "white trash" so everybody takes a hit, and all the main characters mature. Scarlett, from brat to business woman. Rhett, from privateer to patriot.
Cranky doesn't apply the rating scale to revivals or re-releases but he highly recommends Gone With The Wind. From the restoration of the colors to the glorious, glorious music and megawatt star power on the screen, this Gone With The Wind gives you an experience that you can never get from a TV screen.
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