I usually don’t like “old movies.” But after reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Margaret Mitchell of over a thousand pages, I wanted to flesh out my images and feelings, so I watched the movie.
Producer David O. Selznick created the 1939 movie based on the book, and turned it into nearly four hours’ worth of screen time on a then-astronomical 3.7-million-dollar budget. It would become one of the most beloved movies of all time.
I have said this many times before in this blog: you cannot compare the book and the movie, yet I do it every time. The movie stands on its own, in its splendor, its acting, its score and its message. Having just finished reading the book, and even though I had never seen the movie before, I was able to predict exact dialog at times, quoting ahead of time what the actors were going to say and telling what they were going to do.
At times the acting, mostly that of the minor characters, annoyed me as wooden or theatrical. Most of the time I felt like I was watching a play rather than seeing a movie. Of course, I have to attribute this to the technology of movie-making in 1939. The music sometimes annoyed me, constantly playing the primary score. I remember thinking how nice it would be if the music sometimes just stopped. The costumes and the sets were splendid.
The movie is a love story, a period piece, a family saga and a war epic. But if focuses on the people, and the human story. Which is about three percent of the substance of the book Gone with the Wind. Reading the book digs deep into the Southern way of life in the Civil War era. It explores the relationship of the white population with that of the slaves. It illustrates profoundly how the war changed the South. The movie does none of that.
Watching some the scenes connect, from one second to the other, realizing that two years of story were just skipped, I kept missing substance. There was not a single mention of Will who took over Tara after the war. There was nothing about the Ku Klux Klan. Scarlett’s completely inadequate motherhood was completely skipped. Her first two children from her first two husbands do not exist. The endless waiting for the soldiers coming back from war is handled in a minute. The advance of the Union Army on Atlanta, the siege and eventual conquering is not shown. The raping of the land and its people, the stealing of crops and livestock, the burning and looting of the properties is all simply represented as hints or onscreen captions.
Of course, how would you do it otherwise. Every second of the 233 minutes was full of action. You could not do it in 2000 minutes. There is just too much information in an epic, and if you really want to experience an epic, you have to read it.
I know this is one of the greatest movies of all time. I enjoyed watching it, but I enjoyed it only because I had just read the book.