Thursday, June 17, 2010

Storytelling At It's Finest

Current Project: Unnamed Fantasy
Status: Still Worldbuilding

My husband and I went to see Gone With The Wind last night at the Elsinore Theatre. The Elsinore has an amazing classic film series they present in conjunction with a local community college—other films we've seen include The Maltese Falcon and Forbidden Planet. This is the third time I've seen Gone With The Wind in a theater and each time I've come away with something different.

This time, part of the experience for me was my awareness of the responses of the audience around me. I heard more than one person say they'd never seen Gone With The Wind before, even on DVD, before the movie started, and only a few said they'd read the novel. I was surprised at the first statement, but not at the latter. I'd imagine that at a little over 1000 pages, Gone With The Wind appears daunting to most people, and how many people out there assume a Pulitzer Prize winner must, by definition, be dry and/or difficult to read? It's a shame, because Gone With The Wind is pure entertainment. And while the movie trims and focuses in on only certain aspects of the novel, the entertainment value loses nothing in the translation to the big screen.

The first time I saw the movie was shortly after I'd read the novel (in the early '70s). What I remember most about that viewing was that while I loved the movie, I was a bit distracted by the differences—the things they edited or cut. Still, it was one of the most memorable movie going experiences I've ever had, the others being seeing revivals of Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur. The second time I saw Gone With The Wind was in the mid-'80s. I was far enough removed from the novel to just sit back and let the story on the screen flow over me. Wonderful.

This time I found myself analyzing the story, the characters and the audience reaction. Times are different—our lives have been irrevocably changed by the ubiquitousness of the internet and instant access to information and entertainment. I was amused by how many people immediately turned on their cellphones as soon as the last scene faded from the screen at 11 o'clock at night, because, my God, what they must have missed by having to be disconnected for 4 hours! (Yeah. Right.)

So what struck me most this time around? The incredible story-telling, for one thing. How about how GWTW managed to convey the utter devastation of the Civil War without ever once showing a battle (i.e. a movie can be thoroughly entertaining without resorting to an "action scene")? And then there's character development. Vivien Leigh had the part of a lifetime and she makes Scarlet O'Hara come to life; she is Scarlet O'Hara. At the beginning of the movie, Scarlet is only 16 years old, a pampered, spoiled child who expects the rest of her life to be just the way she wants it to be. Watching Scarlet meet the tragedies and challenges that life throws at her while still clinging to her self-centered ways, and yet oh-so-subtly changing as well, even though the most important realizations only come when it's too late. Gah! There's too much to try to describe in this post. Suffice it to say, it's a tour de force performance and an incredible character arc.

The other thing that struck me was the audience reaction. So many people had never seen the original, but everyone has seen the parodies ad nauseam. So, when certain scenes—such as the "curtains into dress" scene—first arrive on screen, there were unexpected titters of amusement as if people thought they were watching yet another parody. By the second half of the movie, though, these unexpected outbursts had disappeared as the audience became completely engrossed in the story. Pretty amazing, really.

And finally, there's Clark Gable. There have been a lot of good looking actors over the years and a lot of actors who can really, well, act. But very few have had the sheer presence on screen that Clark Gable had. I'd take Mr. Gable, shirt sleeves rolled up and devilish glint in his eyes, over just about any actor around today. He was the perfect Rhett Butler to Leigh's Scarlet O'Hara.

Margaret Mitchell refused to write a sequel to Gone With The Wind, and I, for one, am content to leave Scarlet as I last saw her—alone on that staircase, vowing to return to Tara and figure out a way to get Rhett back. I believe she'll somehow manage to do just that.


Genene Valleau said...

OK, I will make the blasphemous confession that I am one of "those" who has never seen this entire movie. Just never got around to it. But after your description of it, I may need to invest four hours of my time in some first-class entertainment. Or maybe I'll read the book--but not both within a narrow period of time.

And maybe I'd better come out of my cave long enough to check what else the Elsinore is offering. :)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I love Gone With The Wind, Debbie. I had no idea it was at the Elsinore. I'd love to take my daughter but we're leaving for the weekend and won't be back until next week!

GWTW was the first romance I read and fell in love with. Granted, it doesn't end happily, but it's a romance at its core, and I loved it. I've read the book several times and hope my daughter will read it someday as well.

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm going to have to dig that out and watch it again.

Deborah Wright said...

Hi Genene! Whether it's the movie version or the book itself, Gone With The Wind is well worth the time invested. Not only is it entertaining and well written, but Mitchell's research of the time period was painstaking. I hope you enjoy it!

Paty Jager said...

I loved the book. Read it in high school. (need to read it again as an adult)I was the geeky girl who only picked the fattest books from the shelves because I didn't want the stories to end.

I have the movie and have tried to watch it, but I can't stand how childish Scarlett is and turn it off.

I think I'll read the book again.

Deborah Wright said...

Hi Elisabeth! GWTW is truly a classic. I agree, it's definitely a romance, even if the ending isn't what we'd consider a "proper" romantic ending today. I firmly believe, though, that Scarlett would find a way to get Rhett back -- she'd shown time and again in the story just how determined she could be and that, as we might say today, failure was never an option for her when she put her mind to something.