Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Yankee Wilkerson and the White Trash Slattery Girl

Perhaps one of the pinnacles of the quest to watch the classics is “Gone with the Wind.” We own a DVD so old that the disc is 2-sided and you have to flip it over halfway through. Does that even happen anymore? I don’t think so. Either way, it took me about 10 years since getting the DVD to actually sit down and watch it.

I planned a movie night with some of my girlfriends to watch this one; I thought it would be an appropriate movie for a girl’s night. We were a mixed lot – B had seen it but it had been awhile, V, like me, had never seen it before, and K has seen it hundreds of times and loves the film so much that “Scarlett” is in her AIM screen name. I was really happy to have the diversity in the room – it really made for a great viewing experience.

There is a whole lot to talk about here, and I know I’m going to miss things so I apologize in advance for that. But hopefully the gist will come through.

Initial thoughts:

  • Wow, I wish I had known it was 4 hours long before sitting down to watch it at 7pm. (I go to bed super early). But it wasn’t a struggle to stay awake like I thought it would be, thank god. I just probably would have started it earlier if I had known.
  • LOVE the costumes. We’ve established that I’m an old soul. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I wish I had been around in Civil War times, but the gowns those ladies wore were outstanding. I love the fact that they literally had bubble butts, as evidenced by the pillow-type padding they wore under their dresses at the small of their backs. Interesting though that their waists were made to be so small, but more on that later.
  • Wow, I hate the character of Scarlett more than almost any character in any film I’ve ever seen. Ever. If I had been around back then I would have hated her too, like most of the other women in the movie. She was the WORST. Spoiled brat, flirt, tease, passive-aggressive manipulative bitch. Can you tell I hated her? Selfish as the day is long, and with literally no redeeming qualities other than her looks (which I was surprised by – I found Vivien Leigh to be rather plain).
  • The greatest love story ever told? I’ve heard it referred to in this way. Yeah. No. I was actually thrown off guard by how little I was emotionally affected by this movie in the romantic sense. I expected to need a box of tissues (it doesn’t take much to make me cry) but I didn’t well up even once. The emotion I felt most was anger –and that was unexpected.

A few overarching points:

  • Portrayal of women

o It was interesting to me to see how the women were portrayed. They all seemed meek (except Scarlett). They had to take naps in the middle of the day while the black slaves fanned them, they had to cinch their waists so tight they literally could not breathe. At one point Scarlett referred to her 20” waist and said “I’ve grown as big as Aunt Piggy” and my jaw dropped. Maybe this is where society gets the image of women needing to have “hourglass figures” – busty girls with small waists and birthing hips with butts so puffy you could rest your drink on them are “what men want.” It’s also alluded to that men don’t like women with healthy appetites- another great message to send. But that was the time, and I get that. I read somewhere that if a Barbie Doll was a real person, her measurements would be 39”/19”/33”. It’s not sustainable, and it’s part of the reason normal girls like me get skewed body image perception. But anyway…that’s a topic for another day.


o I am somewhat ashamed to admit that my knowledge of American History is rather lacking. I’ve never been a “civics geek” or particularly interested in it. As such, I have only a basic knowledge and understanding of the Civil War. Honestly, people taking the citizenship exam probably are required to learn more than I know. It’s sad, but it is what it is. I was glad to have my friend K there, in part because not only does she adore this movie, but she loves history and she lived in the south for several years and could explain the historical references to the war and to the general time period. Without her, I probably would have been very lost. That being said…

o I found it very interesting that the film was set in the south and we were able to see the perspective the confederates had toward the war, the Yankees and slavery during that time. As the saying goes, history is told by the winners. I am from the Northeast, a Yankee through and through. So to hear the characters talk about the fact that they thought the war would be quick and easy, and the Yankees were the enemy, and slavery was just fine…it was all a little jarring. Not surprising, but jarring nonetheless. And yet, it was nice to see that not everyone was on board with going to war. line that struck me in particular was spoken by Ashley: “Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars and when they were over, no one ever knew what they were about.” He would fight for his country (as it were) but understood that it should be the last resort and not something to be excited about. I think we could all take a lesson from that.

· Love/Sex as a Weapon

o As I mentioned before, I hated Scarlett’s character. I got the impression I was supposed to, especially by the end, but even still I wanted to find a redeeming quality in her; I wanted to find something to make me empathetic. I just couldn’t. As the movie went on, she became more manipulative and money-hungry; she would do anything to get ahead. I don’t roll that way, so it’s hard for me not to react with disdain. A few of the points that caught me:

§ Her relationship with Ashley was clearly unhealthy. If that were happening in present times, he (or Melanie) would have taken out a restraining order on him. She loves him (which is fine) and she declares her love for him even after she knows he’s engaged to Melanie (who, by the way was my favorite character). Fine. I will even cut her some slack for that. But he clearly rejects her – it’s clear he’s attracted to her but he doesn’t love her. And she reacts violently – claiming he’d been leading her on and how could he, and he was such an awful person. And this cycle repeats for years – they see each other, she gets him alone, declares her love, he says no and she gets mad. But the part that really made me angry was when she said, “You should have told me years ago that you didn’t love me!” I wanted to throw popcorn at that point, because that to me was the best example of how selfish and vile she was. He HAD told her. Dozens of times. You can be attracted to someone but not love them, and not harbor plans to leave your spouse (the one you DO love) for this person. Physical beauty can make anyone take a second glance, but it doesn’t mean you have to act on it. I have to say I really was pleased with Ashley for standing his ground as much as he did. He got caught up in a kiss, but quickly stopped it. Because Melanie was his true love. Melanie was a good person; kindhearted and generous. Pretty but not overly so, and just a genuine good soul. A little na├»ve, but it’s hard to fault her for that. It’s no surprise he stayed with her (even if they were cousins…weird).

§ Her relationship with Rhett was also unhealthy. If she had opened her eyes, she would have seen that he could have been the one for her. He tried to be. She settled for him, but it really wasn’t settling. He chased her for years (I kind of saw an opposite Ashley/Scarlett chase in Scarlett/Rhett) and she finally gave in. Not because she loved him, but because she had nothing better at the moment. She was twice a widow who didn’t love either of her dead husbands, and it was clear that she was waiting around for something better to be available (Ashley- even though after Melanie died he still didn’t want her). They were a tumultuous pair for several years, and even after she gave birth to their daughter she didn’t change. And after the girl died, they had no chance. The scene where they fought on the staircase was amazing – it was pretty much one of the first times anyone had been truly honest with her – and it hurt to watch.

Overall I really enjoyed this film (though a lot of what I’ve talked about has been negative). I actually liked it a lot more than I thought I would. It was long at times (4 hours- what do you expect), and there were times when I shouted at my television. But I think that was the intent, so I was happy with that result. It was successful in its endeavor. The thing I liked about it the most, after it was over and I was thinking about it, was this: in the end she was left with nothing, which was exactly what she deserved.

Gone with the Wind: 4 out of 5.