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Gone with the Wind epitomizes epic filmmaking

Molly Griffin | Monday, February 20, 2006

Few movies in history are as well-known and well-loved as “Gone with the Wind,” the classic tale of love, loss and survival during the Civil War and Reconstruction. It spawned the American Film Institute’s top most-quoted line in film history – “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” – and is, beyond mere quotes, an established piece of cinema history.

“Gone with the Wind” follows Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), a tempestuous Southern belle, and the struggles she faces before and after the Civil War. Her story presents the war and Reconstruction from the perspective of a woman, and she faces myriad difficulties throughout the course of the film. She defends her home from pillaging armies, keeps her family together in the aftermath of war and ultimately perseveres through sheer determination.

Scarlett’s relationships, including three marriages and one unrequited love, are a major part of the film’s drama, especially when she aligns herself with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Their fiery relationship has become the stuff of cinema legend and has made the names of their characters synonymous with another famous doomed couple – Romeo and Juliet.

The film is an adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Producer David Selznick bought the rights to the book for $50,000, which was an unheard of amount at the time. His investment paid off, though, since “Gone with the Wind” has gone on to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

The film has become a Hollywood staple and is the ultimate standard by which sweeping, epic dramas are judged. The film is epic in every sense of the word – it was the most expensive film at the time, it had more than a three-hour run time, and it had a host of backstage drama surrounded filming. It unabashedly romanticizes the South, and its epic cinematography accentuates the melodramatic storyline.

The combination of an appealing heroine and her romances and the epic downfall of antebellum Southern society makes for a powerful film. “Gone with the Wind” could have easily been a massive failure, but a unique combination of elements came together and allowed it to arguably be one of the greatest films to ever come out of Hollywood.

“Gone with the Wind” was one of the pioneering Technicolor films, and it used the vivid colors to great effect in such famous scenes as the “Burning of the Atlanta Depot.”

The film went through a number of different directors before it was completed. Clark Gable got original director George Cukor fired, and the next director, Victor Fleming, collapsed from nervous exhaustion. Director Sam Wood, along with uncredited help from Cameron Menzies and David Selznick, ultimately helped finish the film.

The film was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 8 of them in 1939. Vivien Leigh won for Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress Hattie McDaniel (“Mammy”) was the first African-American to win an Oscar.

“Gone with the Wind” is a classic in many senses. It established the epic film and a number of tropes that are associated with it. It also assembled a great cast, which created a host of characters indelibly marked on the consciousness of Hollywood and viewers in general. Beyond the specifics, though, it possesses the “it” factor that you can’t quite describe but can always sense while viewing a great movie.