Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited
When I was about ten years old, my mother sat me down one Saturday afternoon and said “Sara, today we’re going to watch Gone with the Wind. You just need to see it.” That was over a decade ago, and I’ll never forget that cinematic experience, even if it did just involve sitting on the couch in front of a thirty-two-inch television and eating cherry turnovers with my mom.
I’ve always loved movies, but seeing Scarlet O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) taunt and toy with the people around her and demand what she wants had a profound effect upon my views of womanhood in both cinema and the rest of the world. Gone with the Wind remains, to this day, one of the few films I feel the need to re-visit on a yearly basis. And, despite her flaws, I still look up to Scarlet O’Hara with her green velvet curtain dress and “fiddle-di-dee” mentality.
If you know anything about classic Hollywood and the studio system, you’ve probably heard of the monumentally challenging efforts it took to bring Gone with the Wind to the screen in 1939. Its entire production, with the two year search to find the right Scarlet O’Hara, fifteen different screenwriters, and five different directors, is flat-out legendary. The film never should have worked on any level and yet, somehow, it did and still does for this generation. If adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind is the highest grossing film of all time, and it continues to be played regularly on television, DVD, theatrical revival circuits, and in the near future, Blu-ray.
In her latest book, Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited, feminist film theorist Molly Haskell succinctly analyzes the history and hubbub of the landmark production as both a movie and a novel. She traces the film’s success, in terms of both box office gross, and at times, cinematic art, back to its three pillar figures: author Margaret Mitchell, producer David O. Selznick, and actress Vivien Leigh. Haskell sorts through their lives and their methods as if she were looking at pictures in a personal scrapbook and re-living the memories. Their towering personalities were the primary contributions to this melting pot of a film that made it work. As a classic film geek and fan of woman’s pictures, my favorite parts of the book dealt with the placement of Scarlet O’Hara as a feminist icon and heroine. Is she or isn’t she? Everyone feels differently.
A significant number of film theory/history books feel mundane because of their intense dedication to evoking every possible fact and foible. Frankly, My Dear, while still intensely dedicated, never feels monotonous or burdensome. Haskell, as a real Southern belle, feels at home in dissecting the step-by-step moments of Gone with the Wind and understanding the flaws and virtues instilled in its pages and celluloid as both a true-blue woman’s picture and racially confused melodrama. She’s as passionate about Gone with the Wind as Scarlet O’Hara is about her beloved Tara. And like Ms. O, Haskell digs deep into what she loves and won’t let go.
Whether you like the film and book or not, I think anyone who’s interested in history or pop culture will find Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited remarkable because of Haskell’s passionate account and for the sheer enjoyment of learning about something bigger than life actually being made for mass consumption. Like Gone with the Wind, I’ll definitely return to Frankly, My Dear on a regular basis and happily place it on my bookshelf right next to my other favorite film books. And if you don’t like that, I don’t give a damn!