So the other night at the Fox Theatre, I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time.
I know this might be shocking for some of you…probably for the non-movie buffs and non-denizens of the U.S. South it doesn’t mean quite so much. But let’s face it: it’s just hard to find time to sit down and watch a four-hour movie, especially if you consider that, well, what can you turn the experience into? You can’t review it, because, well, it’s seventy years old. Little late to the party on that one. You can’t write a regular sort of article or retrospective because, again, it’s seventy years old. Most everything you could want to say about it has been said.
But here I am anyway, so what am I about to go on about?
I’d like to talk about what struck me as I watched Act I of the miniseries-sized drama: towards the end I was getting some serious deja vu (or pre-ja vu, or whatever it’s called considering this movie came first) in regards to a subgenre I know a thing or two about: that of the post-apocalypse.
[ad#longpost]We’re not talking about the judgement of some mythical God like the characters of the narrative would have droned on and on about. No, this qualifies because we get to watch the Old South’s culture coming to a complete and utter ruin. And into that ruin we get a lot of post-apocalyptic drama.
I don’t pretend that this is a wholly original concept on my part. While nobody ever said to me that Gone With the Wind would remind me of the sub-genre in question I’m still fairly certain somebody somewhere has written a thesis on this subject and probably researched it much better than I did. Which is to say researched it at all since I’m just pulling all of this out of my nether regions.
Let’s start with this: “Sherman!” the screen positively shouts, naming the death-bringers like somebody else might yell “Gojira!” But instead of actually seeing the guy in the rubber suit, the American “Yankee” army is largely unseen. Apart from the soldiers who are occupying the defeated South, like in the jail sequence with Rhett, or the deserter Union soldier who tries to loot Tara, they’re a faceless Force of Nature. In fact, apart from the overlaid footage of men on horseback during one of the narrative title cards, the only “army” seen is when Scarlett is leading her party back to Tara. And then, the army is just thundering hooves on the bridge above them, while Scarlett and company seek shelter underneath. Granted, my guess is this was for budgetary reasons and not “Let’s make people think ‘Force of Nature'”–if this were made today you know we’d have ginormous CG battles–but one never knows.
As the characters passed through all of that Georgian wasteland, I was also reminded of The Road, the McCarthy book that is due to be the feel-bad movie of the year soon, in which father and son make their way over an even more blasted landscape, constantly starving and afraid of the unseen menaces lurking about.
This idea of the faceless Bad Thing reminds me of so many post-apocalyptic films in which the Big Boom might be named but seldom explained. In Testament or When the Wind Blows, for example, there’s not a great deal of explanation for why the Powers That Be decided to blow the tits off each other. But it happened and there’s the mushroom clouds and now here we are, making do in the aftermath. Usually with the entire infrastructure we knew gone: in the case of Gone With the Wind you’ve got mother dead, father mad, sisters sick, food gone, the only able-bodied people left don’t know how to tend to what needs tending to and no help coming.
Speaking of post-nuclear holocaust films–which so morbidly fascinated me as I grew up in the 80s–was I the only one, as Scarlett watched them in horror take off a man’s leg with no anesthetic, who was reminded of the hospital scenes in the British post-nuke film Threads? Christ, I hope I was. And if you haven’t seen that film, it’s one of those that you can’t unsee, so I highly recommend not seeking it out. Indeed the scenes of carnage where Scarlett goes out into Atlanta to find bodies strewn through the street, it could be just about any film or book where an outbreak occurs and leaves the dead and dying uncared for. The Stand naturally springs to mind.
I find it interesting also that we have a baby thrust into the midst of all this madness. The whole life in the midst of death equals hope business has been around a long time, most recently used in the movie based on my old drama teacher’s play, 20 Years After. And just a few years ago was completely perverted in the Dawn of the Dead remake.
Did I enjoy Gone With the Wind? I don’t see how you couldn’t. Hattie McDaniel is priceless. Clark Gable is fantastic. I wanted to punch Scarlett O’Hara in the face. So it was all good. See what happens when you get an SF/F geek to watch a classic movie, though? He starts getting callbacks (or callforwards, perhaps) to all kinds of crazy things…