Gone With the Wind needs no apology. Quite simply, whatever one may think of its artistic merits, (and I believe that they are stunning), it takes its place in cinematic history as the most popular film of all time, and all time box-office champion when its earnings are adjusted for inflation. Although the focus of GWTW's sentimentality has become poltically incorrect, the heart of the film remains timeless. It is the tale of Scarlett O'Hara and the conflict between her vain obsession with Ashley Wilkes and charismatic attraction to Rhett Butler set within the context of the American Civil War. The very qualities which enable Scarlett to survive the Civil War and flourish in its aftermath, (her selfish determination, her single-minded obstinacy, her willingness to flout traditional social values), are in fact the very self-destructive aspects of her character which lead to the dissolution of her marriage with Rhett Butler. The audience is subsequently presented with an age-old tragic formula in which one's greatest virtues become their own worst enemies, and the acceptance of responsibility comes just a moment too late. This Aristotelian facet to GWTW unites both halves of the movie, (I've never understood complaints that the second half of the film is inferior to the first due to this unity), and is set within a thrilling framework of astronomic production values. There is an honesty to GWTW, a freshness bound to its lack of naivete. Scenes of amputations, abusive marriages and cynical passions instill it with a stubborn modernity- the film is timeless because the film is honest. Scarlett O'Hara wading through a sea of corpses at the depot, her defiant shadow set against the backdrop of Tara, the burning of Atlanta, Rhett Butler disappearing into the mist, all of these images have ingrained themselves into the American psyche. And of course, Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel deliver some of the finest, nuanced performances ever set down on film. From its stunning production values to its witty script, it is a towering example of storytelling and refuses to lose its momentum after over three hours in the theatre. Other films come and go. There is only one Gone With the Wind.
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