Tuesday, December 15, 2009

As God Is My Witness.

Jose here with a post seventy years in the making.

On December 15th, 1939 the city of Atlanta celebrated what President Jimmy Carter would later call "the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime." The entire city had been holding a celebration for the previous three days which had them decorate their houses in Civil War era style, lined their streets with Confederate flags and hold the largest costume ball seen to the date.

The worldwide premiere of Gone With the Wind would become an event of such magnitude that even a recent bestseller dedicated an entire chapter to the effect it had on its characters.
If that was only the premiere, can you imagine the effect the movie had on the world?

Unrivaled to this day in scope, box office and critical acclaim (although that has come with its share of controversy...) the film remains the epitome of Hollywood's Golden Age. Unlike revered classics of the era though, it has been able to remain timeless and thoroughly enjoyable (I dare you to mention any other four hour long movie which you can sit through without taking a look at your watch).

Most of the film's success is owed to what I consider to be the greatest Oscar winning performance of all time: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara. The search for the perfect actress to play the iconic role is legendary and as such also remains a fascinating part of Hollywood lore. Watching the result is obvious that David O. Selznick made the right choice.

Few actresses have been as volatile, fearless and relentless as Leigh, who in Scarlett found a perfect outlet to channel a continent's entire view of upcoming disaster. Gone With the Wind was made during the time leading to WWII and while its American Civil War plot had little to do with the conflict involving the Nazis, the irreparable changes Scarlett will go through represent problems humanity has faced for as long as it has existed.

Even if Scarlett spends most of the film acting like what some would call a spoiled bitch, she has a surprising side filled with the kind of strength that would even lead to murder.
In the film's centerpiece she delivers the greatest speech captured on film.

The scene not only marks the ending of the movie's first part, it also establishes a point of no return after which none of the characters are the same they were in the two previous hours.
The scene, which was beautifully shot by Ray Haller and Ray Rennahan, also marked a landmark for Hollywood aesthetics.

Notice how we can't really see Scarlett as she addresses the heavens. Shot against light in what has to be one of the most beautiful use of matte paintings, it's as if not even Scarlett recognizes who she's become. As she raises her body she remains in the dark, but the second when she starts talking there's a timid light that illuminates her face (metaphor for inner enlightenment perhaps?).
As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill.
Then the camera moves one more time and once again we only see her silhouette as she repeats
As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.
She's once again in the darkness, ignorant of what the future will bring. But this time she'll be prepared to face it.

If you have seen it, you know what I'm talking about and should put your DVD or Blu-ray in the player tonight and commemorate its anniversary. If you haven't seen it what are you waiting for? Tonight's a perfect chance for you to do so.


Will said...

The greatest American film ever made, indeed. My favorite film of all time.

Catherine said...

Such an iconic speech. I can't be the only one who mentally monologues it before taking an exam or preparing for an awkward meal with extended family or heading into a job interview, right...?

Hilary Swank said...

I just saw this movie two weeks ago and loved it. Sadly I sent it back to netflixs, so the whole watching it tonight wont work out xD

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Kyle Pinion said...

As a resident of Atlanta, I want to say that I'm completely sick of this as everything I ever see is "Tara, Margaret Mitchell, Tara, Margaret Mitchell, 'birthin no babies' etc" but then I watch the movie again and think..."wow, what a great picture and he made the Wizard of Oz that same year??"


Kyle -- well he made half of those pictures at least . I was so fascinated to hear about which parts you can see his hand in when Mike and Nick and I discussed this movie because I really didn't know which parts which director did. But now I see. It's totally visible.

Glenn Dunks said...

Good god this is a brilliant movie. It's so good that accidentally watching the second half first didn't even matter!

Kelsy said...

While I love the book more than anything, the film does a great job adapting the book. Vivian Leigh does an admirable job trying to bring Scarlett to the screen, but Clark Gable is pitch perfect in my mind. I think his best dramatic acting work is in this film. Happy Birthday, GWTW!

adelutza said...

Even to this day I can't believe what a role is Scarlet O'Hara for an actress.And even more amazing is that Vivien Leigh hit all the marks and run away with it. With such a pressure on her , and all the changes in directors, script modifications and everything, she's still one of the best performances ever.
And the new blu-ray disc is unbelievable. It's like a saw the movie for the first time again.

NP1982 said...

My all-time favourite movie. I was so excited when they released the 70th anniversary discs!

Evan said...

I've never seen Citizen Kane, but I have a hard time imagining a movie better than "Gone with the Wind."

The sunset scene, the burning of Atlanta, and my personal favorite cinematic moment, the scene where the camera pans out at the hospital... it doesn't get better than those camera shots.

And I totally agree that Leigh's is the best Oscar-winning performance. It's astounding.

Paul Outlaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Outlaw said...

I'm with Kelsy. Gable slays me in this—it is as if Rhett Butler jumped off the pages of Mitchell's novel. What a performance.

RTM said...

That speech by Scarlett is one of my top five GWTW scenes: http://wp.me/pxXPC-xP

This movie is full of iconic scenes and dialog, which is part of what makes it so timeless.

I haven't seen Citizen Kane either, but I'm glad I've saw this one.

Chris Na Taraja said...

I can't believe I haven't seen this move yet!