Tuesday, September 30, 2014

5 Blowhard Thoughts about "Gone with the Wind"

On Sunday, I saw "Gone with the Wind" for the first time in its entirety. I had previously seen clips on those lame pre-Buzzfeed AFA "100 Years..." list specials and fallen asleep while it was on TV. But I had never sat through the whole thing, partly because I'm a restless, jumpy, nervous, distracted soul who might be riddled with an undiagnosed case of ADHD.
This is why 42-minute TV shows are my ideal form of entertainment, while two-hour movies can be my nemesis (especially when they're four hours). However, when I pay for something, you can bet I'm going to get my 11 bucks worth. So, Sunday, I paid to see "Gone with the Wind" and sat through the whole thing and would've remained seated come hell, highwater, or an ISIS attack (not to mention snow, rain, heat, or gloom of night). 
Because I paid 11 bucks.
And because I really wanted to see GWTW.
What a rewarding experience! Here are five thoughts that jittered and jostled about in my mind as I watched this heralded, hyped classic for the first time:
1. I think this may be the first movie I've seen that was completely devoted to representing the perspective and culture of the white Southern plantation owner.
This choice didn't always make for comfortable viewing, given the general assessment of the Confederacy in the 21st century, but it was interesting. Oftentimes, it's easy to dismiss the South as wholly wrong and evil during that historical period, while ignoring the human factor and the vibrant culture that was forced to change their ways after losing a devastating war and resisting evolving, enlightened thought on the equality of all humankind.
In the midst of its devotion to patriarchy, racism, and social "caste"-ing, there was a grandness and elegance to Southern culture. I can understand why it was difficult and to a certain degree, continues to be difficult for the South to let go of its past.
2. Vivien Leigh's eyes and eyebrows are mesmerizing, and Clark Gable's charm hasn't frayed around the edges in 75 years.
As Scarlett O'Hara, every choice she makes, every thought she has is communicated through the glint in Leigh's eyes and the arch of her brows. She walks away with every scene she's in, just as Clark Gable floats through every scene he's in.
Having not made a new movie in over 40 years, mainly because of a career-ending event like death, Gable nevertheless hasn't lost his effortless charm to the Clooneys and Damons of the modern screen. His acting is so smooth, even in the traumatic scenes. His line deliveries are so casual, even as he's spouting some of the deadliest zingers and most damning insights. And his general presence is without any affectation. He's not trying to win us over, yet somehow he does.
I don't know if actors can learn much from either of these performers' distinctive traits, because such qualities are natural. You either have them or you don't. You're either born with infectious charm or you're not. You either have expressive, interesting eyes (and eyebrows) or you don't. And if you try to have them, you'll simply seem like you're trying to have something that you don't.
(Aside: Rhett and Scarlett have one of the creepiest marital relationships in cinema history. The scene in which he cradles her head between his hands and says--"Observe my hands, my dear. I could tear you to pieces with them, and I'd do it if it'd take Ashley out of your mind forever. But it wouldn't. So I'll remove him from your mind forever this way. I'll put my hands so--one on each side of your head--and I'll smash your skull between them like a walnut, and that'll block him out"--plays out as if it's a horror movie.)
(Second Aside: There's much to be said about the other actors' performances as well, namely Olivia De Havilland, Leslie Howard, and Hattie McDaniel. This was an ensemble movie, not a two-person play.)
(Third Aside: I'm not sure if I can ever bring myself to watch the 1994 sequel. I like the way this movie ends, I like where it leaves the characters, and I like the idea that their entire existence from beginning to end is contained within the film's 238 minutes. I don't need to know if Scarlett ever tries to get Rhett back, or if he lets her get him back. When the Exit Music card comes up, these characters have exited from my life, never to be seen again. Unless I pay for another ticket or restart the DVD. of course.)
3. So many movies today are galactic epics in which superpowered beings and genetically altered men and women must ward off superpowered foes. I think my generation may have forgotten or discounted the beauty of the sprawling epic.
Because our biggest movies tend to use Earth as a battleground for superpowered destruction, I think it's easy for my generation to forget that an epic story doesn’t have to have planets colliding and godlike powers clashing.
A sprawling epic can be a story in which characters wear their own faces, not masks; in which they're afflicted with only one power: being human; and in which they're dealing with the extremes of everyday life on planet Earth--death, personal demons, bad decisions, war, etc.
"Gone with the Wind" focuses on the survival of the fittest, not from forces beyond, but from forces around them and within them. It asks such resonating questions as: How far will a person go to survive? How far will they go to try to get what they want? How far will they go to resist a changing world?
Scarlett's decision at the end of the movie to go home says so much about the way we react to life and the way in which many of us end up responding to change no matter what has gone before. It’s a profound message, perhaps equally as poignant as “with great power comes great responsibility” or “Hulk smash.”
4. Every soap opera/melodrama/chick flick that has been written since 1939 has been ripping off the story beats from (mostly) the second half of "Gone with the Wind."
Everything that happens to Scarlett and Rhett during the last two hours of the movie usually happens three or four times a season on "Days of Our Lives" and most other soap operas. ("Dynasty" fans should recognize a plot development from "Gone with the Wind" that was used in the first season between the newly married Carringtons.)
This isn't a bad thing necessarily. And "Gone with the Wind" was reflecting and swiping plot devices that had been around in movies and literature prior to it being written and filmed. We storytellers like to believe we're being original, but The Bible, mythology, and Shakespeare used up all of the good plots already. We're left with little choice but to swipe.  
However, I couldn't help but wonder how much of an impact this movie has had on the way we expect film and television story lines to play out today. Given the fact that the GWTW novel is still one of the bestselling books of all time grants some credibility to this thought.
5. I still don't know what the secret to making a classic is, but I'm pretty sure 1939 holds some clues.
At the Academy Awards that year, the following movies were up for Best Picture against "Gone with the Wind": "Dark Victory"; "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"; "Love Affair"; "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"; "Ninotchka"; "Of Mice and Men"; "Stagecoach"; "The Wizard of Oz"; and "Wuthering Heights."
I haven't seen all of those movies, but ponder this: "Mr. Smith" is still considered by many to be the definitive political film, even in all of its idealized glory; "Stagecoach" is considered by many to be the definitive Western; and "The Wizard of Oz" is considered by many to be the definitive fantasy film.
Each of these films share with "Gone with the Wind," perhaps the definitive historical-romantic epic, the following two traits: honesty and simplicity in storytelling. For all of the artistry and all of the debonair and grandeur on the screen, "Gone with the Wind" and its Oscar contenders never stray far from the rudimentary elements of touching an audience's heart and soul: Be honest in how you portray your characters. Be simple in how you tell your story. If you lay that foundation, complexity and nuance will naturally evolve.
Put another way: You don't have to force it. Just tell a good story about fully realized characters. It doesn't matter if that story takes place during the Civil War or in the hallowed halls of D.C. or in the Old West or in a mythical land of Munchkins and witches. The human heart and inner soul will always take center stage no matter the setting.
BONUS OBSERVATION: Lines. Lines. So many good lines. For those like myself who love cleverly structured phrasing and dynamic banter, “Gone with the Wind” delivers.
Here are a few of my favorite ones (courtesy of transcriptionist across the Internet:
Rhett: “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.”
Rhett: “No, I don't think I'll kiss you, although you need kissing badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.”
Scarlett: Sir, you are no gentleman.
Rhett: And you, miss, are no lady... Don't think that I hold that against you. Ladies have never held any charm for me.
Gerald O'Hara: Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that land doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts.
Scarlett: I can shoot straight, if I don't have to shoot too far.
Mammy: Oh now, Miss Scarlett, you come on and eat jess a little, honey!
Scarlett: No! I'm going to have a good time today, and do my eating at the barbeque.
Mammy: If you don't care what folks says about dis family I does! I is told ya and told ya that you can always tell a lady by the way she eat in front of folks like a bird. And I ain't aimin' for you to go to Mr. John Wilkenson's and eat like a field hand and gobble like a hog!
Scarlett: Fiddle-dee-dee! Ashley told me he likes to see a girl with a healthy appetite!
Mammy: What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things, and I ain't noticed Mr. Ashley askin' for to marry you.
Rhett: Would you satisfy my curiosity on a point which has bothered me for some time?
Scarlett: Well, what is it? Be quick!
Rhett: Tell me, Scarlett, do you never shrink from marrying men you don't love?
Scarlett: How did you ever get out of jail? Why didn't they hang you?
Scarlett[after agreeing to marry Rhett] Money does help and of course I am fond of you... If I said I was madly in love with you, you'd know I was lying. You always said we had a lot in common...
Rhett: You're right, my dear. I'm not in love with you any more than you are with me. Heaven help the man who ever really loves you.
And of course, one of the greatest exchanges in movie history:
Rhett: It seems we've been at cross-purposes, doesn't it? But it's no use now. As long as there was Bonnie, there was a chance that we might be happy. I liked to think that Bonnie was you, a little girl again, before the war, and poverty had done things to you. She was so like you, and I could pet her and spoil her, as I wanted to spoil you. But when she went, she took everything.
Scarlett: Oh, Rhett, Rhett please don't say that. I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry for everything.
Rhett: My darling, you're such a child. You think that by saying "I'm sorry," all the past can be corrected. Here, take my handkerchief. Never, at any crisis of your life, have I known you to have a handkerchief.
Scarlett: Rhett! Rhett, where are you going?
Rhett: I'm going to Charleston, back where I belong.
Scarlett: Please, please take me with you!
Rhett: No, I'm through with everything here. I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Scarlett: No! I only know that I love you.
Rhett: That's your misfortune. [turns to walk down the stairs]
Scarlett: Oh, Rhett! [watches Rhett walk to the door] Rhett! [runs down the stairs after him] Rhett, Rhett! Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?
.If you're interested in seeing "Gone with the Wind" on the big screen, it's showing twice tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, whose presentations embody class and historical appreciation. Introductions by Robert Osborne are always welcome. It's gotten to the point where I feel as if I've missed something if I start to watch a classic movie and he hasn't filmed an intro and an outro for it.
Tickets can be ordered on the Fandango website, a company that knows a bit of a lot about staging grand cinematic events.
Here's a trailer to whet your appetite:
I agree with including "Casablanca" in the same league as GWTW, but the other two? In some Mirror Universe, there's a version of GWTW that has a Celine Dion anthem overpowering it..  
Warner Home Video also just released the definitive Blu-Ray edition. So far it's gotten rave reviews and can be found on Amazon.  Of course, if you don't get this edition, wait five years. There'll be an 80th Anniversary set. Or wait 10 years for the 85th Anniversary collection. Twenty-five years will get you the 100th Anniversary edition. Your choice...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Presidents Day: A Human Perspective

On Presidents Day, historians like to engage in one of the more annoying Discussions of Futility, an activity that defines too much of academia and the Internet. But Hell's bells, DoFs generate hits and clicks and God knows civilization now revolves around hits and clicks. 

This particular DoF focuses on who was the greatest and who was the worst President. Now, if your understanding of humanity is no more evolved than "him good, him bad," this DoF makes perfect sense.

But if you think about it and if you read even a CliffsNotes version of history, how many of us can be summed up as "him/her good, him/her bad"? In fact, how many of us want our lives to be summed up that way? Especially since I can point to some past deeds of mine that were good and some that were bad and many that were debatable. In essence, I'm neither good nor bad. I'm human. That's all. Simply human.

So take our Presidents. Unless you're Ron Paul, you probably hold Abraham Lincoln in high esteem. In most of our minds, Lincoln falls into the "him-good" column. But Lincoln did much that was debatable at best, including major violations of Constitutional law that make both Bush and Obama look like pansies in the "Shredding-the-Constitution-to-Pieces" department.

Then, there's Richard Nixon, who is Lincoln's polar opposite and universally hailed as "him bad." Yet Nixon's crimes were rather tame in comparison with some of the shenanigans going on today (and in comparison to some of the actions of his nemesis, JFK, another universally hailed "him good"). Suffice it to say, the NSA has violated more personal space than Nixon ever did. And lived to lie about it longer than Nixon ever did.

But "him-bad" Nixon was also a pioneer in environmental protection and other legislative measures that most of us would throw into the "this-good" column.

Washington, another "him good," had a major tyrannical streak in him. There's a reason why the WashPA area holds a Whiskey Rebellion festival every year, since "him-good" Washington decided to forgo the Constitution when the ink was barely dry to trample all over citizens' rights because their protest against the newly enacted Whiskey Tax didn't suit the ambitions of the federal government (or his private business interests). Washington, though, also did many incredibly impressive deeds that warrant our esteem and the title, "The Father of His Country."

We could also talk about FDR and his Japanese internment program that was being conducted even as he steadfastly and bravely guided this country through a horrible war. We could talk about Bush's misdeeds in Iraq, even as we talk about the incredible work his policies have done to curtail the spread of AIDS in Africa.

Go down the list of our 44 presidents and you can play this game of "that good, that bad" with every single one of them and their actions in office.

So, what am I getting at? This DoF of which president is good and which president is bad is dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. It reduces our presidential history to pre-K levels of human understanding.

I submit instead: There were (and are) no good or bad presidents. There simply were (and are) human presidents.

When you look at our presidents as human beings, the discussion becomes not so much about great and least great but about understanding ourselves and learning how power can cloud and clear our judgment and lead us to deeds that are good, bad, but more often than not in the gray, misty ethical middle... 

tl;dr: Debating who are the greatest and worst presidents is one of our more futile lines of discussion, since all presidents have done good and all have done bad. Instead, we should focus on the humanity of our leaders and learn from their mistakes and their successes.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Few 5:49 a.m. Musings

 We have become a supremely refined culture in our means of communication. But as mankind makes one or two or five significant steps forward technologically, he tends to take at least nine or 10 steps backward intellectually.

Perhaps this is the way the universe keeps us in our place: cosmic pawns unable to realize our full potential, intently focused on taking out the other pawns who aren't externally the same as us, but are nonetheless exactly like us within their hearts and souls.

Therefore, a guy shoots another guy over texting in a theater while waiting for a movie to start that celebrates the heroics of a Navy Seal who was the only one on his team not killed in a stupidly designed mission that was part of an idiotically conceived war. The movie itself misdirects our attention from the delusions and dishonesty behind that idiotically conceived war as it lays at our feet a true-blue, modern-day laudable hero. 

After all, what would mankind do without something/someone to worship, honor, and adore? 

("Thinking for themselves" does not qualify as an answer because to arrive at that answer you'd have to actually think for yourself and that would require you to stop marching in lockstep with everyone else, ruining the intricate timing of the parade of humanity.)

When a true-blue, modern-day journalist takes note of the senselessness behind the very war that killed these men, the true-blue, modern-day hero--without hesitation and dare I say, the aforementioned thought--redefines the word senseless to mean "my friends died for nothing," which, of course, it does not mean.

In New Jersey, a prominent politician has been found to have corruption in his administration. Listening to the airbrushed, prettified hacks who read and report the news (as opposed to that increasingly rare species of true-blue, modern-day journalist), a novice might conclude corruption and political paybacks from public servants is unusual business as opposed to business as usual.

These airbrushed, prettified hacks--ever the inquisitive ones--naturally focus their collective attention on the most important facet of this story: how this scandal affects the prominent politician's chances in the 2016 presidential election.

And to make themselves feel clever, they conceive headlines that employ fat puns. Because the prominent politician is morbidly obese, you see. And being morbidly obese is funny, dontcha know. And fat jokes are funny, too, because Hell's bells, we're all still vying to be King of the Schoolyard Playground.

Thanks to the technological advancements of the human species, we now have access to this vast pantheon of original thought for every second of our lame-brain existence.

And the more access we have, the lamer our brains seem to become. 

Did I mention the Golden Globes had its highest ratings in seven or so years?

Is this the future, kids? 

Someone should warn Captain Picard...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Did It End or Did It Begin and Who Really Gives a Flying &%$*?!

Where does this all end? When does this all end? How does this all end? Will this all end? Will it actually be the end or the beginning of the end? Has it already ended, but we don't know it? Does it really matter if it's ended or that it will end or that it may never end? Why do we care if it's ended? Could the end be any worse than the beginning, which was guaranteed to end? Why does it have to end? Why did it have to begin? What's the point to the end? What was the point to the beginning? When the end comes, will I like it better than the beginning and everything in-between? Who really cares if it began or ended or never was or never will be or never is indefinitely into time and space? Why end when it never had to begin?

These were all questions that went through my head as I wasted the 15th hour of my life watching the season finale of Hostages...

...and my muddy-headed questions were more clearly defined than the plot of this befuddling, ill-conceived series ever was!

I'd write more, but honestly, why waste more of my time thinking about it?

At least it had a (kinda) cool title card...

Monday, January 6, 2014

For This Post, I'm Keeping My Mouth Shut, My Tongue Tied, and My Lips Sealed...

I have nothing to add to this columnist's response. Well, nothing that would be constructive if verbalized...

It's a Duke Kind of Morning...

With polar bears rapidly migrating to the Ohio Valley and other parts of the Great American Northeast, I was trying to find some music appropriate for what some say is the most depressing day of the year, yet also appropriate for entering the Ice Age and for warming our chilly souls.

Duke Ellington. Jeep's Blues. 1956.

I hear this piece plays an important role (pun possibly intended) in this movie starring Batman, Lois Lane, Rocket Raccoon, and Katniss Everdeen...

...a movie I was eager to see even before I learned about the soundtrack.

And honestly, doesn't Christian Bale look like he's dressed in a Matches Malone-type disguise?

Well, close enough, anyway.

American Hustle is also not the first time Batman and Lois Lane have been in cahoots...

I trust you all have a good start to your week. I would like to record here for posterity that in my neck of the woods we are in the midst of a 55-degree temperature drop. To frame it another way, from midnight last night until midnight tonight, the temperature will fall from 50 degrees (a record warm for our area at this time of year) to -5 degrees (a record cold for our area at this time of year). There are many unclean words to use to describe this. Let's use a clean one, though: crazy. 

I'm assuming it's worse in other sections of the world, of course. I mean, -5 is practically a heat wave in some parts of Russia.

In any event, stay warm and try to keep rational thought thawed out even as the temperature plummets...