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M A R C H    1 9 7 3

The Romantic Is Still Popular
by Stanley Kauffmann

I can't remember why I saw GWTW a second time, in 1960. The first time was the year it came out, 1939. I hope never to see it again: twice is twice as much as any lifetime needs. But it's remarkable that after spending almost eight hours of my existence in front of this film, I can remember only two points vividly. I can kid myself that I remember much discussed moments -- the crane shot of the wounded at Atlanta, Hattie McDaniel talking herself down the long stairway, and so on. But what really sticks in my mind is, first, the title itself, floating in with the wind from right to left, one giant billowy letter at a time; and second, a scene among Southern gentlemen near the beginning, before the outbreak of war. Rhett Butler makes a truthful remark about the South's poor chances, and a young hotblood challenges him to a duel. Rhett takes the youth's impetuosity calmly and turns away. Another man tells the gloating youth that his life has just been spared, for Butler is the best pistol shot in the South.

I suppose this means that the film is most significant to me as a "property" and that only one of its cavalier flourishes struck a deep response in my own system of fantasies.

The most interesting way to consider GWTW today is in comparison with the film that may eventually surpass it in profits, The Godfather. Look at the similarities. Both originated in best-selling American novels. Both are very long. Both are about predators. Both are ultra-American yet are very closely allied to Europe (Walter Scott and Sicily). And, most important, both live within codes of honor, and both codes are romances. William R. Taylor has shown, in Cavalier and Yankee, that the "Walter Scott" antebellum South was largely a literary fabrication, concocted at the time, not retrospectively; as for The Godfather, our newspapers show us daily that "They Only Kill Each Other" is just another escape hatch to allow us to blink facts. "Us," by the way, means the world, not just the United States, since the whole world flocks to both films.
Return to Flashback: "Gone With the Wind."
And that's interesting, too, because it leads to a difference, not a likeness. In a new age, when the "realistic" Godfather is packing them in, the romantic GWTW is still popular. There's a crumb of comfort in that: at least culture is still more pluralist than some of our propagandists would have us believe.


Copyright © 1973 by Stanley Kauffmann. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; March 1973; "The Romantic Is Still Popular"; Volume 231, No. 3; page 61.

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