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M A R C H    1 9 7 3

"This Moviest of All Movies"
by Andrew Sarris

Gone With the Wind belongs to the ages sort of. Odds are you'll never find it booked as a required film assignment at any of the burgeoning film academies. For one thing it's too long, though at three and three-quarter hours it still seems shorter than the average avant-garde short. Blacks can object justifiably to the shrilly servile hysterics of Butterfly McQueen and even to the once admired but onerously displaced maternal massivity of Hattie McDaniel's Mammy for Vivien Leigh's luminously lily-white Scarlett O'Hara. Highbrows have never been able to bring themselves to admit that they enjoyed all the wheezing windings of Wind except on the most furtive level of flick worship. Hence, this moviest of all movies almost never pops up on "serious" all-time Ten Best lists. Indeed, the late Otis Ferguson derided the film (even before he had seen it) as "Clark of Seven Gables" amid complaints that it ran for all of four hours and cost all of four million dollars.

To all this elitist disdain one must counterpose the film's popular mandate around the world as the single most beloved entertainment ever produced. And "produced" is the operative word here, not "created" or even "directed." Gone With the Wind came out steaming from the crowded kitchen and many cooks of David O. Selznick: two directors (George Cukor and Victor Fleming), a platoon of writers (all but Sidney Howard uncredited), and a cast of thousands. I can never hope to explain to my more serious film students why the gnarled trees and stately mansions of William Cameron Menzies, the morosely melodic score of Max Steiner, and the ineffable beauty and cruelty of Vivien Leigh could cast such a hypnotic spell even on moviegoers who should have known better. It is much, much easier to analyze the antiseptic profundities of Potemkin and Persona than the infectious banalities of Gone With the Wind. Let us say simply that there is something in most of us that will always treasure Selznick's flair for old-fashioned, full-bodied narrative even as we pay lip service to the most anemic forms of cerebration in the modern cinemah. And, ultimately, there is Vivien Leigh's smile on the screen like a sliver of sunlight piercing the heart.
Return to Flashback: "Gone With the Wind."

Copyright © 1973 by Andrew Sarris. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; March 1973; "This moviest of All Movies"; Volume 231, No. 3; page 58.

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