Re-watching Problematic Movies: Gone with the Wind (1939)

In the late ’90s, one of my history classes (in university) examined this iconic film. Our 30ish professor (like many of us) grew up watching GWTW; she considered it very problematic, yet also admired Scarlett O’Hara as an empowered woman. I recall her getting a bit emotional about the story; I’m sure there are millions of others who admired parts of this movie (and novel). Upon closer examination, we find mixed messages, not only w/ regard to history and slavery, but re: war, social codes, love, and marriage.

I’ll think about that tomorrow. -Scarlett’s motto

No doubt this movie (made for less than $4M) was a technical feat! Students of film have been studying it for decades; on recent viewing, I was esp. struck by how well light and shadow were used (production design). There are 50+ speaking roles and 2,400 extras. Out of the 1,400 actresses interviewed for the part of Scarlett, 400 were asked to do readings. Here are some of the actresses considered for the role (who screen tested): Tallulah Bankhead, Susan Hayward, Paulette Goddard, Lana Turner, Jean Arthur, and Joan Bennett. GWTW also used special effects, most notably the burning of Atlanta. Scarlett is described as having green eyes; Leigh’s eye color was corrected (post-production) from blue to green. As she could not dance, Leigh has a body double in the charity auction ball scene. One thing which amazed my mom, but it’s true- Leigh tightened her corset to 18″ (as Scarlett comments)!

Did you know GWTW went through several directors? David O. Selznick (producer) fired George Cukor as director b/c (as a gay man), Selznick though he would be unable to properly direct love scenes between Rhett and Scarlett. Cukor (who had a reputation of getting strong performances from women) continued to privately coach both Leigh and de Havilland on weekends. The scene where Mammy reprimands Scarlett for not eating is one of the few remaining in the final film shot by Cukor. Leigh wasn’t happy w/ macho director Victor Fleming’s style; when she asked for constructive advice, he said to “take the script and stick it up her royal British ass.” Of course, classic movie fans know that Leigh was involved w/ Laurence Olivier during this time; she must’ve gotten a lot of advice from him!

The Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865), which both set slaves free, have minimal effects on the plot of GWTW. The house servants at Tara (Mammy, Pork, Prissy and Uncle Peter) continue to serve the same masters and their families. We are to assume that they don’t want to leave or have nowhere to go. Scarlett thinks to herself (in the novel): “There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy.” If this isn’t romanticizing “the Old South” (antebellum) days, then I don’t know what is!

What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things, and I ain’t noticed Mr. Ashley asking for to marry you. -Mammy (telling it like it is) to Scarlett

When I watched it as a kid, I was surprised to see that Mammy was more concerned w/ propriety than Scarlett; I also saw that she was crucial to this story and has some memorable lines. After Scarlett and Rhett marry, he admits to his new wife that he wants Mammy’s good opinion. As an adult, I realized that- of course- Mammy had to know all the rules which governed the behavior of young ladies! Her life was inextricably tied w/ that of her owners, the O’Haras, and primarily Scarlett. Miss Ellen, Scarlett’s mother, seems to have been the ideal woman in Mammy’s eyes; Scarlett doesn’t quite measure up.

The fact that Hattie McDaniel would be unable to attend the premiere in (segregated) Atlanta outraged her friend Clark Gable; he threatened to boycott the premiere unless she could attend. McDaniel (in her mid-40s) became the first African-American to be nominated for, and win, an Academy Award. She was criticized by some African-Americans; she commented that she’d “rather make seven hundred dollars a week playing a maid than seven dollars being one.” Before she hit the big screen, McDaniel had a career as a singer, traveling across the South (as many black performers did in the early 1900s). Butterfly McQueen (who played Prissy) said that her stereotypical role totally put her off acting. Who could blame her!? Prissy is characterized as lazy and deceitful. In one scene, Scarlett slaps her hard on the face- ouch! McQueen went on to pursue graduate education in Political Science.

On my recent re-watch, I noticed that the field foreman from Tara, Big Sam (Everett Brown), was given two memorable scenes. Big Sam is walking through Atlanta (w/ his fellow male slaves) on the way to digging ditches for the Confederate Army. He is spotted by (a very excited) Scarlett; they catch up on news from Tara. Later on (after the Civil War), Big Sam is the one who rescues Scarlett after she is attacked by a white man while driving her buggy through the “shanty town.” He recognizes her voice, runs to the road, and beats up the would-be robber- what a heroic moment!

I’m saying very plainly that the Yankees are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coalmines… and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves and… arrogance. -Rhett comments to gentleman gathered together for the ball at Twelve Oaks

One of the main reasons to watch GWTW is Gable (then in his late 30s); he is full of charm, danger, mischief, and (after Bonnie is born)- a bit of vulnerability. As my dad commented years ago: “Why is Scarlett obsessed w/ Ashley when Rhett is around!?” Though he’s not gung-ho about the war (neither is Ashley), Rhett does eventually succeed as a “blockade runner.” Rhett is not about “the cause” (slavery), he’s in it for profit and excitement. After the burning of Atlanta, he joins “the lost cause.” Once their marriage grows sour, the troubled (and potentially violent) side of Rhett emerges. Modern audiences may cringe at the infamous (and quite disturbing) scene where he carries Scarlett up a long stairway, saying he “won’t be shut out” (of her bedroom) one night.

Author Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler was Basil Rathbone. The only four actors David O. Selznick seriously considered for the role were Gable, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and Ronald Colman. The chief impediment to Gable’s casting was his MGM contract; this was the era of contract players. He was not drawn to the material, didn’t see himself in a period film, and doubted that he could live up to the public’s anticipation. He was persuaded by a $50,000 bonus, which would enable him to divorce his second wife and marry actress Carole Lombard. Gable disliked his most famous film, which he called “a woman’s picture.” Leigh said she hated kissing Gable b/c of his bad breath. He was rumored to have false teeth (a result of too much smoking). Gable would sometimes eat garlic before his kissing scenes w/ Leigh- ugh!

Open your eyes and look at me. No, I don’t think I will 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. -Rhett says to Scarlett (after he returns from Paris)

Selznick always wanted Leslie Howard to play Ashley Wilkes, but Howard felt that he was too old (the character was supposed to be about 21 at the start of the film). My dad agrees w/ that! Howard wore extra makeup and a hairpiece to make him appear younger. Selznick was only able to persuade him to take the part by offering him a producer credit on Intermezzo (1939). Vincent Price, Dennis Morgan, Douglass Montgomery, and Melvyn Douglas were among the actors who tested for the part of Ashley. Many viewers on Twitter (during my re-watch) were annoyed w/ the fact that Howard kept his English accent. Also, some women noted that he was a jerk for “giving Scarlett hope” and “leading her on” in several scenes. I realized that scene where Ashley and Scarlett talk re: maybe running away from Tara (and their responsibilities) was done very well- acting and the look of it.

While Scarlett is colorful/rebellious/independent, Ashley’s cousin/wife, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), is the epitome of a demure/calm/traditional lady. Her hairdo is simple (no curls), she dresses plainly (not seeking attention from men), and is 100% devoted to just one man- Ashley. Others (incl. elders of her society) look to her to determine what is “proper.” Melanie is selfless and giving (tending to wounded soldiers w/o complaint); Scarlett is selfish (wanting to run away from nursing, marrying her sister’s beau- Frank Kennedy- for his money, etc.)

In one memorable scene, when a Union soldier comes to rob Tara, Melanie (weak after giving birth) grabs a sword and clambers down the stairs in an effort to help Scarlett. There is a moral strength to Melanie; Scarlett (who is physically much tougher) eventually realizes that. These two women (who perhaps would be “frenemies” today) are like two sides of a coin; they have to rely on each other. In McDaniel’s pivotal scene (after the sudden death of Bonnie), Mammy cries and gently pleads: “If you can’t help us, who can? Mr. Rhett always set great store by your opinion. Please, Miss Melly.” Gable was reluctant to cry (in his following scene), but de Havilland convinced him that it would be the right thing to do for his character.

Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 1 (“Winterfell”)

WARNING: This post is dark and full of spoilers!

1.Winterfell is yours, Your Grace. -Sansa says to Daenerys

Sansa is cold (& unimpressed) by Dany and her crew, incl. the 2 dragons. As the Lady of Winterfell, she’s worried about the management of her household (incl. these new allies). Of course, we know that the Starks and Targayens have a difficult history- Aerys (The Mad King) killed Brandon (Ned’s older brother) and their father more than 20 yrs ago. Did you notice the little moment between Grey Worm and Missendei? They shared a look as the common people of the North stared coldly at them; these are probably the first POC they’ve ever seen. Been there, honey!

2. We don’t have time for this! -Bran to all (re: niceties) 

This moment was funny, yet also very real! As the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran knows what’s up (as well as what has been). Even when Jon kissed Bran’s forehead upon arrival to Winterfell (call-back to S1 again), Bran showed no emotion. He ain’t got time for that!

3. I’m standing up for our family. -Arya to Jon (when he’s surprised by her standing up for Sansa)

This was a fine (& touching) moment; Arya and Jon hugged and compared swords. They last saw each other in S1 (when he gave her Needle, her little sword). Jon and Arya both felt like outsiders in the Stark family; they were very close as kids. Arya and Sansa now have a mutual respect for each other (unlike in S1); recall the moment in S7 E7 when they talk re: supporting each other (as Ned taught them growing up).

4. You want a whore, buy one. You want a queen, earn her. -Cersei declares to Euron (when he asks for some affection)

I know this will probably be the most popular line of the ep! However, Cersei (now queen) does get together w/ Euron in the next scene; I was expecting her to keep him at a distance. Now that Jaime is gone (to fight w/ the Northerners), perhaps she is a bit lonely. Or this is her way of thanking him for bringing The Golden Company to Kings Landing.

5. Respect is how the young keep us at a distance, so we don’t remind them of the truth. Nothing lasts. -Varys explains to Tyrion & Davos

This was a nice little scene where the three men talk matchmaking (rather unexpected, but I liked it). They all think that Jon and Dany would make “a handsome couple” and also “just” and “honorable” rulers. Awww, why cant I find anyone to fix me up?

6. You’ve completely ruined horses for me! -Jon to Dany (after riding the dragon)

I liked this (funny) line after the (cool) dragon riding scene. These actors have “playful chemistry” (as Joanna Robinson commented on A Cast of Kings podcast). The dialogue was rather cheesy though- yikes! It reminded some viewers of A Whole New World (Aladdin); others were missing Ygritte (Jon’s first love).

7. As you wish, m’lady. -Gendry says to Arya (when she tells him not to call her Lady Stark).

Arya and Gendry are older now, so they’re a bit awkward around each other, yet still cute. These two actors have great chemistry- hope there is more to their story! Arya presents him w/ a drawing of a weapon she has designed; Gendry can forge it from dragonglass. Joanna Robinson really liked this part of their “courtship.”

8. I’m waiting for an old friend. -Bran tells Sam (the night before Jaime arrives at Winterfell)

In the last scene, we realize that the “old friend” is Jaime (who pushed Bran out of the tower in S1 E1)! This time, Jamie is dressed in dark, simple clothes, and under his black hood has short/dark hair. When he was last in Winterfell, he was wearing the ornate gold armor of the Kingsguard w/ blonde hair.

9. You’ve never been a bastard. You’re the true heir to the Iron Throne. -Sam explains to Jon 

Finally, Jon learns the truth of his parentage (thanks to the book Sam read, as well as Bran’s knowledge)! Jon didn’t believe it at first, b/c Ned was the kind of man who never lied. He has more of a claim to the throne than Dany (who is his aunt). Sam is no fan of Dany (after learning about what she did to his father and younger brother, Dickon); he thinks Jon will be a better ruler. Who hasn’t has a pal who didn’t like their significant other?

10. I’ve always had blue eyes! -Tormund yells at Ed & Rangers (running into them in the dark).

This is a funny moment before the creepy scene (w/ the young Lord Umber at the Last Hearth). Recall (also creepy little girl) in S1 E1; she scared the Night’s Watch guys who ran into her in the woods. One of these men escaped alive, but was executed by Ned.

If Beale Street Could Talk (NOW PLAYING)

NOTE: This review contains MINOR spoilers for the film.

Every poet is an optimist. But on the way to that optimism you have to reach a certain level of despair to deal with your life at all. -James Baldwin on his novel- If Beale Street Could Talk

This is really happening: Families really are being torn apart by this. Love is really under attack by these injustices and these issues. –KiKi Layne, actor

I think the biggest message is love and hope. You never know the power of that, and how that can get you through the most tumultuous times.  -Stephan James, actor

[1] It’s a story of love and family and the impact of racism without any of the preachiness we often get. 

[2] The acting was great, especially Regina King. She deserves every award she is nominated for in this pic. 

[3] I did want more of the film, but that’s not to say it felt unfinished. I just wanted more of every character.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I went to see this film last FRI w/ 2 of my gal pals at one of our local indie theaters- Landmark Bethesda. Our screening was packed mainly w/ middle-aged and elderly couples (black and white). It was adapted (from a novel by James Baldwin) and directed by Barry Jenkins (NOT yet 40 y.o.) In 2016, Jenkins’ film Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar; I saw that film on Netflix (late to the game). I thought that film was pretty good; it had an unique style and BOTH Mahershala Ali and Andre Holland are actors I admire. I think Beale Street could be more relateable; it’s partly a love story and also a look at justice system in the U.S.

Tish (KiKi Layne- in her first film role), a 19 y.o. dept. store clerk, and Fonnie (Stephan James), a 22 y.o. artist are deeply in love. They grew up together (in very different families) and being a romantic pair just came naturally. Fonnie gets arrested for a (serious) crime that he didn’t commit; Tish learns that she is pregnant w/ his child. Tish’s older sister, Ernestine (Teyonah Parris from Chi-Raq) find a (young/white) lawyer for Fonnie, Hayward (Finn Whitrock). Both families hustle to raise funds for the defense, incl. conducting investigations outside the country. Tish’s mother, Sharon (Regina King), is VERY supportive and goes to great lengths for the love of her child. I think King could be in the running for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar!

This film is NOT about action, it’s more about character development; we see life through black people living in Harlem in the ’70s. There are some tender moments, BUT also difficult ones (which feel timeless, sad to say). Fonnie and Tish have a VERY tough time finding a place of their own to live. His best friend, Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry from Atlanta), runs into Fonnie on the street; he was gone for several yrs from the area (we discover why). Some critics commented how rare it is to just see two young black men talking about their lives and feelings.

There is a LOT of chemistry between the leads; they can convey vulnerability and strength (as situations arise). The supporting actors are quite good; the cast includes Aunjanue Ellis, Michael Beach, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, and Ed Skrein. There are MANY close-ups, long takes (reminiscent of classic films), and the music is used quite effectively. These kind of films are VERY important- they put us in the shoes of people who are rarely depicted onscreen, or NOT depicted in a realistic manner. I recommend to indie film fans (of all ages and backgrounds); perhaps some of you will take a friend/family member who prefers more mainstream fare.

A trailer for the film- “If Beale Street Could Talk”

The Hate U Give (NOW PLAYING) starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae & Common

It’s not everyday that you watch a film re: the development of an individual’s race consciousness! This isn’t just for fans of the YA book (which many adults also read); it’s for anyone who has had to  deal w/ unfairness, violence, and/or navigate two worlds (cultures, languages, etc.) and come out resilient on the other side. In my audience a week ago, there were viewers of ALL ages, incl. several families (black, Latino, Asian) w/ pre-teens and teens. It’s realistic, emotional, intelligent, and still hopeful re: our future (and that of the protagonist- Starr). Like ALL good films, it takes the viewer on a journey (BUT this time it’s through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive, and curious 16 y.o. black girl). After the film ended, a black woman in her 50s commented (in a pleasantly surprised tone) to her gal pal: “This is what happens when there’s a black writer, producer, and director.” You don’t need to be black (or in a minority group) to appreciate this film (of course), BUT it does speak esp. to a modern, American, black audience. 

I was impressed by all the actors, esp. Stenberg (who is already quite experienced for a 20 y.o. in Hollywood) and Hornsby (who I saw on Broadway several years ago in Fences). The Carter family (which is blended) is such a strong and loving unit- this is VERY rare to see in modern film! Hall gets a few moments to shine; she’s NOT just the one-note wife/mom. Common (known for his music) does pretty well w/ his role as Starr’s uncle (and cop). It’s good to see Issa Rae getting more exposure (on big screen). The chemistry between the kids and parents was really good. The costumes, music, settings, and extras ALL contribute to giving this film its authenticity. Don’t miss this film- it has its pulse on what’s (sadly) going on now in our society! 

National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews