Fiddledeedee, no matter the conversation around a classic, you cannot deny its power or allure. That certainly appears to be the case for Gone with the Wind, the 1939 Southern revisionist fantasy that was brought to breathtaking life in Technicolor by David O. Selznick and an army of MGM dream casters in Hollywood’s golden age. And that’s why it must be coming back.
As a film that is certainly more critically considered 80 years later for its depiction of slavery and people of color in the Antebellum South (one of Scarlett O’Hara’s many husbands does die while in Klan activity), the picture nevertheless remains a grandiose and beloved romantic epic due to the sheer power of its vision. Starring Vivien Leigh in her most iconic role—one in which she was marketed as the winner after thousands of women auditioned to play Margaret Mitchell’s Southern belle anti-heroine—Gone with the Wind follows the fall of “a pretty world [where] Gallantry took its last bow.” Born a spoiled and naïve daughter on a plantation, Scarlett sees her paradise for “Knights and their Ladies Fair” crumble during the Civil War, which leaves her family with nothing and her slaves freed.
Yet no one’s victim, Scarlett lies, cheats, steals, marries, and buries her way back into wealth, much to the eventual horror of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), an unflappable scoundrel and the love of Scarlett’s life—not that she would realize it as she obsesses over a married wet blanket named Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard).
Gone with the Wind is an undeniably beautifully crafted fairy tale, one whose music still soars thanks to a wistful masterwork of a score by Max Steiner. That coupled with its dynamic lead performances by Leigh and Gable helped usher Gone with the Wind into becoming the highest ticket-seller of all time (adjusted for inflation it made $1.8 billion in the United States alone). And you can experience its charms in theaters once more for the 80th anniversary, as Fathom Events is releasing the picture in over 700 theaters nationwide for four nights only. Beginning at the end of the month, Gone with the Wind will have a ball again in cinemas on Thursday, Feb. 28 and Sunday, March 3, and then due to popular demand, it will have two encore presentations on Sunday, March 17 and Monday, March 18.
Gone with the Wind has a complicated legacy, to put it mildly. While not the KKK-love letter that was Birth of a Nation, it helped mythologize throughout the 20th century slave-populated cotton fields as some kind of lost Eden. It also rather incredulously paints the Civil War as one of Northern aggression (the South seceded and then fired first). We even spoke with Spike Lee last year about the film’s role in American cinema last year. The prolific auteur admits it has some of the greatest shots in cinema history, even as he recalls how the insidiousness of its vision for the “Old South” disturbed him as a child (he was taken on a school field trip to see it).
And yet, for sheer melodrama around a classic Hollywood heroine who is no one’s victim or “lady,” there is still something appealing for audiences, especially of an earlier generation (it was my grandmother’s favorite movie). So if you really must get lost in its fantasy, now’s your chance to do so on the big screen.