A Dream Remembered: Watching Gone with the Wind on Blu-Ray

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Why do we like Scarlett O’Hara?

Perhaps some moralizing readers will interject here, “Well, I don’t.” And there might be something to their reservations. Indeed, in his treatise The Mask of Sanity, psychologist Hervey M. Cleckly used her as a fictional example of sociopathic personality traits!

But I seriously doubt that, as Scarlett raises her fist towards an amber sky and vows never to be hungry again, anyone in the world wouldn’t root for her, whether knowingly or not. The enormous popularity of Gone with the Wind—and it still holds its place as the all-time domestic box office champion—rests on her slight shoulders and her even slighter sense of decency. Audiences love Scarlett, even if we’re often at a loss to explain why.

However, as I watched the saga on a new Blu-Ray, released with the 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition set, Gone with the Wind began to make sense for me in a way it hadn’t before. The crystalline sharpness and vibrancy of the colors, especially those triumphant oranges and flourishing greens, reminded me of the film’s viciously determined protagonist.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The exaggerated, beautiful palette gives the cinematography a prideful flush, an odd glow of vanity, as though the movie had pinched its cheeks just for us. If Gone with the Wind had been made in black-and-white, I suspect that we wouldn’t like Scarlett, at least not nearly as much as we do.

Rhett, Ashley, and Melanie all praise Scarlett for her will to live, a will so resilient and powerful that most of the other characters survive only by gathering around her, as if to warm themselves on the fiery blaze of her character. Scarlett’s formidable life force pulses through the Technicolor visuals, sumptuous even when portraying misery, defeat, and violence. And those visuals have never looked so sumptuous on my own television screen.

I first watched Gone with the Wind at age 11, on that still-new wonder, DVD. Budding film critic that I was, I found the landmark film grand, stirring, but above all really, really long. The word “overrated” just might have passed through my mind when it was all over. I grew to enjoy the movie more over the years since, but first impressions aren’t easily overpowered.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

By contrast, after I popped in the new Blu-Ray a few days ago, all 238 minutes flew right by. The burnished shine of silks, the downy radiance of individual complexions, the breathtaking range of colors drew me into the drama, heightening the impact of each scene. This time when the film ended, it was the word “revelation” that passed through my mind.

Scarlett’s amorality excluded, perhaps the most enduring criticism of Gone with the Wind focuses on the its relative lack of grittiness or realism. Orson Welles, for instance, praised one masterpiece, Keaton’s The General, by hyperbolically dissing another, saying that the earlier film is “a hundred times more stunning visually than Gone with the Wind,” because the silent film caught the true Matthew Brady-esque look and grain of the Civil War. I adore Orson (and The General, of course), but I think he missed the point.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

From the first, Fleming’s and Selznick’s vision of the old South tells us exactly how to interpret it: as “a dream remembered,” in the words of the text preface. That is, as a double fiction, a nostalgic panorama largely filtered through the experience of a seductive, single-minded heroine. With its sweeping vistas and jewel box of colors, Gone with the Wind coaxes us into committing Scarlett’s grave error: falling in love with something that doesn’t exist. What might seem like mawkish imagery on a DVD becomes an intentionally unreal journey through American history when viewed on Blu-Ray. I don’t pretend to know the difference between banality and insight, but image quality and definition can surely tip the scales where movies are concerned.

For instance, at the conclusion, the somber, light-absorbing blacks and foggy grays jolt us back to reality, bracing the intoxicated spectator for the final blow to Scarlett’s bizarre combination of ruthlessness and optimism. The transition from the mournful colors of Scarlett prostrate on the burgundy staircase to that strange, congratulatory tracking shot over Tara always rang false to me. With this viewing, however, the contrast acquired a deeper meaning that never occurred to me before.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

I realized why we like Scarlett: not only because she clings to dreams, but also because she can negotiate with reality while keeping it at bay. Whether it’s the Yankee she just killed or loss of the man she loves, she’ll clean up the mess now, but never really pick up the pieces (and notice that she makes similar remarks on both occasions). The coping strategy that rules her life is a paradox, but one we all depend on to survive.

In other words, as I rewatched this monument of classical American cinema on Blu-Ray, I felt that I was seeing it for the first time—that the colors could finally tell me their story. During that last shot, we bask in the golden apogee of Scarlett’s escape into herself, an escape that parallels the audience’s own craving for celluloid fantasy and a happy ending.

Yesterdays and tomorrows don’t appear to us in the hues of reality; we want to believe that they’re better than they were or will be. Gone with the Wind does cast aside the sense of photographic verisimilitude that we might expect from a Civil War movie. Instead, it exalts romanticism as cynicism, idealization as pragmatism, demonstrating how myths and dreams sustain us through ugly reality—a Hollywood speciality.

In 1939, millions of Americans could relate to Scarlett, absolving her selfishness because of the beauty of her dreams and the pain of her buried regrets. 75 years later, not much has changed—except that I can watch this film in its glory from the comfort of my living room.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

I strongly recommend the new box set of Gone with the Wind, which includes oodles of special features about the production and its stars, unseen footage from the Atlanta premiere, as well as some delightful memorabilia for the film’s anniversary. If you’re interested, you can also watch my unboxing video on YouTube:

I would like to thank Warner Home Entertainment for providing me with a review copy of the 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition.

All images used in this post ©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

©2014 Turner Entertainment Co. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


22 thoughts on “A Dream Remembered: Watching Gone with the Wind on Blu-Ray

  1. I’ve only seen Gone With the Wind on my really old, pre-flat screen TV and your description of the movie on Blu-Ray sounds breathtaking! The first several times I saw the film, I was pretty underwhelmed, too, and the person I watched it with was frustrated because Scarlett never learns; she remains who she is to the last. However, the last time I watched it I really surprised myself by jumping wholeheartedly on the Scarlett bandwagon. I think the fact that she doesn’t change is the point and I like you description of her will to live and how other huddle around. I wouldn’t like knowing her, but I can’t help but admire her intensely and if there was a catastrophe, I’d definitely want her around. 🙂

  2. I am so impressed by the impeccably accurate and detailed references to your old movies that I infatuated with your whole web site that I am going to follow your advice and keep up with your advice on what to watch in the near future. It was a very interesting evening the night of Sean’s birthday, it was the highlight of my evening meeting you. Nick

    Sent from my iPad


  3. This is one of the most insightful reviews I’ve ever read of “Gone With the Wind”. I liked your observation that Scarlett can negotiate with reality while keeping it at bay. Very true!

    This film is coming to a theatre near me in November, and I cannot wait to see it on the big screen. I suspect I will have many of the same reactions as you have detailed here.

    Thank you for posting this wonderful review.

  4. I saw Gone With the Wind as a child, when the movie was shown as a classic in a theater. Later, I watched it over and over again any time that it came on TV, and bought the DVD when it came out. It is truly a wonderful movie. Scarlett isn’t a sociopath. She copes with the realities of her world once the war is lost, and everything she does it designed to make herself and those she loves safe and secure despite the struggles of Reconstruction. Perhaps I see her a little more completely because I have read the book repeatedly, and her motives are described in more detail there. I enjoyed your review. I hadn’t realized that Blu-Ray would make such a difference.

  5. I first saw this film as a child and Scarlett was a fantasy to me of the classic Femme Fatale – she sure knew how to get what she wanted, including the incredibly dashing Rhett Butler!! I admit I had quite the crush on Rhett and couldn’t understand why she was so stuck on that mealy-mouthed Ashley. Reading this, I want to watch it again with my adult eyes and see the nuances I may have missed. Brilliant review!! 😀

  6. Thank you. In her novel, Margaret Mitchell has written much of herself. She loves a man who was like Rhett, but she chose to leave him, and he says to her : ” I am Rhett and you always love me”. That’s true ( in Margaret Mitchell biography ).
    A story very precious for me – and so much for my mother.
    The movie arrived in France after World War II, and was seen as a symbol of liberation.
    Thank you so much.

  7. I am absolutely picking up the boxed set. I loved the film but after reading the book recently, I’m anxious for the “oodles of special features.” Have you read the book? I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.

  8. A few weeks ago, I went and saw it on the big screen. It’s the second time I’ve seen it that format. I suspect it was also from the Blu-Ray. As you said, it flew by- more wonderful everytime!

  9. I’ve been in love with Gone with the Wind, both movie and book for more than half my life. Reading the novel and watching the movie, I became a fan of Scarlett, of Reth, of Tara. On my 16th birthday, my parents took me to Atlanta to visit the Margaret Mitchell hotel and anything else related to the story.

    I agree with you in why people like Scarlett; she is a strange mix of characteristics that draw us to her. She dreams and faces reality and finds a way to make it all work. I know I wish I could do the same as elegantly as she does!

  10. Having listened to a lengthy, gushing review from a high school friend on the way to an out of state track meet, I just had to see this movie. I didn’t understand what she was so on about, though it was memorable and even moving at times. With your review, and the themes behind the scenes it all makes more sense now. Thank you!

  11. One of my all time favorite movies. Scarlett was and probably will always be special to me. She was in my eyes.. fierce and independent. She used all her strengths to survive and had style to boot. Even her seemingly negative traits were something to take note of. I fell in love with Gone with the Wind when I was 14, and at 41… I still love it. 🙂
    Your review was spot on.

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