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Best Shot Collection: Gone With the Wind (Pt. 1)

Seventy-five years ago this December (yes, we'll celebrate again...albeit in a different way) Gone With the Wind premiered. No, that isn't quite right. This epic about a selfish Southern Belle surviving the Civil War and beyond ARRIVED IN STYLE with a three day celebration in Atlanta which reportedly drew one million visitors -- how'd they fit them all into the theater? (Hee). 1939's Best Picture winner arrived with roughly a bajillion times the anticipation that today's blockbusters get because pop culture was far less fragmented back then and everyone was obsessed with it. It would stay in theaters for literally years (the first couple of them at twice the normal ticket price) and become the biggest cinematic smash the world would ever see. To put it into perspective only Star Wars ever came close with The Sound of Music, E.T. and Titanic fighting for a distant third.

To look at something this large for a single defining image is an impossible task (or two images rather since we've split it in half). My favorite recurring visual motif of the film, Scarlett moving against the current of the crowd as befitting her singular tetchy anti-heroine nature and her duties as protagonist just doesn't look magnificent in freeze frames, but my favorite instances are two: First, when war has been declared and she walks up the stairs calmly through a sea of pastel dresses running down them (bless the film's first fired director George Cukor - that's obviously his work!), and second, her selfish exit from the scene of an amputation when she moves from the sweaty interior nightmare of a hospital to the shock of an exterior nightmare of chaos outside in the streets. Other favorite images were too small or atypical. For instance, there's this calming exquisitely lit shot of Mr and Mrs Ashley Wilkes. [more...]

It simultaneously gets at both their quasi platonic marriage, the twilight of their world, and their perfect compatibility. But you can't skip Scarlett!

Other images though mythic, are robbed of some of their site-specific meaning by complete pop culture saturation. But then Gone With the Wind was always more than a movie, so there's nothing wrong with choosing one of those as many participants did. My choice for best shot maybe qualifies a one of those, a hot moment between Scarlett & Rhett, but I want to take an important pause to honor the epic's second most prominent Love/Hate story: Scarlett & Melanie. These are my two favorite shots of that relationship...

Oh Scarlett, you're so sweet to worry about Ashley like this for me."


The first image is a delicious cold snap of comedy in the middle of an otherwise harrowing list-of-the-dead scene (I always forget how funny Vivien Leigh is in this movie -- her "I hate your baby" moment later is just hilariously endearing; she's so awful!)  The second image, which pans from twin guardian angel shadows to the full detail is Scarlett and Melanie at the hospital watching over the dying. When the full picture is revealed, Scarlett is absentmindedly playing with whatever she's got in her hands desperate to be anywhere but there burdened by the pain of other people; Melanie is the only angel in the scene, intently listening to pained memories of home from the dying.

Perhaps in anticipation of the romantic drama which will dominate Part Two -- I settled on this iconic embrace between Scarlett & Rhett. In a carnal twist on the Ashley/Scarlett, Melanie/Scarlett, Charles/Scarlett continuum of unrequited loves of all sorts, Scarlett is the loved but unloving. But Rhett, crucially Scarlett's only match in unredeemed selfishness, could care less about her feelings and yanks her into an embrace. But here's what's perfect about the image and the moment and the myth of Gone With the Wind: all the detailed splendor of elaborate set designs and costumes and ambitious shots of extras by the hundreds have vanished, all the painful reality of the Atlanta sequences has been vaporized with the city. All the remains, really, is two immortal movie stars on a fiery red soundstage. 

Best Shot

All that you're left with is a movie that's too grand to be like life in anyway, even to be larger than. It incinerates reality replacing it with self-mythology. This is Gone With the Wind as Romantic Epic as Movie-Movie as Legend. This is Old Hollywood at the peak of its magical powers. It sees you in the dark. It knows your dreams and can conjure them. You need to be kissed. Often. And by someone who knows how.

Here is the collection of Best Shots from 12 more players (since Part 2 is next Tuesday, I'm happy to add in latecomers before the climax if you've been dragging your feet). Click on the photos to read the corresponding articles

Directed by Victor Fleming (and George Cukor and Sam Wood, uncredited)
Cinematography by Ernest Haller with Technicolor consultant Ray Rennahan (and Lee Garmes, uncredited)

Tara grounds her, something she both resents and loves...
- Awards Madness 

Calling Scarlett on her nonsense... 
-Allison Tooey 

There are hints that Gone with the Wind’s attitudes might not be as regressive as you might think... 
-Coco Hits NY 

In the seventh and eighth grade, I had this social studies teacher. We’ll call her Ms. B. [she] announces to the class that we’re going to spend a week watching Gone With the Wind..."
-Pop Culture Crazy

Scarlett exists in a dream world within a dream world where war is not coming and the Old South will never die...

A rude shock to see such realism amongst Scarlett's personal dramas...
-Lam Chop Chop

One of those movies that's so much bigger than anything you can measure it against that even calling it a "movie" seems inadequate...
-Antagony & Ecstasy

I barred myself from anything that has been or ever will be used in an Oscar montage...
-Video Valhalla *new participant* 

No matter how you feel about the film, there's no denying its visual grandeur....
-Film Actually 

'Fiddle Dee, why I'm only the greatest female character in the history of film'...
-The Film's The Thing 

The juxtaposition between real pain and romanticized glory epitomizes the first act...
-We Recycle Movies


The film has no shortage of sumptuous images of the war's destructive power....
-The Entertainment Junkie


And The Futurist picks cheekily (above) but it's appropriate.

Stretch your legs, grab some popcorn, read the articles at your own speed and then be back here Tuesday night for Part 2 !!!

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Reader Comments (12)

Quick, someone call Olivia de Havilland and ask her what her 'best shot' is :-)

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCastro

Melanie Hamilton is a pale-faced, mealy-mouthed ninny and I hate her. thank goodness you didn't settle on that shot of her and Ashley, Scarlett would've slapped you right across the face.

I've always loved that Scarlett's story seems to exist almost completely outside of the world around her. she really does make it all about herself and I f**king love her for it. there were so many moments that I wanted to choose, the scene you mentioned on the stairs as she goes against the natural flow, the shot of her dancing feet as she is stuck behind a booth in her mourning clothes at the bazar, and the shot I almost went with, when she tries on a gaudy fuchsia hat while examining herself in widow's weeds.

but like you said, they didn't seem epic enough or to capture the film's essence. it really had to be an image emblazoned in our memory. it really could only have been the crane shot of the wounded in Atlanta, any of the silhouetted shots with Tara as the backdrop, or your shot of that Hollywood kiss. anything else just wouldn't have felt right...

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Castro -- if only! though I'd rather have her for a "smackdown" :)

abstew -- thanks for chiming in. I love that shot of her dancing feet. and again, i totally forgot how funny this performance is.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

This is a very, very pretty movie. I consistently forget just how beautiful it is to look at. Not just the Technicolor, but the shadows and staging.

Great choices. Really looking forward to next week!

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Truly a treat of a film (both visually and otherwise). I usually do one viewing of GWTW a year - which I did a few months ago - but since I didn't do it last year, maybe another is in order :-)

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Armour

I have to side with Film Actually in their choice. The scene and often reused photo of the burning of Atlanta with the carriage and silhouettes in the foreground sum up this film in so many ways. Not just the horror of war with its endless destruction, but the burning of Scarlett and Rhett's worlds, the burning of the past for an uncertain future and it signals a serious change in the tenor of the film as no one, not one character can continue to delude themselves that anything will ever be the same or return,.......I could go on for hours. It is one of the greatest scenes and most iconic images in the history of film which speaks to everyone, even if in different ways.

I first saw this masterpiece when I was about 12. I credit it with my interest in all thing film.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

There are so many great, great choices for this film. A lot of people have mentioned some of them: Scarlet dancing behind the counter in her widow's weeds, those sleeping white girls looking like a bunch of dolls waiting to be smashed to pieces, the iconic "I'll never be hungry again" shot" against the red sky, etc. (And you were right on to comment on the humor that Leigh mines from her role; when I took my husband to see it for the first time, at the Castro theater, about 20 minutes in he whispered, "You didn't tell me it was funny!" It loses its humor after leaving Atlanta--understandably.)

I have two favorites that I always look forward to. The first is when Scarlett is getting ready to go to the Wilkses', and is blowing off Mammy (Hattie McDaniel). As Scarlett is just traipsing up the stairs to leave, Mammy comments, "And I ain't noticed Mr. Ashley asking for to marry you." Leigh/Scarlett turns, ever-so-slowly, giving the slow burn of the century; Mammy gives her a knowing look that indicates, without a word being spoken, that she has Scarlett's number. Yes, there are bits of the film that make one wince due to the racism of the time--but anyone who dismisses McDaniel's performance as just racist caricature is missing the subtleties she brings to the role. Mammy is the only person in the film who sees Scarlett for exactly who and what she is--and is unafraid to call her on it. (Remember the scene with the drapes?) Scarlett might, in a fit of rage, threaten Prissy with "I'll sell you South, I will"; she knows she would never dare cross Mammy. (It's a pity that the film omits Mammy walking out on Scarlett and Rhett after Bonnie dies; the point of Scarlett deciding to go home to Tara at the end is that Mammy is there--the one person who still understands her, maybe even loves her.)

My other favorite shot is a simple one that gets upstaged by the Atlanta fire, but happens just before it; Rhett gathers Melanie in his arms and carries her down the stairs with Scarlett and Prissy accompanying him, and only a flickering oil lamp to guide their way. The music rises as the descend into the inky darkness, and one realizes the impossibility of their situation: a blockade runner, two women, a newborn baby, and a servant girl about to desperately try to outrun the Union army and the collapse of a city. Then they go outside, and realize from the blazing sky that the city's on fire, and their situation is even worse than they thought. (Arguably, the rest of Part I is variations on this theme: It's Worse Than You Thought.)

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDback

To pick a best shot is a nearly impossible task there are just so many to select from. I've seen the film more times than I can count in both theatres and on various size TV screens but this is the first time I've watched with an eye towards specific shots usually just being satisfied with letting the story carry me along.

One thing I noticed was how certain shots become more meaningful as the film progresses as they are referenced back to by others. The most prominent is the one right after the one of Melanie and Ashley you mentioned Nathaniel when they open the doors onto Twelve Oaks grounds and how colorfully beautiful they are then on the journey home Scarlett at the foot of the destroyed staircase and the devastation beyond recalling the earlier shot really personalizes the cost of the war.

Silhouettes play such an large role in the film too. Aside from that Melanie/Ashley scene the scene where Melanie's in labor makes much more of an impact by being played all in silhouette.

It was also tough to chose between the impactful vs. the aesthetic. For instance during Scarlett's reception line where Melanie gushes to a numb Scarlett I couldn't help but notice that the candle flames matched the uniforms of Charles and Ashley, that kind of attention to detail was a constant throughout. But from the first time I saw it, and maybe because it was on an enormous movie screen, the shot that always hit me the hardest was the closeup of the casualty list as it swept down on the word Killed, Killed, Killed....

But I chose the scene just after Scarlett has arrived back at a ruined Tara and discovered her mother is dead and she goes in to talk to her father. Sitting in the recessed window bathed in blues and blacks she asks him what they are going to do and it becomes apparent to her that he has lost his mind. The look of realization in those shadows is when we see the last vestige of the young belle disappear and the Scarlett of the second half fully emerge. The fist shaking that follows is just icing on the cake.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Every time I see it (usually about once a year), I'm stunned at just how beautiful it is. As so many have already mentioned, this movie exists in an unrivaled orbit. You almost wish more films nowadays would inch away from realism and go for full on grandeur that can only exist when you fully embrace what artifice can allow. I reckon Baz tries, but lately the results are more gaudy than "spectacular". Thanks everyone, and definitely looking forward to part 2.

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVal

This posting is especially personal for me. This was my grandmother's favorite film. She saw this in theaters in 1939 (after she died I discovered she still had the playbill they gave out in the theater) My grandmother was a movie buff- she kept newspaper clippings of Claudette Colbert and Bette Davis. I get my love of movies from her ( and my other grandmother- I was lucky) I always think about her when I watch it.

August 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertom

If ever a movie defied the search for Best Shot, this is it. For pure visual splendor, no other film comes close (Ben-Hur is a distance second). But if I'm absolutely pistol-whipped into choosing, I'd have to say the shot of Scarlett holding the dirt. That sums up the entire movie: having something in your hand that you realize how absolutely necessary that thing is to your survival only when you at your most desperate and despairing (read Rhett).

Selznick nearly killed himself trying to duplicate this movie's showering glory, first with Duel in the Sun, then A Farewell to Arms. Both underrated attempts, but of course nothing could come close to this.

August 22, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

When I think of Gone with the Wind (my vote for the best movie of all time), I think first of the shots against picturesque backdrops. But for my "Best Shot," I'd have to go with the pull away from the army hospital. It's the one that haunted me as a 10 year old watching the movie for the first time with my mom.

Scarlett is a tour de force, but she's just one of millions affected by the war, a fact highlighted by that single shot.

August 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

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