'GWTW' overblown, offensive, mindless

June 27, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

THERE ARE basically two types of Americans. There are those who positively adore "Gone With The Wind," the 1939 classic starring Clark Gable, Clark Gable's ears, Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen, the latter in a role that made me seriously consider changing my ethnic designation to Hispanic.

And then there are those of us who despise the just re-released film. Film-hating makes for strange bedfellows. I am now in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with WOLB-radio talk show host C. Miles on this one. In fact, we are in so much accord that the only point on which we could disagree is which one of us hates the film more.

Let's cut straight to the chase. Most of my objections to "GWTW" are racial.

David O. Selznick's revisionist and downright wrong piece of schlock implies that Southern blacks did nothing more during the Civil War than pine away about the fate of Massa Rhett, Massa Rhett's ears and Miss Scarlett. That's offense No. 1. Offense No. 2 occurs when Rhett Butler tells a group of men considering secession that the South had little going for it in the upcoming battle against the North. He rattles off a couple of things that make the South underdogs and then sneers sarcastically, "And slaves."

Slaves were more important to the Civil War than either Margaret Mitchell -- the author of the novel Gone With The Wind -- or Selznick realized. Read any of the several books now on the market about blacks who fought for the Confederacy and you'll learn how the contribution of black workers helped the South survive as long as it did. Read James McPherson's "The Negro's Civil War" and you'll come across Abe Lincoln's Sept. 12, 1864, letter to Isaac Schermerhorn in which Lincoln wrote that the Union couldn't have won the war without the assistance of the tens of thousands of blacks who served the union as soldiers, sailors, laborers and spies. Most of those blacks were the slaves "GWTW" referred to so derisively.

I had read McPherson's book before I saw "GWTW." The film's distortion of the role blacks played in the Civil War infuriated me. But I wasn't surprised. "GWTW" was a Hollywood production, and Hollywood's producers, directors and writers then, as now, read little history, assuming they read anything at all. They all probably went with the flow of Mitchell's novel, and she probably learned her history by reading the back of an Aunt Jemima pancake box.

But enough of the historical angle. I could also have done without Rhett Butler's referral to the slaves as "mindless darkies." I could call the term racist, but then folks will accuse me of trying to impose political correctness. That's not the case. The phrase is offensive, but I can live with it. What I can't live with are double standards and unfairness.

A few years back, pop singer Michael Jackson had a song that had negative references to Jews on his "HIStory" album. I think the exact words in the song "They Don't Really Care About Us" were "Jew me, kike me." That sounds every bit as offensive as "mindless darkies." Such a furor rose about Jackson's song that he was forced to change the lyrics to appease the disgruntled.

"GWTW" has just been put back on the big screen, to the horror and dismay of those of us who can't stand the thing. I'm sure the phrase "mindless darkies" is still in it. How many of those folks who claimed they were so horrified by the words "Jew me, kike me" will be outside theaters showing "GWTW" to demand that the phrase "mindless darkies" be excised from the film? None, of course. Apparently it's perfectly acceptable to offend ethnic and racial groups in classic films. But don't dare do it in song.

OK, enough of the racial angle. Let's just talk about how dreadfully written the film is. It's not content to let you feel sympathy and empathy for the characters naturally. It tries to milk these feelings out of you. Moviegoers gave me dirty looks when I laughed after the scene in which Rhett and Scarlett's daughter, Bonnie, is killed after being thrown from a horse. But I didn't laugh because the child died. I laughed because I saw it coming when Bonnie first climbed on the horse.

"They wouldn't," I said to myself about "GWTW's" screenwriters, who had already milked more than the average share of tears from the audience.

"They couldn't," I continued. "No, they will not try to wring any more sad emotions from this audience." They did, of course. I laughed not at Bonnie's death but at the chutzpah of Selznick, his director and his screenwriters.

"That girl didn't die of a broken neck," I muttered from my seat. "She died from a bad case of maudlin plot."

"Praised as the greatest film ever made," Sun film critic Chris Kaltenbach wrote. "GWTW" is certainly the most overrated film ever made. After its current run in theaters, I hope it goes with the wind and stays with the wind.

Pub Date: 6/27/98

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