Just because a generation of young moviegoers has been raised on special effects and silicone-enhanced superstars doesn't mean it's numb to the dated yet legendary tale of love and civil war, "Gone With The Wind."
"It's in the same vein as 'Citizen Kane' and 'Casablanca,' " says Doug Bradley, 22. The UMBC student came to the Loews White Marsh Theatre Tuesday night to see "Gone With The Wind" in re-release. "You haven't lived until you've seen it."
"You're living tonight," says his Gap-sweatshirt-clad friend Becky Kulaga, 18, who has seen "GWTW" numerous times and dragged Bradley along with her.
"I'm living through four hours of it," Bradley replied during intermission, laughing wearily.
Nearly half of the 70 audience members at White Marsh were teens and twentysomethings. Significantly more women than men, they were either dragged by fanatic friends, simply curious or eager for a break from brainless blockbusters.
"I'm slightly obsessive about it," says Sarah Neus, 19, an avid collector of "GWTW" memorabilia. She's a Towson University student and a Civil War buff. "These days, people spend too much time worrying about special effects."
The younger filmgoers' reactions proved that the saga of Southern party girl turned iron-willed woman Scarlett O'Hara and the cynical and suave Rhett Butler, set against both an idyllic antebellum and struggling postbellum South, is one enduring piece of celluloid.
The young audience looked on in awe as the title swept across the screen. They chuckled at Mammy's frustrated scolding and Scarlett's calculated crying. They hooted at Rhett's classic exit.
Most shocking, they respectfully surrendered themselves to a film released in 1939, when their grandparents were their age.
"She was alive and coherent when it came out," Stephanie Roberts, 19, said of her grandmother. " It ['GWTW'] should be cool," the Towson University student added, before the movie.
But the film wasn't all fun and nostalgia. Some elements left a nasty aftertaste. For young people reared on political correctness, simple-minded, blindly loyal black characters spouting such dialogue as "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies' " struck an uncomfortable chord.
"It's really bad," Dawn Bartley, 17, says of the film's portrayal of black people. She said that she was particularly disturbed by Butterfly McQueen's dawdling slave, Prissy, whom she described as "the girl with the squeaky voice."
"It portrays them [African-Americans] with no intelligence," says Bartley, a Perry Hall High School student.
But beyond the outdated stereotypes, relatively primitive effects and melodramatic shtick, the basic themes are really what appeal to audiences of any era.
"It's got a little bit of everything," Kulaga says. "The romance, the war, the action."
"It makes you realize they were real people too," Neus says of the war-ravaged Southerners depicted in the film. "And their lives were completely destroyed."
And don't forget the characters.
"Young people have four very interesting role models they can identify with," said Dr. Michael Porte, a professor of communications who teaches film at the University of Cincinnati. "I can't believe they wouldn't be excited by what's going on in Scarlett's life and Rhett Butler's."
At the White Marsh screening, there was a character for everyone. For some it was Scarlett: "She was feisty when a lot of women weren't," said Bel Air resident Sherice White, 22.
No one seemed eager to emulate the milquetoast Ashley or impossibly upright Melanie.
"Everyone likes Mammy," Kulaga says.
And Kevin Myers, 26, of Towson, is trying to learn a thing or two from the dashing Capt. Butler.
"I want to be suave like Rhett Butler," says Myers, who has seen "GWTW" several times.
Even if young moviegoers hadn't seen the movie before, most had been deluged with the images of the flaming embrace, endless recycling of "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" and pop-culture parodies that stimulated their interest and, in some cases, skewed their expectations.
"I thought there would be a happy ending," said Sasha Motsko, 21, tears running down her cheeks as she left the movie.
The exodus of crying young women after the movie was but one of the links that connected the classic epic about a doomed civilization to a current epic about a doomed ship.
" 'Titanic' is the same thing. It's this big, huge movie, except the actors stink" and so does the writing, Myers said. "You know exactly what they're going to say before they say it."
"Titanic" had the advantage of the latest in special effects, but "Gone With the Wind" succeeds on its own terms.
"It's not the technology that carries it," said Dr. Thomas Inge, professor of humanities at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., who teaches classes on images of the South in film and fiction. "It's the romance, the possibilities the thwarted romance in particular."
And "Titanic" and "GWTW" both have male leads with the power to melt moviegoers' hearts, begging the question: Who's the hotter epic heartthrob, Leonardo DiCaprio or Clark Gable?
It didn't take Kulaga long to mull it over.
"Clark Gable, hands down."
Pub Date: 7/02/98