It's been a while since I've run an Oscar feature (I know you've missed them), and since the ceremony is this week I thought we'd have a go with 1939's seminal Gone With the Wind. This might actually be interesting for some of you because many of you have seen this, or have at least heard of it. As for me, it is certainly a spectacle, but I'm not totally sure how I feel about it.
The movie is the adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's novel about the fall of the south in the Civil War. It is a passionate romance of characters and place, and the adaptation has become one of the icons of American cinema.
And, truly, every inch of it is iconic. The photography is lush and evocative of the much-romanced south we all think of. Its scope is monumental (the movie comes in at just under 4 hours), a dramatic megalith on the scale of Wagner. It is worth the watch if only to witness the perfection of craft in such a young industry. But then, there is also the rest of it about which I am conflicted.
Most of that "rest of it" is the protagonist, Scarlett O'Hara, embodied by Vivien Leigh. The first time I watched the movie several years ago, I HATED it because of one or the both of them. Leigh has always bothered me as an actress (see: A Streetcar Named Desire), but her character in the movie is just as irritating. Of course, that is her arc, falling from spoiled plantation queen to fending for her very existence as the Northern imperialists rape the land she grew up on. Upon second viewing I have become more sympathetic, but only some. The movie is made watchable because of Clark Gable's potrayal of Rhett Butler, Scarlett's lover. By the end I felt to cheer as he finally tells her what I have been wishing to tell her the entire movie.
Is such an irritating character and her portrayal worth so much of your life in exchange for unfiltered cinematic beauty? This is one of the deeper questions pursuers of art must face. Why do you like watching movies? Is it for their aesthetic quality, for stories that resonate with you or challenge you, or some combination of these or other factors? Does a broken and frustrating character make a "bad" movie? I don't know, but this is why we watch anyway.
There are lots of ill feelings on my part, but overall I still think this is one of the more important films of our history. Together with The Wizard of Oz, also from the same year, color film signaled an important, if slow, industry shift. It is one of the rare films that becomes immortal on its own. Many require several adaptations or sequels, but Gone With the Wind sits in a very privileged class. It is appropriately ubiquitous, even if it remains divisive. I recommend it both as an historical artifact and as a worthy film.
Gone With the Wind features Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, and Hattie McDaniel, and is not rated.
Writer: Sydney Howard
Director: Victor Fleming
Also, if you don't feel like four hours, here's the condensed version from Carol Burnett:
Well do I remember my days as a carefree lad, playing with my beloved Lego sets. My brother and I would devote hours on end to carefully creating worlds for our tiny Lego figurines to inhabit. We would follow meticulous instructions in order to build the models just right, and a lost piece was something truly lamentable.
Some friends also enjoyed Legos, but they combined all of their sets into one massive pile and drew thence to construct their own crude creations. This was something I never understood, because THAT IS HOW YOU LOSE PIECES. This denominational difference often caused strife when these friends would come over to play.
By now hopefully you've seen The Lego Movie but if you haven't, this conflict provides the central conceit of the movie: what happens when a maniacal overlord is seeking to destroy your world by ensuring that every block remains precisely in place? The Lego Movie is just as much fun as it should be, subversively reveling in everything that made playing with Legos great in the first place.
To be clear, it is not the giant multi-franchise commercial it easily could have been. Here, Lego is the medium, not the product. The animation resembles the stop-motion movies grown up nerds like me might make, but the scale is impossible and enviable for the amateur. Here, Batman, Gandalf, and NBA All-Stars mingle freely (and hilariously). It is an immensely enjoyable adventure.
I said that Lego was the medium, and I would like to explain that. So often, nostalgic properties are turned into movies for only vaguely artistic reasons. Think of disasters like Battleship or successful travesties like Transformers. The only reason for their existence is to mine happy memories for money. Even the upcoming Mr Peabody & Sherman looks more like a cheap base hit than anything else. The Lego Movie felt different because it is at once respectful and cheekily self-aware. On the one hand, it manages to remain true to everybody's own Lego memories and adventures, and on the other it knows that it is a commercial endeavor, and takes delight in not taking that fact very seriously.
The movie is truly funny, and makes brilliant use of established and contemporary pop culture references. My one quibble with that is that it won't become a "classic": much of its humor is too closely grounded in the present for kids a few years from now to really get. Not that it's important, because the best kid's movies are adult-savvy as well.
So I say that The Lego Movie is enormously fun and more than worth braving the crowds of 10-year-olds to see. I would even claim that your love would probably rather watch it than Endless Love or Winter's Tale this weekend, but maybe that's just me.
The Lego Movie features Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and all kinds of other hilarious people, and is rated PG mostly for an instance of non-graphic Lego nudity.
Writers: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Directors: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
by Chase Harrison