Sunday, 8 March 2015

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: GONE WITH THE WIND

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

43. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939, dir. Victor Fleming)

08/03/2015


Despite the vast range of opinions expressed recently over the film version of "Fifty Shades of Grey," I feel that it is the latest of a long line of films, usually adaptations of books, that are "critic-proof." Like "The Hunger Games," "Twilight," "The Hobbit," and the rest, they are films that are guaranteed an audience before you start making them, with fans watching it for the story they already love, regardless of any consideration of quality - so long as you combine all the right elements to keep the established audience on your side, you can then work out how many hundreds of millions of dollars you can take at the box office.

"Gone with the Wind," a thousand-page novel published in 1936, and the only novel written by journalist Margaret Mitchell, entranced American audiences with the lives of incredibly detailed and engaging characters, while also telling its audience about its own, then still relatively recent history, even if considered to be revisionist today. It was a world so well-drawn that anyone that dared to make a film version of it would be entirely in the service of the novel - to reproduce it directly to the screen, as if using some sort of photocopier.

All the behind-the-scenes machinations that made "Gone with the Wind," despite themselves making a wonderful two-hour documentary, "The Making of a Legend," will be of little consequence to the fans. Armies of directors, writers and production staff were thrown at the film, with tales of breakdowns and exhaustion - the final telegram by David O. Selznick, the producer, to his story editor, who first raised the book to his attention, read, "Have just finished Gone with the Wind. God bless us one and all."

However, what people remember the most about the production process was how filming was delayed for two years until the right stars were available, due to the 1,400 women that auditioned for the part of Scarlett O'Hara, and that Clark Gable was considered the only acceptable choice for Rhett Butler - Charlie Hunnam's exit from "Fifty Shades of Grey" is officially due to a scheduling conflict, but one that followed an outcry.

What does distinguish "Gone with the Wind" from "Fifty Shades of Grey" is that Margaret Mitchell decided to keep her distance, while E.L. James, whose previous experience with TV or film fiction is as a production head on episodes of "The Worst Week of My Life," and "The Armstrong & Miller Show," is reportedly writing the scripts for the later film versions of her books, when what is needed, after the reports of on-set troubles with Sam Taylor-Johnson, is someone that can maintain a distance from their own work, especially when the end product has to be the result of a collaboration - even then, those who will watch it will truly be in charge.

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