Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Gone with the Wind (1939 – Part One)

Gone with the Wind has gotten somewhat of a bad reputation for its regressive racial attitudes, which are certainly a product of the time in which it was made. And while those problematic elements are still present, Gone with the Wind is a triumph of the producer-led Hollywood studio system like few others in history. Producer David O. Selznick set off to make the most epic movie possible, and he delivered. It almost doesn’t feel like a movie, but like an immense opera, full with swelling music, grand speeches, an intermission, and even an overture. It is larger than life, and certainly larger than the screen. We become aware of this right away, when the title of the movie swoops through the screen, in letters too big to be read all at once. This movie is big.

One way in which Gone with the Wind asserts its grandness is its movement of the camera to emphasize the proportions of the story it’s telling. Almost none of the best shots in Gone with the Wind are static, they are either a tilt, or a pan, in which the camera moves to reveal the movie’s ambitions. The most memorable of these shots are, first, the scene in which Scarlett O’Hara goes looking for a doctor, and the camera moves back in a tracking shot that reveals countless amounts of wounded soldiers. The other, comes at the end of the first half, with Scarlett silhouetted against the orange sky as she proclaims that with God as her witness, she will never be hungry again.

As for my pick, I decided to go with a shot that would mix the movie’s love for epic swoon, and its racial attitudes. There are a lot of elements that make Gone with the Wind hard to watch for someone with a contemporary, progressive worldview. The character of Prissy is probably the most grating example. But there are hints that Gone with the Wind’s attitudes might not be as regressive as you might think. There is, for example, the character of Mamie (memorably played in an Oscar-winning performance by Hattie McDaniel), the only black woman who stands up against Scarlett’s nonsense, and there’s also this early scene in the movie, where the belles of rural Georgia take a nap while a little slave girl serves as a fan. This scene too uses a pan to reveal all the ladies sleeping together, and getting across both the luscious and decadent lifestyle of the Old South.

Screen shot 2014-08-20 at 12.32.16 p.m.

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2 comments

  1. The Animation Commendation · August 20, 2014

    I love this film which is on my top 5 fave films of all time!

    But, I never understood the “naptime” in this scene. Was that a thing back then where women would all just take a nap?

    • Conrado Falco · August 21, 2014

      I am assuming it was something they did at the time, although I’ve only heard about it in the context of Gone with the Wind.

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