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SF Chronicle Review

Swirl of Emotion in `Wind' Refreshed film shows uncanny depth

By Bob Graham, SF Chronicle

Today's re-release of ``Gone With the Wind'' is a case not only of rejuvenation but of redemption.

Isn't that what everyone over 30 is looking for?

The first new Technicolor print in 37 years, digital sound and moments of digitally cleaned-up footage scattered throughout its three hours and 42 minutes all make for a gorgeous sight-and-sound experi ence. The film is being shown in theaters for the first time in nine years.

Once again, the American classic, now 59 years old, is back to redeem the good name of melodrama. Vivien Leigh's performance is the touchstone of great melodramatic acting. And if she also needs someone to defend the honor of a ``woman's picture,'' I am the man. I give a damn.

I know a number of people -- men -- who actively dislike ``Gone With the Wind.'' That's their loss.

I'd like to think that their scorn stems from having seen it only on video or network television -- Ted Turner turned it into a miniseries.

``Gone With the Wind'' is not mini anything.

The big scenes are blatantly theatrical and have nothing to do with ``realism.'' The emotional context is melodramatic, which is to say the characters are self-defining and bring their inner life right to the surface and show it to us.

The characters and conflicts are clear-cut, but are they ``larger than life''? Not really. Emotionally, they are precisely as big as life. What that really means is that ordinarily we stuff such emotions and keep them to ourselves.

In melodrama, things amount to something. There is something at stake.

When Scarlett O'Hara raises her fist to the sky and vows never to be hungry again, not only do we believe her, we understand her.

We see the moment coming, and we say to ourselves, by God, she's really going to do it. Leigh has the courage of Scarlett's convictions.

Scarlett desires Ashley Wilkes but marries his brother. She realizes that she loves Rhett Butler only after she loses him. She has been described as fickle.

She is not fickle at all. She knows exactly what she wants, and she tells us. This does not mean that what she wants remains the same at any given point. This story, after all, takes almost four hours to tell. Of course she changes.


She is always after something. She is proud, selfish, willful and conniving, and when she must be strong, she is.

Scarlett is not ``good.'' That's exactly why we identify with her. She is real to us in a way that Melanie Wilkes is not. Melanie, the truly good character, is literally too good to be true.

Rhett Butler, with Clark Gable's knowing smile and gleam in his eye, sees right through Scarlett. ``You, helpless?'' he snorts.

Their escape in a carriage during the burning of Atlanta is a good demonstration both of the new Technicolor print, with its deep, brilliant tones, and of the digital enhancement. About 12 minutes of the original print were scanned into a computer to remove flaws, and the results are scattered here and there.

Jumpy images and unmatched color in the escape scene are smoothed out. Elsewhere, glitches such as the shadow of a sound boom or the wires from which the ``David O. Selznick Presents'' sign is suspended have been digitally erased.

The most striking effect of the Technicolor process is its subtlety. The viewer is aware of the gradations of flesh tones in Leigh's face and can see the color rise in her cheeks. The exact color of her eyes is a source of fascination (they are gray-blue with flashes of green).

Well, I can't put this off any longer. Some of those who dislike ``Gone With the Wind'' say it is a sentimental defense of two lost causes, the Confederacy and slavery. I respect such opinions and think they deserve consideration.


But, where the rubber meets the road, there is only one subject in ``Gone With the Wind.'' It is Scarlett O'Hara. It is entirely her story, told from her point of view. Scarlett cares for nothing but herself.

One of the reasons this screen version of the epic Margaret Mitchell novel is considered a woman's picture is that it deals with the ``home front'' during the War Between the States. I'll bet there are many people who can say they were first exposed to it when ``my mother took me to see it.''

That's all right. I'd be satisfied if the same audience of young women and their boyfriends who made such a phenomenal success of ``Titanic'' -- another melodrama, by the way, and a good one -- go see this one.

I'll tell you what. Let's re-release ``Gone With the Wind'' ourselves. Let's call it ``Tomorrow Is Another Day'' and pretend it is a brand-new movie.

It certainly looks like one.

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