Thursday, April 29, 2010

With Courage, You Don't Need A Reputation

Today we went to see Gone With The Wind in a real theater. (Not a movie palace, unfortunately, just a multiplex that shows a few art films and classics in off hours - and the print was badly digitized, so that the shadows were oddly posterized and sometimes kinda freaky looking.) It was a great, if very long, experience. Four hours, but so full of great moments (and great quotes like the title of this post) you hardly notice it.

In watching it, several thoughts occurred to me in relation to the posts I've made in the last few days:

1. Inescapable Context.

Context for something Gone With The Wind is inescapable. There is no putting a lollipop around anything in it. We just can't escape what we know about that movie, especially if you are at least fifty years old.

Today, when the audience saw this....

Everybody in the whole audience chuckled because they were thinking of this....

For those of you who might be too young to remember: The Carol Burnet Show did wonderful satires of old movies, and the most classic one was "Went With The Wind." The curtain rod dress was one of the THE classic moments in TV history. For blurry video of the entire sketch (which is in two nine-minute parts) "Went With the Wind" Part1 and Part 2 (the part with the dress happens a minute or two into Part 2.) And here is a one and a half minute clip of just the famous entrance.

The other contextual issue is the political incorrectness of this tale of the South (especially in the moments when it tries to be more correct and just makes the moment worse).

2. Scarlet Overhears People Saying Nasty Things About Her.

Scarlet O'Hara, of course, is one of the classic unrepentant jerks of cinema. But she's also one of the most famously appealing ones. And right there, early on, what happens but ... she overhears a number ladies talking about her. It isn't used the same way as the clip I played the other day, but I had to smile after the post I wrote on Tuesday.

The big technique they use to make the story and Scarlet appealing is illustrated in that bit though: As Scarlet listens to the angry, mean (and accurate) things the other ladies say, Melanie defends her. Melanie is the sweetest and nicest person in the world, and thus hated by Scarlet, but she never gives up on Scarlet. Melanie's deluded faith shames Scarlet and keeps her somewhat in check throughout the movie.

In some ways, I think Scarlet is the object of the movie rather than the protagonist, the real conflict is between Melanie's unfailing faith in her, and Rhett's fond cynicism about her. Or perhaps between Scarlet and those two forces which keep her in check.

3. Jerking the Tears

One other kind of technique (not related to making jerks appealing) in Gone With The Wind was when they veiled tragedy so we could get closer to it. Sure, a lot of that movie was quite blunt about the horrors or war. (I swear they violated some Hays commission rules about display of bodies, for instance.) But one of the most affecting scenes is a scene we don't see, but only hear about. When Bonny Blue dies, they cut away, and we don't see the effect on Rhett. Instead, Mammy tells the story of what happened to Melanie. It's a major tear jerker.

I was once told by a writing instructor that the best way to get the audience to cry is to not let your characters cry. Bring them up to the edge of crying, give them every reason, but have them hold back and the audience will cry for them. After seeing this scene, I think that it can work just as well - or even better - to have other characters weep for them.

Tomorrow I'll be talking about Alpha Readers.


Laura S. said...

Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite novels. The movie is great, too, but I prefer the book. :)

Excellent post!!!

The Daring Novelist said...

It's one of the few movies that did a really great job of representing the book though. I mean, there are a lot of good movies made out of books that are just a completely different thing than the book was, but GWTW is probably as close as I've seen.

It has been a long time since I read the book. I'll have to look and see how Mitchell handled the relating of the aftermath of the death of Bonny Blue. She had the option of narrative, rather than scene or dialog (which movies don't).

Of course, it would be hard for me to judge the real effect of the scene now - context!