By Mirvat Chammout
“Gone with the Wind” is one of the most famous motion pictures of all time. Winning a total of 10 awards, it is clear the movie is a true work of art and absolutely phenomenal from beginning to end. “Gone with the Wind” astounds its viewers from its vibrant use of Technicolor to its breathtaking sunsets. It’s a story of survival through the toughest of times and it resonates with people all around the world. It is known for its powerful, infamous lines that echo in our hearts. “I’ll never be hungry again,” “tomorrow is another day,” and, of course, “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” are just a few lines that are still honored today.
“Gone with the Wind” focuses on the life of southern belle Scarlett O’Hara and her struggles through the beginning, duration, and aftermath of the Civil War. Throughout the film,
various stylistic elements are utilized in order to present the narrative effortlessly and efficiently. Camera angle, mise-en-scène, sound, and structure are merely a few examples of elements that are employed to create a sense of realism.
Mise-en-scėne is the arrangement of items in a scene including the actors, props, etc. The most crucial element of mise-en-scène utilized in “Gone with the Wind” is lighting. Low-key lighting, for instance, is applied in several scenes–for example, in the scene where the characters are fleeing Atlanta. This lighting creates a dramatic effect as it illustrates the frightening mood of the scene. The lighting also represents the looming danger the characters are facing from the ever-growing fire. As the music escalates with the fire, it causes the viewers to be on the edge of their seats and feel as if they are the ones fleeing from danger.
“Gone with the Wind” is known for its famous silhouette scenes. The first silhouette scene is in the beginning of the movie when Scarlett and her father, Gerald, are standing on a hill overlooking Tara. As the camera dramatically pulls away from the two characters, the audience is met with an astonishing sunset. Backlighting is used in this scene to create realistic shadows and to emphasize the breathtaking view. The foreground in this scene is shown completely in shadow, while the background is accentuated and looks as if it is the only source of light. This effect emphasizes Gerald’s statement that land is important and the only thing worth fighting for.
William Cameron Menzies, the production designer on “Gone with the Wind,” worked over a year to develop the perfect camera angles, lighting effects, and other directorial contributions for the film. This was especially significant during the creation of the Atlanta fire sequence since multiple versions were considered by the creators of “Gone with the Wind.” The producer, David O. Selznick, asked Menzies to complete the entire script in sketch form and the largest number of sketches represented the fire sequence. These sketches were altered several times because Selznick wanted to place emphasis on constant mounting violence in every shot. In the final version, Menzie included several dissolves during the fire sequence. The first dissolve is right after Rhett laughs when Scarlett mentions she forgot to lock the door. This shot dissolves into the following scene where we see the characters in the wagon heading away as a lamp continues to burn in the street. They are held up as they wait for a long line of soldiers to march past them. Scarlett complains, wishing they would go faster, but Rhett catuions her, stating “I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to see them go if I were you, my dear. With them goes the last semblance of law and order!” With this declaration, several shots follow to display the mayhem that Rhett predicts. The camera cuts suddenly to a window being broken by scavengers. Another shot shows numerous people stealing as many goods as they can while the fire continues to grow and illuminate behind the buildings. The final building collapses as the characters miraculously escape the fire and we see another dissolve as a new scene is introduced.
“Gone with the Wind” was one of the longest, most difficult and expensive films to develop, especially since it emerged in the midst of the Great Depression. However, this was extremely beneficial because its encouraging message of survival enthralled Great Depression era audiences and prompted them to appreciate the film’s priceless value. As people watched the film, they saw their own personal experiences reflected back to them. Seeing the characters on the screen experiencing similar struggles (starvation, loss, death) enhanced their spirits as they looked to the movie for hope and courage. The infamous quote, “I’ll never be hungry again” spoken by Scarlett was a cry aimed towards Americans to lift themselves up out of starvation.
Viewers saw Scarlett facing multiple ordeals from the war. They saw her struggling for food, laboring in the fields and losing her loved ones, but they also saw that she was surviving and fighting any obstacle that the war threw her way. They saw that no matter what happened, Scarlett remained strong and brave. As a result, Depression era viewers saw “Gone with the Wind” as a beacon of hope–as a reminder that through hard times and hopelessness, they should never give up and try to push through their dilemmas with resistance and strength like Scarlett.
“Gone with the Wind” is a priceless classic. It depicts the Civil War South perfectly and its underlying theme of survival resonates with depression-era viewers. Its story flows effortlessly and its characters come to life before our eyes. Today, “Gone with the Wind” remains one of the most magnificent and prominent films of all time.