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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the epic drama Gone with the Wind, which is widely considered one of the top movies of all time, would never be rated G by today's standards. The film centers around the Civil War-torn South and includes several scenes of war-related violence, such as wounded soldiers dying, and Scarlett O'Hara shooting a Union deserter. The sexuality isn't as overt as in contemporary movies, but it's still pervasive, as Scarlett is clearly a bold, sexually attractive woman who manipulates men with her looks. Additionally, there are several kisses (a few very passionate ones), a scene that implies a husband has forced his wife to go to bed with him, and even the inclusion of a minor character who is a good-hearted "lady of the night." The alcohol and cigar use is also frequent, although mostly because there are so many parties in the movie. Parents should be aware that the depiction of African Americans is problematic and stereotypical -- the slaves seem to actually enjoy their lot and are either superficial and ignorant or fussy and smothering. It may concern some parents that the Confederate South is portrayed as having been a place of gentility and charm.
What's the story?
GONE WITH THE WIND is an epic melodrama that chronicles the Civil War from the point of view of a Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), a glamourous, unstoppable Southern belle. Just before the outbreak of war, the pampered and beautiful Scarlett, whose family plantation is called Tara, attends a ball where she discovers her object of affection Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) is engaged to his cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). In a fit of jealousy, Scarlett accepts a proposal from Melanie's brother but not before she meets the dashing Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), who can't keep his eyes off of her. Widowed shortly after the War begins, a "mourning" Scarlett once again meets Rhett at a dance but goes on to marry a businessman she doesn't love in order to keep Tara. As the war takes a heavy toll, Scarlett and Melanie must deal with the near-destruction of everything and everyone around them, including Tara. Scarlett eventually marries Rhett, who fears she continues to harbor not-so-secret feelings for Ashley, and they have a daughter together. Tragedies continue to befall the Butlers, and their marriage is tested again and again.
Is it any good?
If you can forgive the stereotypical depiction of slaves, and the general romanticizing of the antebellum South, the two main reasons to watch this film are Leigh and Gable. Actors who want a master class in chemistry should be forced to study their scenes together. Leigh, an Englishwoman, is effortless in her portrayal of a gorgeous, manipulative Atlanta socialite, and Gable, causes swooning with the briefest of smoldering looks. The supporting cast is also remarkable, as is the cinematography and the costume design (the unforgettable green-velvet dress made from curtains). It's difficult to imagine families sitting down for a four-hour film -- especially one without hobbits, Transformers, or wizards -- but Gone with the Wind is worth the long evening in, especially the 2009 four-disc, Blu-Ray collectors' edition, which includes nearly 20 hours worth of extras, celebrating everything from Hollywood's golden year 1939 to a first-person interview with de Havilland about working on the film opposite film legends.
Victor Fleming could have retired after 1939 and he'd still be lauded for having directed (or at least finished directing) two of the most important movies of the 20th century -- Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, both of which turned 70 in 2009. Both films are considered among the best of the best, ranking in the top 10 in Greatest of All Time lists, and both films are a pleasure to see multiple times, preferably at various points in a person's life, to truly appreciate. A tween taking in all four (!) hours of Leigh and Gable might focus on the costumes and war and tune out the sexism and slavery of the time period depicted, while an older teen might hone in on the swoon-inducing romance (even current movie gods like Clooney and Pitt have nothing on Gable), whereas a parent might be less sympathetic to Scarlett and favor Melanie's quiet strength instead. There's a reason the Hollywood adaptation of a Southern saga won 9 Academy Awards and is still commemorated and seen decades later -- it's got it all: drama, violence, intrigue, romance (even sex, although it takes grown-up eyes to spot it), historical importance, a timeless score, and an amazing cast.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the Civil War is portrayed in Gone with the Wind via the character of Scarlett O'Hara. How does the war affect her way of life? Does living through war change her personality, or does she remain the same throughout?
Scarlett is married several times for different reasons. Was marriage her only option at the time? What is different about her marriages to Charles, Frank, and then Rhett? Which of her marriages means the most to her and why?
Melanie is Scarlett's opposite in most ways. How do their personalities, values, and behavior differ? Why does Melanie forgive Scarlett over and over again?
How are African-Americans depicted in the movie? Would the portrayal of Civil War-era slavery be different if this 1939 movie were remade today?
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