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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Gone With the Wind

Despite its antebellum subject (it opens with a text scroll that suggests slave ownership was somehow ‘gallant’), Gone with the Wind was the first ‘modern’ film, the first color epic to make extensive use of special effects (albeit matte paintings) and to replicate the sweep and depth of a novel, while instilling it with the excitement of live action drama. And now the 1939 Selznick International production achieves the peak of modernity as a Warner Home Video Blu-ray release, available at the time being only as a ritzy ‘limited edition’ (150,000 copies) four-platter 70th Anniversary boxed set. The 233-minute feature has undergone yet another color transfer for this event, and that transfer is also available on DVD as a Two-Disc 70th Anniversary Edition, but it is the BD that best delivers the improved color palette. In comparison to Warner’s last grand DVD production, the brightly lit shots of women in colorful dresses look pretty much the same, but in the long shots of landscapes, the night sequences, and any situation where the control of the lighting was more challenging, the BD’s image is greatly improved, with richer, sharper hues and more confident definition. There is less to add with the sound. The recording is too old to achieve a contemporary resonance and will always sound a bit tinny and flat, despite the subdued but earnest 5.1-channel Dolby Digital mix it underwent a little while ago. Still, the BD delivery is solid and the voices of the cast are finely detailed. A mono English track is also available, along with a 5.1 French track and two Spanish tracks, a Castilian track in 5.1 Dolby and a Latin track in mono. On BD, including the Overture, Entr’acte and Exit Music, the film appears on one side of one platter, a far cry from the 35mm cans that it originally took up, which would stack as tall as the average NBA basketball player.

As for the movie, despite the very happy slaves, the first part, depicting the effects of the Civil War upon the South, remains immensely entertaining, combining the vivid performances of the cast with the fabulous production design and effects. The early half of the second part, about Reconstruction, also has its entertainments, but the second half, as Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh’s characters get on each other’s nerves and their little girl dies, is more of a strain, which is necessary to believe that he would walk away from her in the memorable ending, but difficult to suffer through after multiple viewings. On the whole, however, the film holds up remarkably well for having such an archaic attitude toward race relations and such, and the BD puts the movie’s accomplishments on display in its best light.

On the DVD, the film is split to two platters, with the break at the Intermission point. The mono English track, 5.1 French track and mono Spanish track are included, along with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The only special feature is historian Rudy Behlmer’s commentary, which appeared on the previous DVD release.

Included in the fancy BD boxed set is a nice picture book, replications of a number of memos, a replication of the original souvenir program, ten post cards with production art, a 34-minute monophonic CD of the film’s original score recording, and the same two-sided DVD presentation of the multi-part documentary, MGM: When the Lion Roars, that Warner also included in its Wizard of Oz collector’s set. The first BD platter has the Behlmer commentary

The second BD platter, however, is loaded with extra features. Many appeared in the previous collector’s edition DVD, including the 123-minute 1989 retrospective documentary, a 39-minute retrospective interview with Olivia de Havilland from 2004, a 65-minute profile of Gable from 1975 hosted by Pat Lawford, a 29-minute profile of Leigh from 1990, 13 minutes of profiles of the supporting cast members, an 18-minute piece on the previous restoration, a minute-long explanation of the Civil War that was tacked onto the beginning of foreign releases, a black-and-white 11-minute MGM featurette about the War from 1940 entitled The Old South, a 4-minute newsreel clip about the film’s premiere, another 4-minute clip about a revival of the film in coordination with the Civil War’s centennial, a 3-minute compilation of foreign language clips, and five trailers.

The three new features are all quite satisfying. There is a fresh 33-minute retrospective documentary that is admittedly just covering odds and ends not picked up in the 1989 piece but is still full of fun little factoids, such as the revelation that Ted Turner’s mustache was directly inspired by Gable’s character. Tony Curtis plays David Selznick in the very entertaining 1980 telefilm, The Scarlett O’Hara War. Running 97-minutes, the program seems a little off-putting at first, with so many iconic stars (Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Tallulah Bankhead, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Chaplin and so on) being played by unknown performers, but once the film gets into the heart of Selznick’s quest to find the perfect Scarlett, which went on until the night they actually started shooting the film, it is addictively enjoyable. There are also several performances that don’t throw you for a loop and help anchor the suspension of disbelief, especially Edward Winter’s spot-on imitation of Gable. It is a bit of a shame the film couldn’t get into the firing of George Cukor as well, but for what it is, it delivers the oft-told stories and a few lesser pieces of gossip and insinuation in a very entertaining manner. Finally, there is a marvelous 68-minute documentary about the greatest year the movies ever had, 1939, and the best pictures of that year (Thomas Mitchellseemed to be in every last one of them). The program gives at least a little bit of attention to non-Warner product as it surveys the output of each studio, profiles the greatest films and filmmakers, and also discusses what it was about America’s advancing culture that caused such an amazing watershed event.

by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon