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May 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       May 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:January' 2018


Return of a fabulous actress
of yesteryears

Gautam Kaul

Olivia de Havilland There is some thing special in actress Olivia de Havilland. She is alive at 102 years, born in Japan to British parents, enjoys the rights of nationality in three nations, Britain, USA and France, and she is the sole survivor of one of the biggest ensemble of the star cast, of the greatest American film ever made yet, namely, Gone With The Wind (GWTW)(1939).
Film GWTW is slated to visit India during this year, while it celebrates its 80th year of making. In the USA there is now an annual day earmarked, for a one day screening nationwide for GWTW. That date just went by in February 2019. This is because among many things the film is, it retells the history of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction of the country after the War. The film is sacred to the memory of the American people.
The Margaret Mitchel novel running over 1000 pages, in extracts is study material in High School English literature, and these studies are followed by screening of the film for explanatory lessons. It seems after the reading of the US Constitution document for all students, knowing the inerts of the film GWTW in class-room studies seems the next best reading. There is no other example of the kind, a tribute to a film, made 80 years ago.
If War and Peace made in 1966 and directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, represents the best in Soviet film culture, Mughal- e- Azam represents the Indian film industry then Gone With The Wind represent the best work out of the American film industry; the Americans know of this!

It is not the money that this film made, incidentally its worth presently 3.4.billion US dollars, including the count of inflation, the sweep of the film narrative has remained unprecedented and unmatched. For many, the star cast itself was the biggest collective of talent. The film was planned for making in 1936 onward, but the search for the principle female role of Scarlett O’Hara remained elusive, until Vivian Leigh of England was discovered and she also agreed. Film shooting began in 1939 even as Europe went to War.
The film changed hands of its director. It started with George Cukor who briefly struggled with the multi- writer script and Clark Gable and felt both were disasters. When differences became nasty, Cukor withdrew from the project which went to Victor Fleming. Even Fleming found the film producer David O’ Selznick difficult to agree on some aspects of the story telling, and briefly abandoned the production, only to return and complete the epic.
GWTW posed not only a challenge in filming the story, it also posed first of its kind problems to overcome physically and also in special effects. The burning of Atlanta city in itself was a challenged which had to be filmed only in one go because you could not reconstruct the whole Main Street in quick time. The Soviets in their case with the funds of the State took their time and money to shoot the battle scenes of War and Peace, which the Selznick Studio could ill afford twenty years earlier in time.
After the release of the film , GWTW ran into some interesting controversies. The first one of them was, it depicted marital rape for the first time in cinema. The incident comes when a drunk Rhett Butler suggests just married Scarlett, to move to the bedroom and she refuses. Butler lifts his still struggling wife, and pulls her into the bedroom. Next day morning , Butler is offering a divorce for the happenings of last night.

The film which had a running time of 3 hours and 58 minutes cost the Studio approximately 4 million dollars. At last calculations it had given a return of 390 million dollars as profit which for that kind of investment was 97 times the return. The world premiere of GWTW in Atlanta city was the most extended celebrations, lasting three days.

In conservative East Coast of USA the audiences held their breath at the scene, even though they may have read of the same in the book already.

The second issue was more debated as the film depicted the negro slaves in better light than what reality reported in that era. At the same time the ‘Whites’ were portrayed in poorer light with the happenings of Malenie (De Havilland) and her husband Ashley Wilkes, played by Leslie Howard. The film’s comment on the role of the extreme right social group, Ku Klux Klan, though marginal in the film, was another matter of critical comment. We need to see this film also from the point of view of the placement of time when Black and White racial relations were rather sharp. Social apartheid in southern states of USA even in 1939, was intact and thriving.

The film appealed to its audiences in America for the social values they held and showed. The strong family ties, the wealthy of the South, the debate on freedom and individual liberty, and Abraham Lincoln in the shadows. At the individual level, the film showed the rise and fall of sexual awareness of a woman who was defying many social norms fixed for the ladies of the South to follow.

Scarlett posed challenges for Rhett Butler who ‘cared a damn’ after having made his point that he was a husband who would not be cowed down to a woman who thought a lot of herself.

The film which had a running time of 3 hours and 58 minutes cost the Studio approximately 4 million dollars. At last calculations it had given a return of 390 million dollars as profit which for that kind of investment was 97 times the return. The world premiere of GWTW in Atlanta city was the most extended celebrations, lasting three days.

The film garnered eight Oscars for the year, including the Bests Film, Best Actress, Best Film Director, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, but it was the Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actress, given to actress Hattie MacDaniel in her role of the faithful Mammy, the Black slave, which became the most talked of award. This was the first ever occasion when a Black artist was honoured thus. Oscars were thereafter never the same!

It seems the American audiences never has enough of this film and its story. The original novel continues to have its generational favourite readers, and the film has also become the only film which refused to be permanently canned and sealed. It has seen regular revivals. The first came in 1954, then in 1961, then a wide screen version in 1968, and a digital version in 1989 and a revived longer version in 1998 in which the overture to the music originally composed was also added for use in intermission. In its latest avtar of 2019, there are no further special touches.

As news of the surviving Olivia De Havilland has moved over the lands of her people in America and Europe, a new wave of fans has searched her out, She has come out of her social hibernation and given small interviews to her fans recalling the days of the film shooting, of Vivien Leigh, and Clark Gable and his many moods that cost David O’ Selznick a pretty penny, and lots and lot of headache.