Gone with the Wind was released last fall in a detailed 70th-anniversary, special-edition DVD. Being probably the quintessential Hollywood movie, I thought I’d take another look. As an Irishman recently relocated to the American South, I’m reluctant to say I understand it. While it’s visually astonishing, the politics are troubling.
Here the Civil War appears to have been fought over the fall collection of the local haberdashery, so well turned out are the men engaged in what the movie tells us occurred when “two nations came to death grips.” Mourning in Gone with the Wind is a fashion statement—you get to wear black and look snazzy, and when a man wants to buy you at a charity auction, you can get even more attention than at your husband’s funeral.
The film was released in 1939, when the Depression was ending and memories of widespread sorrow and premature death were fresh, but also close enough to the end of Lincoln’s war that surely some who saw it had been there when Atlanta burned. Some, also, were about to lose their lives in a war America did not yet want to join. It’s tempting to suggest that this, a film about trauma and epic violence, may have provided some closure while also nurturing the communal appetite for destruction.