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This past weekend I got out a VHS tape of one of my favorite making of a film documentaries.
Yes, I still use my VCR from time to time. Please don’t kick me out of the Cool Kids Club. : )
Anyway, I hadn’t seen it in a while and it’s always a good view. It’s called “The Making of a Legend — Gone with the Wind.” It’s an approximately two-hour documentary that takes you on a trip through the making of what many consider one of the greatest movies of all time which was released in 1939.
It’s downloaded into 15 parts on YouTube and available on DVD via Amazon.com for just over $8 along with postage and handling.
What I admired most when I first saw this documentary was the courage it took producer David O. Selznick to make the movie. And what I mean by courage was the courage to risk his reputation and career on it.
“Gone With The Wind”, the book, written by Margaret Mitchell, practically flew off bookstore shelves when it was published in 1936 And when it was known almost two years before its premiere that a “Gone with The Wind” movie was a possibility after Selznick bought the rights to the book, the media and public began speculation on who was to play the main character, Scarlett O’Hara.
Add to that, the reality that a usable screenplay needed to be developed from a 1,004-page novel and a public, so in love with the book, already had preconceived notions of who should play the characters in the movie and what the film should be like.
The production of the film was a mess or chaos. You choose the word. Selznick was a perfectionist almost to the point of madness. There were script rewrites too numerous to count, take after take of scenes which were reshot anyway, director replacements and replacements of some of the crew.
And when production had ended on the film, $4 million dollars had been spent which was astronomical for a movie of that era.
But it paid off big time. It was a box office smash. It won eight Academy Awards including best picture and acting honors went to Vivian Leigh and Hattie McDaniel.
When the movie was finally shown on TV in the mid-1970s, the audiences were enormous.
I want to stress that this is not an endorsement of the era written about in the book or shown in the movie and it’s certainly not an endorsement of the era in which the movie came out.
I thought McDaniel was very deserving of an Oscar. At many points of the movie, her character is the smartest one in the room. She was a maid in “Gone with the Wind” and unfortunately spent most of her acting career having to play maids.
And to add insult to inujury, according to a story published earlier this year in The Hollywood Reporter, Selznick had to call in a favor to get her into the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where the 1940 Academy Awards was being held. The hotel had a no African-Americans allowed policy at the time. She was not even allowed to sit at the table with Selznick and the rest of the “Gone with the Wind” nominees during the ceremony.
My point is that Selznick had the creative courage to see something that he believed in through to completion. I just don’t see that in today’s moviemaking alhtough there our factors today that hold movie studios back like practically having to make all their money the first weekend the movie opens.
Selznick came through with a movie that people are discussing the pros and cons of 76 years later. I consider that quite an accomplishment.