Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Edition)

Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Edition)


Get the Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Edition) at Amazon.com

David O. Selznick wanted Gone with the Wind to be somehow more than a movie, a film that would broaden the very idea of what a film could be and do and look like. In many respects he got what he worked so hard to achieve in this 1939 epic (and all-time box-office champ in terms of tickets sold), and in some respects he fell far short of the goal. While the first half of this Civil War drama is taut and suspenseful and nostalgic, the second is ramshackle and arbitrary. But there's no question that the film is an enormous achievement in terms of its every resource--art direction, color, sound, cinematography--being pushed to new limits for the greater glory of telling an American story as fully as possible. Vivien Leigh is still magnificently narcissistic, Olivia de Havilland angelic and lovely, Leslie Howard reckless and aristocratic. As for Clark Gable: we're talking one of the most vital, masculine performances ever committed to film.
It seems like a 'new, improved' edition of "Gone With the Wind" has appeared every couple of years, offering the 'ultimate' in picture and sound reproduction, and extras. It can become expensive keeping up, and frustrating (much like buying a classic Disney DVD, when you know a more complete "Special Edition" will soon render your "First Time on Video" copy obsolete), but the new GWTW Four-Disc Collector's Edition most assuredly deserves a place in your collection.

First off, the picture and sound quality is astonishing. Warner's Ultra-Resolution process, which 'locks' the three Technicolor strips into exact alignment, provides a clarity and 'crispness' to the images that even the 1939 original print couldn't achieve. You'll honestly believe your TV is picking up HD, whether you're HD-ready, or not! This carries over to the Dolby Digital-remastered sound, as well. All of the tell-tale hiss and scratchiness of the opening credit title music, still discernable in the last upgrade, is gone, replaced by a richness of tone that will give your home theater a good workout. (Listen to the brass in this sequence, and you'll notice what I'm talking about...)

The biggest selling point of this edition is, of course, the two discs of additional features offered, and these are, in general, superb. Beginning with the excellent "Making of a Legend" (narrated by Christopher Plummer), Disc Three offers fascinating overviews about the film, the amazing restoration, footage from the 1939 Premiere (and the bittersweet 1961 Civil War Centennial reunion of Selznick, Leigh, and de Havilland), glimpses of Gable and Leigh with dubbed voices for the foreign-language versions, the international Prologue (tacked on to explain the Civil War to foreign audiences), and a 1940 MGM documentary on the "Old South" (directed by Fred Zinneman) memorable today for it's simplistic view of the time, and stereotypical portrayal of blacks.

Disc Four is a mixed bag; the long-awaited reminiscences of Olivia de Havilland are more chatty than informative (with the 90-year-old actress more interested in discussing her wardrobe than on-set tension...although a prank she pulled on Gable is amusing), and the Clark Gable Profile is superficial (A&E's biography of 'The King' is far superior). Things improve, however, with the insightful, sympathetic TCM biography of Vivien Leigh (hosted by Jessica Lange), and a WONDERFUL section devoted to brief bios of many of the GWTW supporting cast, narrated, again, by Christopher Plummer (although I wish the filmmakers would have included bios for Ward Bond, Victor Jory, Fred Crane, and George 'Superman' Reeves).

All in all, the GWTW Four-Disc Collector's Edition isn't perfect, but offers so much terrific material that it is CERTAINLY the one to own!

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