Friday, August 5, 2011
Almost Gone from Gone with the Wind
Those of you born after 1975 might be surprised to know that there was once a time when if you wanted to see a particular movie, you couldn't just pick up a video or DVD or download a streaming version on a computer. You either had to wait until it was playing in a theater or wait until it was shown on television. There were certain films like Gone With The Wind that were never on television and rarely re-released into the theaters. It was for many film buffs something akin to the Holy Grail of cinematic art.
An avid movie fan since childhood, I became a true film aficionado after I started college in 1969. I even took film classes. Free or inexpensive film offerings were presented throughout the week at the university and I took advantage of most of them. However, the legendary Gone With The Wind was not among the those films. The Civil War epic was a film that I had heard of and longed to see, but it seemed to be an elusive quest.
Then, in early 1974, I learned that the film would once again be in theaters and was thrilled when I saw that the film would be shown in the small Foothills Cinema in my hometown of Maryville, Tennessee. Since none of my friends seemed to be interested in going to see GWTW, I decided to go by myself. I often went to the movies by myself--my friends were usually not too interested in seeing the films that I wanted to see. It was no big deal to me. It was easier to enjoy the movies watching them alone, though it would have been nice to have had someone with whom to discuss them afterward. GWTW was in town and I was going to see it no matter what.
Being a Tuesday night, I was not surprised to see a less than full theater for such an important film. But I was rather surprised that there were only about twenty people in the theater. This suited me fine since there would be less distraction due to inconsiderate film viewers. I settled into my seat with no other patrons near me. At last I was going to see this film that I had heard of all of my life.
It was a fine film that lived up to all that I had heard about it. The grandeur of the antebellum Southern aristocracy was well depicted. The mounting excitement of impending war and the ensuing conflicts that eventually lead to the defeat of the Confederacy were enthralling. The spectacular conflagration of Atlanta and Scarlett's harrowing escape from the burning city was heart-pounding. The sadness of the ruined plantations was moving.
Then there was that final dramatic scene with Scarlett rooting for food in the pillaged garden of the sacked plantation of Tara. Silhouetted against the dusky sky she defiantly proclaims, "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!" The screen went dark.
As the lights came up, the theater was quiet. With only twenty people in the theater I guess one wouldn't expect much noise. I solemnly left the theater contemplating the film I had just seen. I could understand why the film had been so popular. I thought the ending was powerful, though somehow not complete.
After I entered my car and put the key in the ignition, something seemed amiss. No one else was leaving the theater. I thought perhaps they had used another exit. But, no, there were no cars leaving either. I realized that the words "The End" had never appeared. And I never even heard Rhett say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn". At that moment one of those forehead slapping moments hit me. Duh! The movie was not over, it was only intermission.
I felt foolish. Trying to cover up my mistake, I sat in my car for a short while and acted like I was looking for something. After a few moments I strolled back into the theater trying to act cool and collected. I sauntered over to the refreshment counter and looked over the offerings as though I might be looking for something. Casually, I looked around the lobby. The ticket seller was gone since there were no more showings that night. The girl at the refreshment stand stared blankly toward the door looking every bit like she was ready to go home. No one else was in the lobby.
I returned to the seating area. The few people in attendance were still in their seats talking or lost in thoughts. I sat down where I had been sitting previously. No one paid any attention to me. I still felt foolish for having thought the film was over and actually leaving the theater. At least I had covered my mistake well with my coolness.
Since my first viewing of Gone With The Wind, I have seen the film several times. I went to see it in the theater again in the mid-nineties at a theater in a mall in Cerritos, California. They didn't have a proper projector to show the movie causing the colors to be out of whack and the entire film was slightly out of focus with strange auras surrounding all of the actors. I felt like I was watching the movie after having taken a hallucinogenic drug. I had gone with a group of people but nobody said anything about the way it looked until intermission. Then the guy who had been at the helm of our film outing and who was a hard core film fan went to complain. They told him that's the way things were and there wasn't anything they could do about it. So we watched the whole movie like that and I felt like I was high after I left the theater.
Now the movie is shown on television occasionally. My wife and I have two different GWTW DVD box sets. Now I can watch the film whenever I want. And since it's on DVD I can stop it and have an intermission whenever I want. I haven't been to a movie theater in years. I can't stop the movie in the theater when I want to. Movies these days don't have intermissions anymore. When you get older, you think about intermissions more often. But I guess that's another story entirely.