"Gone With The Wind" received eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress Vivien Leigh. Listed as # 4 on AFI's Top 100 of all time.
The restoration featurette on Disc 3 pretty much explains why the recent spate of Technicolor films from Warner Bros. look so stunning: using some remarkable software, each of the three strips that make up the old Technicolor system are carefully centered to ensure there's no color hazing, soft focus, or weak color registration from frame to frame. There's also a major qualitative difference between the fuzzy picture quality of the last theatrical reissue prints, and the first DVD's early transfer.
The DVD includes the original mono mix, plus a 5.1 mix that's philosophically analyzed in the restoration featurette, with some attention to the original music stems and tweaked sound effects. (For a hoot, watch the 70mm trailer right after the featurette to get a sample of how the 1.33:1 ratio was cleaved down for the '69 theatrical re-issue.)
Starting from scratch, the new four disc set may seem like overkill to passersby, but each goodie adds another perspective to a milestone film that's been endlessly written about for decades. Rudy Behlmer's commentary track presents a broad overview of the film's production history, and his angle is unique due to his subsequent research and editing of producer David O. Selznick's personal archives that led to the book "Memo: From David O. Selznick." Overall, Behlmer's track serves as an intro to the featurettes on Discs 3 and 4, and despite occasional pauses (perhaps to breathe again), he keeps the facts flowing for nearly four hours.
For the 1988 making-of documentary on Disc 3, the producers sought out surviving associates and technicians, and had them partake in on-camera interviews (many being very frank about Selznick's bullying, Benzedrine popping, and maniacal hands-on approach). Aided by Christopher Plummer's narration, there's some recreations of pivotal with the survivors, adding a quaint texture to the doc. Actress Butterfly McQueen describes the dilemma of intelligent and gifted black actors forced to play iconic stereotypes, and there's added material on Selznick's decision to prune away the novel's more racist elements from the screenplay. Of note, too, are clips from the temporary titles from the first sneak preview, audience comments, plus an interview from an actual attendee of that fateful night.
A pivotal moment during filming was Victor Fleming assuming the directorial reigns when Selznick felt George Cukor wasn't creating a sufficiently epic film. In a newly filmed interview with Olivia de Havilland on Disc 4, the graceful actress describes Fleming's uneasy transition with the actors, and in her own inimitable (albeit laboriously melodramatic) fashion, de Havilland comments on her role, costumes, and Vivien Leigh's knack for delivering a nuanced performance after a few preparatory minutes. The only qualm here is a lack of chapter indexes for the organized segments.
In a 1990 Turner documentary on Disc 3, the life of Vivien Leigh is succinctly profiled through interviews, numerous film clips (many from her rare British films from the Thirties), and some home movies. Jessica Lange plays an overly meditative hostess, and her original ad break transitions are covered up by quick lap dissolves.
More interesting is a very odd documentary on Clark Gable from 1975. Produced by Jack Haley, Jr. (producer of the original "That's Entertainment" films), the one hour piece has skinny Peter Lawford covering Gable's early career (with rare film clips, stills, and an interview with his first wife), and some candid Q&A sessions with comedian Andy Devine, director "Wild Bill" William Wellman, journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns, and a short bit with actress Yvonne De Carlo. Nasally-endowed Lawford is a tad wobbly as the show's pseudo-journalist/host, but his celebrity status lowers the guard of his subjects, and we get some intriguing firsthand character portraits.
Disc 4's collection of short supporting cast portraits are brief recaps of material already covered by historian Behlmer in his commentary track, adding stills, and film clips. Plummer's narration. Like his brief narrative intros for most of the special features, Plummer's voice lends a nice continuity to the four-disc set.
Though there's no still galleries of sketches, portraits, behind-the-scenes snapshots, or archived screen tests, the set contains vintage newsreels, and a curious short chronicling the importance of cotton in America's industrial advancement. Directed in 1940 By Fred Zinnemann (!), "The Old South" is preceded by a cautionary intro from Plummer about the obvious racial stereotypes of the period, and though not directly tied to Selznick's opus, the phrase "…gone with the wind" is repeated at the end in a not-so-subtle usage of synergic marketing.
The last goodie is a reproduction of a souvenir booklet ("purchased… for 25 cents a copy") which includes lovely illustrations, bios of the key players, and production reflections by Clark Gable and Leigh (likely doodled by the studio's fawning PR team).
A really thoughtful DVD production that belongs in any film fan's classic film library!
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan