FIGAROVOX/ CHRONICLE – Accused of racism, Gone with the wind was deprogrammed by a movie theater in Memphis. Alexandre Devecchio has revisited this classic from the golden age which says a lot about his time and ours.
Alexandre Devecchio is a journalist at Le Figaro, in charge of Le FigaroVox. He just published The New Children of the Century, investigates a fractured generation (ed. du Cerf, 2016) and is co-author of Welcome to the worst of all worlds (ed. Plon, 2016).
Once is not customary, we must thank the little soldiers of multiculturalism for their iconoclastic fury. By preventing the projection of Agone with the wind in the Orpheum Theater in Memphis (Tennessee), which has been showing the film every year for 34 years, it gives all moviegoers a good excuse to treat themselves to 3h58 of happiness by plunging back into David Selznick's masterpiece. As long as they are equipped with a simple DVD player, they will be able to experience the thrill of subversion and especially to note that 78 years after its release, the film has not aged a bit. Technicolor, witness to a blessed period when cinema was not yet colonized by digital technology, remains spellbinding. Scarlett O'Hara, embodied by the sublime Vivien Leigh, the most beautiful and irresistible bitch in the history of cinema. And Clark Gable/Rhett Butler, the most elegant and manly actor of all time, far ahead of George Nespresso Clooney.
Impossible, however, to watch the film with the same eye as in the past? A question now haunts the viewer: “Gone with the wind is he racist? Judging this work by the moral criteria of 2017 seems absurd and anachronistic. Gone with the wind was released theatrically in 1939. At the time, Martin Luther King was singing with his church choir in Atlanta for the premiere of the film! The struggle for civil rights was still only a distant dream and the diverse ideology of science fiction. On this account, it would be necessary to prohibit half of the American cinematographic production of the time. First of all, the westerns and their mythologized vision of the West where the Indians, presented as savages, have well deserved to be genocidated by the nice cowboys. In France, if we continue according to this logic, the new anti-racist inquisition could make a gigantic auto-da-fé with a good number of literary geniuses. Voltaire's work burned for "Islamophobia", Celine's for anti-Semitism. Molière excommunicated again, but this time for misogyny. Balzac, self-proclaimed defender of the "throne and altar" banned for conservatism. However, attempting to analyze the ideology conveyed by Gone with the wind, what the most viewed film of all time of its time and ours says, remains an exciting exercise.
The feature film appears much more complex and subtle than our current caricatures. Even with a contemporary, fastidious and vigilant look, the accusations of “racism”, “apology for slavery” or even “ultraconservatism” prove to be excessive. If it is absolutely necessary to stick a label to him, the film could be described as anarchist-conservative. At the origin ofGone with the wind, there is the cult novel by Margaret Mitchell, child of the South, daughter of a wealthy conservative lawyer and a feminist suffragette activist. The real author of the film, directed by several directors, including Georges Cukor and Victor Flemming, is David O. Selznick, a Jewish Hollywood producer. Like Scarlett O'Hara, torn between the insipid Ashley Wilkes and the charismatic Rhett Butler, Gone with the wind is entirely torn between the past and the future, Reaction and Modernity, the ocher earth of Tara and the new America of the East Coast. The mythical couple of the film draws its strength from the traditional values of the South, but deeply unconventional and avant-garde, they break all the conventions of their time. Rhett Butler's ironic distance from the war is not only due to his cynicism, it expresses his skepticism vis-à-vis a murderous conflict that he considers useless and lost in advance. As for Scarlett O'Hara, her character alone deserves one or more theses on feminism. An independent and adventurous woman, she fascinates the male characters of the film as well as the spectators with her freedom, her fiery temperament, her famous "passion for life". Her character draws, despite everything, an unflattering portrait of the modern woman, a monster of selfishness and narcissism. Her relationship with the man is troubled and violent. Raped by Rhett Butler in the marital bed, Scarlette O'hara, eternally dissatisfied, appears the next morning fulfilled as never before. A sulphurous scene that would be considered morally unacceptable today.
of slavery, Gone with the wind gives a vision that is not racist, but paternalistic. Here, the slaves are satisfied with their lot and attached to their masters. Like Mamma, played by Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to win the Oscar for this role, who develops an almost filial relationship with Scarlett O'Hara. In the film, whipping and total enslavement are avoided. But Gone with the wind is not a documentary. It is a romantic fresco before being a historical or political film. It is not so much a question here of remaking history as of exalting a powerful imagination, that of a romantic and vanished South. The film opens with these few evocative words:Once upon a time there was a country of cotton called the South. There were found the best of gallantry, knights and ladies, masters and slaves. But all this now exists only in dreams. The wind blew away this civilization». Gone with the wind, shot just after the crisis of the 30s and just before the start of the Second World War, depicts with nostalgia the end of a fantasy world, and the beginning of a new era, that of modern and industrial America. When it came out, it echoed the torments of the XNUMXth century. Today, in a period also marked by the exhaustion of a civilization and the dawn of a new world, it finds a new resonance. Between the ancients and the moderns, the debate rages. The former want to rely on a past, sometimes idealized, to build the present and prepare for the future. The latter make a clean sweep and get rid of the old world. For them, statues and myths, like golden age classics and dreams will inevitably be blown away.
Source: © Le Figaro Premium – Gone with the old world