Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Mighty Wind is Coming

#100 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I accuse Miss Scarlett in Georgia with the Southern drawl.

It's funny how a book longer than 1,000 pages can have such an abrupt ending. But Gone With the Wind somehow managed to find a way - andI loved every minute of it.

This novel may have been the most interesting thing I’ve ever read cuz it had everything - war, sex, adultery, chivalry, miscarriages, debauchery, the Ku Klux Klan and violent unexpected deaths. Margaret Mitchell only wrote one novel, so I suppose she had to squeeze everything into this one.

QUICK PLOT OUTLINE - Scarlett O’Hara is a spoiled brat daughter of a plantation owner living as a teenager right before the beginning of Civil War in Georgia. When the war strikes, her bubble of indifference is popped and she is forced to survive or be swept away with the rest of the dying South. GWTW follows her through three husbands (and children), the death of her parents, her fixation with Ashley Wilkes - the one that got away - and her obsession with money.

By the way, Rhett Butler doesn't say, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" in the book. The idea is there but it's altered for the film.

There are many, many different facets of this book that could easily be turned into thirty page papers, so I will briefly talk about three (No matter what I do this will probably still sound like I'm writing a high school English paper).

First, Scarlett is constantly criticized by her elders for aligning herself with Carpetbaggers and thus becoming a "scalawag." Scarlett is a self-serving bitch and Mitchell does a great job pointing that out (not often is the protagonist as less likable as Mrs. O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler), however, I'm not sure if I could blame her for this strike. In the time after the peace at Appomattox, Republicans from the North did everything in their power to lord themselves over the fallen former Confederacy - they got rid of all their workers (slaves, sure, but it still hurt their economy plenty), prevented almost all Confederates from voting - and therefore, all Democrats - as well as taxing everything mercilessly thus preventing the South to recover from Sherman's epic march of destruction - after reading this I can still see why some Southerners really HATE Northerners. Scarlett's idea was that she didn't want to be hungry and poor, so why not shack up with the people who could prevent this from happening? It was the general attitude of Southerns to resist any change they could, Scarlett embraced it by - reluctantly and through clenched teeth - doing business with the people. She's a survivor who didn't want to be poor like the rest of the South. Mentally, I think her battle was tougher than the those who waited for the South to rise again. She was progressive at least.

Another point is how awesome and dynamic the characters were. Rhett Butler - played by Cary Grant in the film - was the son-of-a-bitch conman who really had a heart of gold - or at least a heart. Serving as Scarlett's antagonist the entire book, he keeps her in check and reminds the reader on countless instances what a scoundrel she - like him - really is. Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes (her first husband's sister and wife of the man she pines for) is symbolic of unfledging loyalty (to the undeserving Scarlett) and proof that good exists in the world; furthermore, she is an example of good co-existing so beautifully with the evil that is Scarlett - a yin and a yang if you will. And Mammy, the O'Hara's faithful slave/nurse/keeper of the house is an interesting character. Sure, GWTW almost defends the institution of slavery time-and-time again, but I feel it really is trying to accurately illustrate the importance of slaves to the society on both a broad and narrow scope. Mammy is one of the family, what she says goes. No one is respected more in the household (after Scarlett's parents die) and all decisions have to eventually be O.K.'ed by her. She is a pillar of stability and her presence is vital to the furthering of almost all the O'Haras.

The book brings up a theme of regret, too. It's a little corny but to the point. Often, many words are left unsaid, and shortly after a tragedy occurs which prevents true sentiments from ever being fully disclosed. It happens most notably in Scarlett's relationship with Rhett Butler - she never lets him really know how much she cared until it is far too late; her bitchiness, pride and vanity would not budge enough to have a healthy marriage with the only man who really understood her. So, for all you kids out there, don't be a C-word and keep a tough exterior that prohibits those who love you from really helping you.

Well that's all the folksy wisdom I's got fer two-day. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (#99) is the next movie and The Hound of the Baskervilles (#99) by Arthur Conan Doyle - he ain't my knight - will be the next novel.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Damn Yankees

#100 Yankee Doodle Dandy directed by Michale Curtiz

Give my regards to Broadway, and to Calvin & Hobbes, as well.

Coming in next on AFI's glorious list (or last rather) is Yankee Doodle Dandy. Jimmy Cagney stars in this bio-pic of vaudeville and Broadway star George M. Cohan (Not Cohen).

If you don't like singin', dancin', or America-in' you won't like this one. Like Broadway and vaudeville this flick is way over the top, but it works for itself. The premise is a little weak, but probably true (Cohan tells his life story to FDR before receiving a congressional medal of honor). Also its a bit self-serving, as Cohan scripted the movie and executive produced it as well. Throw a bunch of flag wavin' "I want to hump America songs" in there and you got a big ol' can of corn.

However, it works. Cagney is amazing. Any chance he gets - like Cohan - he steals all attention. Watching him dance conjures of memories (although brief) of wanting to be a tap-dancer - I still think it'd be pretty cool. The chemistry with his family (real-life sister plays that role) and wife is staggering. Tears were in mine eye when his father dies (sorry to spoil that, but it is a bio-pic, dads get old and die).

Cohan is proud of his Irish heritage and worked the side-shows as a little leprechaun tap-dancer in the ol' days. It makes him look like a pretty paddy. Stereotypes are a plenty here as most African Americans aren't depicted in the best of lights. I guess that's just how movies were in the 1940s.

This movie doesn't pretend to be a real musical and annoy me, so that's nice. All the songs are done on stage, George isn't just eating dinner and randomly bursting into song, so I can appreciate that - more realistic.

There's one scene where George cons a slightly stupid German dude into producing a play he wrote that got me. I think I can always get behind the classic pulling one over off-the-boat-wealthy-German gag.

So YDD was good. I liked it better than Unforgiven.
UPDATE on Gone with the Wind -
This book is 1000 pages; so glad on started with a short one. I'm getting there though, so expect my expose on Scarlett O'Hara soon. I have a long train ride back from DC, so maybe I can bang it out then.