Movie Notes: Gone with the Wind

I was asked about Gone with the Wind, and I decided to share this story.

In 1991, the movie was shown in one Moscow theater and obviously nowhere else in the USSR. My mother – who taught at a school in a really bad area of our town and used experimental pedagogy to keep these very messed up kids in school – decided to take them all on a trip to Moscow.

We always had to bring her class of 35 students everywhere we went. The movies, the zoo, a beach vacation, and now a trip to Moscow.

In Moscow – which was a pretty bleak place in the Fall of 1991 – we were stunned by the huge colorful billboard featuring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. My mother immediately decided that right after visiting the Lenin Mausoleum, the students had to go and see the movie. I hope everybody here has a basic knowledge of history and understands that, at that time, it was a very unique experience for a Soviet child “from the provinces” (meaning not from Moscow) to watch an American movie in a theater.

The movie was, of course, sold out for months ahead. But my mother somehow convinced the theater director to give us 40 seats. “Not only will you give us these seats but these will be really good seats!” she bellowed. “It’s for the kids!!!”

[History repeats itself and in 2007 I took a US equivalent of this class on a field trip to NYC where I convinced (without bellowing because this wasn’t the USSR) the kind folks at MOMA to let the entire class into the special exhibit free of charge.]

We were all mesmerized by the movie. Aside from the great acting and the wonderful costumes, I was really struck by how a movie that clearly contradicted the official version of history was still considered a great movie. I was still a very Soviet kid, so that kind of thing was shocking to me. There was another US movie I saw a couple of years later that portrayed a bad, mean police officer. It also took me a while to figure out how it was possible to portray a figure of authority so negatively and not generate an intolerable anxiety in the viewers.

I then spent years putting this question to every American I would meet. Finally, I came across a Southerner and he explained about the Southern view of history.

But hey, I wasn’t all that wrong because the movie is definitely on its way to the dustbin of history because of ideology.

But the movie itself was such a hit because it came to us at such a perfect time. “I’ll never be hungry again,” and starting businesses, and being enterprising in a world where everybody is too genteel for such lowly pursuits and prefers to go hungry, the enterprising Scarletts and the useless Ashleys who think that making a living is degrading – this was our world. So the movie really struck home. My passionate hatred of Mellie wasn’t really about Mellie or the southern womanhood, which I couldn’t care less about. It was about all of the people who’d turn my country into a place I hated and never visited in 21 years.

I saw the movie at least 4 times since then and read the novel twice. On our first date, N and I talked about the book because it means so much to the Soviet people of our generation.

8 thoughts on “Movie Notes: Gone with the Wind”

  1. May be, it’s a trivial observation, but mentioning the American obsession with the civil war despite the passed time reminded me of our discussions on nations being based on (spilled) blood and on the weakness of American national identity.

    Since the civil war was the last war on American soil, returning to it time after time may also serve as a unifying, nation-building factor, even if the narrative is less simple than Russian contemporary obsession with WW2.

    Btw, have you heard Zelensky blaiming FSU for WW2? I hope he doesn’t end indirectly justifying Germans’ behavior because of his desire to stick it to the Russians. Reminded me of Netanyahu’s claim that an Arab offered Hitler to murder Jews…

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    1. “unifying, nation-building factor”

      IME it’s only the South that is still fixated on the Civil War. I remember once when my brother brought home a girlfriend from NY state who’d never been in the South before (where we lived was kind of marginal but southern-ish people were a definite presence).
      She was shocked by the confederate flags everywhere and the “The South will Rise Again!” bumper stickers etc. She had learned about the Civil War in school and not given it a second thought later the idea that people still thought about it on a daily basis astounded her.
      So, it’s a big deal in the South and a major part of (white) southern identity but beyond that…

      “blaiming FSU for WW2? ”

      It didn’t start it, but IINM it did nothing to stop Hitler until he turned on them… though the USSR was about 90 % (probably more) responsible for defeating Germany…. so… mixed bag?

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      1. Mmmm…I think on the whole you’re right, but “the south” is itself nebulous. I live in Illinois, an ostensibly northern state, but as I said, a big-screen showing of GWTW was packed, there’s plenty of pickup trucks decorated with confederate flags, and on the way to the local airport the other day I got into an argument with the Uber driver about the removal of confederate statues. My optometrist told me about his “Civil War themed man cave” (I didn’t probe, but I’m guessing Union Jacks aren’t the prominent design feature.) A preoccupation with the conferacy lives on beyond the Mason-Dixon line.

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        1. I just found out that my relative in the Canadian North proudly displays the Confederate flag. It’s the same relative who says, “I don’t understand why you left Ukraine. It’s such a great place! There are no n—–s there.”

          He doesn’t say it to me, obviously, because I’m not seeking his company.

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    2. Stalin did engineer WWII. This doesn’t excuse the Germans in any way but it’s an important part of history. It was truly a world war in the sense that many actors needed it.

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    3. It’s funny, when I was growing up (not in the South) in the late 70s/early80s, World War II was a much bigger thing in popular culture than the Civil War, and seemed to play a much bigger role in American’s sense of national identity. Since it was the cold war, the Soviet Union’s role was minimized if not outright ignored, so the US fancied itself as “the nation that saved the world from Hitler”.

      It seems like the Civil War has become more prominent beginning maybe in the 90s. I blame Ken Burns.

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