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.