PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

Frankly, My Dear by Molly Haskell

Alas, this does little to ease a skeptic’s misgivings about a film whose scope and beauty at times feel like a Technicolor gloss on one of the darkest periods in American history.


Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited

Publisher: Yale University Press
Length: 272 pages
Author: Molly Haskell
Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-02
Amazon

It is possible that no American movie, with the exception of Birth of a Nation, is harder to see than Gone With the Wind. This is not a judgment on the film’s watchability, which, given the film is a nearly four-hour melodrama, is another matter entirely. It’s that the film is so mired in its own racial and sexual politics that it becomes nearly impossible for a modern viewer to see the film without refracting it through any number of critical lenses. DW Griffith’s film is rarely spoken of except to reference its horrific (and often skull-clutchingly contradictory) portrayal of race, but Gone With the Wind, despite its grinning house slaves and arguable endorsement of rape within the bonds of marriage, continues to be viciously derided (or dismissed) by academics and blithely enjoyed by audiences.

In her recent book, Frankly My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited, film critic Molly Haskell attempts to make an argument in defense of, all at once, the film, the book and their proponents. What emerges instead is a thorough, if at times muddled, account of the forces behind the making of Gone With the Wind as a cultural artifact, blending biographies of producer David O. Selznick, lead actress Vivien Leigh and author Margaret Mitchell, and a defense not so much of the work itself, but of its fans and their devotion to the Civil War epic.

Haskell begins her book by chronicling the reactions to the film, positive, negative and personal. Situating herself both as a Southerner and an academic, she describes her complicated relationship with Scarlett O’Hara, a heroine who embodies many of the strengths that could be attributed to a feminist heroine without the self-reflection necessary to make positive use of those strengths. Stuck not so much in a constantly repeating cycle as a never-ending present which even the fall of the South cannot wrest her from, O’Hara’s refusal to obey the restrictive rules of Southern society and dismissal of the scoffing and scorning that results is constantly marred by what can only be described as a vicious streak, motivated in the film’s first half by spite and in the second by the particular type of avarice possessed by those who have fallen from riches to poverty.

While she makes a strong case for the compelling nature of the narrative and particular its heroine, Haskell is relatively dismissive of criticisms of the film on the basis of race and gender. The racial politics of the film are not addressed again until the last chapter, where she points out that by excising some of Mitchell’s longer diatribes against the horrors of Reconstruction and the irrationality of enfranchising blacks, the film softens some of the racial problems in the original text. Wisely choosing to focus more on the strong characterization of Mammy, whom Haskell places at the narrative’s center, rather than the supposedly comic portrayal of Prissy’s mental deficiency or the cringe-worthy moment when a collection of slaves head past Scarlett on their way to dig ditches to aid the Confederate effort, allowed neither the dignity of fighting alongside their masters nor the agency to side against them, Haskell points out that in an era of Stepin Fetchitt and Uncle Remus, Gone With the Wind presents a comparatively nuanced depiction of Southern blacks.

Much of the book is taken up by biographies of Selznick, Leigh and Mitchell, with Haskell arguing that without the chance interaction of these three personalities, the film could never have succeeded. Devoting a significant page count to possible alternative casting choices, she offers the already converted a number of paths down which the film could have stumbled towards obscurity rather than striding into history. But while her book may expand on a fan’s understanding of the film, it does little to ease a skeptic’s misgivings about a film whose scope and beauty at times feel like a Technicolor gloss on one of the darkest periods in American history.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.