THE GUILLOTINE: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last No 49: `GONE WITH THE WIND'

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The Independent Culture
The argument was most succinctly put by the dramatist Jean Giraudoux. "Il n'y a pas d'oeuvres," he claimed, "il n'y a que des auteurs". There are no works, there are only authors. Or auteurs. For, as the millennial threshold approaches, it's increasingly clear that the auteurists were right. The films destined to survive are those whose formal and stylistic distinction can be traced to an individual creative personality, while the films destined to fade are those whose directors were little more than capable hired hands employed to pull all the material together, celluloid "conductors", so to speak, rather than "composers".

Gone With the Wind is a choice specimen of the latter category, which is why, for this, the penultimate Guillotine, I have chosen, exceptionally, a work instead of an author. GWTW is, precisely, a work without an author. Who were its leading players? Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, natch. And the names of their characters? Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. Gable's closing line? "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!" Leigh's closing line? "Tomorrow is another day." The film's setting? The antebellum South. And the name of its director? Um ...

In fact, GWTW was famously not a director's but a producer's film, the producer in question being David O Selznick (the "O" stood for nothing). It was he who beat off ferocious competition to secure the rights to Margaret Mitchell's bestselling novel; he who tested most of Hollywood's female stars for the role of Scarlett; he who, mid-shoot, fired the director he had originally assigned, George Cukor (a real auteur), because Gable was leery of his reputation as a specialist in "women's films". A few critics have contended that the supreme creative spirit behind the project was Selznick himself, but it won't work: that would be like confusing the staging of an opera with its composition.

To be fair, it's less the film itself that is bound for oblivion (it will doubtless continue to plug a regular gap in television schedules) than its reputation as a significant work of art. The world will eventually learn what film scholars have long known: that its status in cinema history is scarcely more elevated than that of the source novel in literary history.

Oh, and its director's name? Victor Fleming, for the record.