FIGAROVOX / CHRONICLE - Accused of racism, Gone with the wind was deprogrammed by a Memphis cinema. Alexandre Devecchio has reviewed this classic of the golden age that says much of his time and ours.
Alexandre Devecchio is a journalist at Figaro, in charge of FigaroVox. He just published The new children of the century, investigation of a fractured generation (eds du Cerf, 2016) and is co-author of Welcome to the worst of all worlds (Plon eds, 2016).
Once is not customary, we must thank the small soldiers of multiculturalism for their iconoclastic fury. By preventing the projection of Autant wins the wind in the Orpheum Theater of Memphis, Tennessee, which broadcast the film every year for 34 years, it gives a good excuse to all moviegoers to afford 3:58 of happiness by plunging back into the masterpiece of David Selznick. If they are equipped with a simple DVD player, they can experience the thrill of subversion and especially find that 78 years after its release, the film has not aged. The technicolor, witness of a blessed period where the cinema was not yet colonized by the digital, remains bewitching. Scarlett O'Hara, incarnated by the sublime Vivien Leigh, the most beautiful and irresistible bitch in the history of cinema. And Clark Gable / Rhett Butler, the most elegant and manly actor of all time, far ahead of George Nespresso Clooney.
Impossible, however, to watch the film with the same eye as in the past? A question now haunts the viewer: "Gone with the wind is he racist? " To judge this work against the moral criteria of 2017 appears absurd and anachronistic. Gone with the wind was released in theaters in 1939. At the time, Martin Luther King sang with the choir of his church in Atlanta for the premiere of the film! The struggle for civil rights was still a distant dream and the diverse ideology of science fiction. On this account, it would be necessary to prohibit half of the American cinematographic production of the time. In the first place, the Westerns and their mythical vision of the West where the Indians, presented as savages, deserved to be genocided by the nice cowboys. In France, if one pursues according to this logic, the new anti-racist inquisition could make a gigantic autodafé with many geniuses of the literature. The work of Voltaire burned for "Islamophobia", that of Celine for anti-Semitism. Moliere excommunicated again, but this time for misogyny. Balzac, self-proclaimed defender of the "throne and altar" prohibited for conservatism. For all that, try to analyze the ideology conveyed by As much carries the windWhat the most widely-seen film of all times of our time and ours is saying remains an exciting exercise.
The feature film appears much more complex and subtle than our current caricatures. Even with a contemporary, cautious and vigilant look, accusations of "racism", "apology of slavery" or "ultra-conservatism" prove to be excessive. If it is absolutely necessary to stick to him a label, the film could be qualified as anarchist-conservative. OriginallyGone with the windThere is the cult novel by Margaret Mitchell, a child of the South, the daughter of a wealthy Conservative lawyer and a suffragette feminist activist. The real author of the film, directed by several directors, including Georges Cukor and Victor Flemming, is David O. Selznick, Hollywood Jewish producer. Like Scarlett O'Hara, torn between the tasteless Ashley Wilkes and the charismatic Rhett Butler, As much carries the wind is all torn between the past and the future, the Reaction and Modernity, the ocher earth of Tara and the new America of the East side. The film's mythical couple draws its strength from the traditional values of the South, but profoundly unconventional and avant-garde, it breaks all the conventions of its time. Rhett Butler's ironic distance from the war is not only due to his cynicism, it expresses his skepticism about a deadly conflict he considers useless and lost in advance. As for Scarlett O'Hara, his character deserves one or more theses on feminism. An independent and adventurous woman, she fascinates the male characters of the film as much as the spectators with her freedom, her fiery temperament, her famous "passion for life". In spite of everything, his character draws an unflattering portrait of the modern woman, a monster of selfishness and narcissism. His relationship to the man is murky and violent. Violated by Rhett Butler in the marriage bed, Scarlette O'hara, eternal dissatisfied, appears the next morning filled as ever. A sulphurous scene that would be judged morally unacceptable today.
From slavery, Gone with the wind gives a vision not racist, but paternalistic. Here, slaves are satisfied with their lot and attached to their masters. In the image of Mamma, performed by Hattie McDaniel, the first Oscar-winning black actress for this role, who develops an almost filial relationship with Scarlett O'Hara. In the movie, the whip and the total enslavement are evaded. But Gone with the wind is not a documentary. It is a romantic fresco before being a historical or political film. It is not so much a question here of remaking history as of exalting a powerful imagination, that of a romantic and disappeared South. The film opens with these evocative words: "Once upon a time there was a country of the south called the South. There was the best of gallantry, knights and ladies, masters and slaves. But all this exists only in dreams. The wind took away this civilization". Gone with the wind, shot just after the crisis of the 30s and just before the beginning of the Second World War nostalgically describes the end of a fantasy world, and the beginning of a new era, that of modern and industrial America. When it came out, it echoed the torment of the twentieth century. Today, in a period also marked by the exhaustion of a civilization and the dawn of a new world, it finds a new resonance. Between old and new, the debate is raging. The first want to rely on a past, sometimes idealized, to build the present and prepare the future. The latter make a clean sweep and get rid of the old world. For them, the statues and myths, as the classics of the golden age and dreams will be, it is inevitable, washed away by the wind.