Inevitable Remakes: “Gone with the Wind”
In many ways, it’s surprising this hasn’t happened yet. Gone with the Wind has always been a big draw. Since 1939 it has been the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, except for a few years in the late ‘60s when The Sound of Music held the spot (Gone with the Wind reclaimed its top position with a wide theatrical re-release.)
In addition to being literally the most popular movie of all time (at least by box office metrics), Gone with the Wind is also controversial. The racism of this Civil War-era story is mostly evident in the absence of any real discussion of the plight of freed slaves. Hattie McDaniel gave a memorable and Oscar-winning performance as “Mammy,” but “Mammy” is literally a walking stereotype. Butterfly McQueen’s turn as “Prissy,” a shrieking and silly girl, was an even more demanding performance, but no more flattering to black domestic workers. The Ku Klux Klan makes an overt appearance in the novel and an anonymous appearance in the movie when the male friends of protagonist Scarlett O’Hara form a secret society to harass Yankee occupiers. A remake would have the opportunity to come clean about history and find new layers in some of the flatter characters.
When a remake finally comes, as inevitably it must, it won’t have to do much to be successful. The name and its suggestions of cinema glory will be enough. But an ideal remake might look something like this:
Director: Ava DuVernay
The cynical rationale is that a black director provides PR cover for the studio. “See, we’re addressing the awkward stuff about this property!” But the artistic reasons for choosing Ava DuVernay are genuinely compelling. She had great critical success with the historical film Selma, and she proved adept at juggling multiple perspectives within the story. She also co-wrote that film, and new writing will certainly be in order for a Gone with the Wind remake. Though a California native, DuVernay also has contacts in Atlanta where Gone with the Wind is set: her organization AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) is partnered with the BronzeLens Film Festival in the Georgia capital.
Scarlett O’Hara: Jennifer Lawrence
The character of Scarlett wouldn’t need to change a bit for the remake. As portrayed by Vivien Leigh in the original film, she’s equal parts likable and detestable. She changes from a naïve, self-centered child weighing her marriage options in an antebellum bubble to a defiantly independent, even more self-centered adult responsible for a crumbling plantation in a destroyed South. Scarlett is iconic and powerful, delivering lines that echo through time like “If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill, as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” Yet her disregard for others is alienating and prompts the even more powerful barb “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Jennifer Lawrence has shown in films from Winter’s Bone to The Hunger Games that she can sell it all, from the young debutante to the older, damaged survivor. Leigh was 26 when Gone with the Wind came out, and Lawrence is 25 now. Get on it, Hollywood!
Rhett Butler: Bradley Cooper
Clark Gable was 38 when Wind was in theaters, and Bradley Cooper is now 40. He’s starred with Jennifer Lawrence in three films, two of which (Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) received Best Picture nominations. The chemistry for Rhett and Scarlett has to work even when their relationship hits the skids, and that seems like no trouble for the experienced duo of Cooper and Lawrence. Rhett will need to be a darker, more flawed figure in the remake, rather than the sanctimonious rogue of the original. Cooper can play up Rhett’s calculating, manipulative side without sacrificing the character’s smug sense of superiority.
Mammy: Taraji P. Henson
Taraji P. Henson is currently receiving awards and nominations for her role as Cookie on the FOX series Empire. Henson has said that what attracted her to that role – which involves drugs, something Mammy would never allow into her house – was that Cookie has “so much going on, so much pain, so much lost time she’s trying to catch up on with her family.” That description could also apply to a re-written Mammy. But this uncomfortable character, more than any other, is probably a hard sell to serious actresses like Henson until a good script and the right director are in place.
Becoming an Icon
The other principles in the story – Prissy, Ashley, and Melanie – don’t require big-name stars, though Olivia de Havilland was already well-known from her numerous swashbuckling films when she played Melanie. That leaves just one question for the Gone with the Wind remake: how do you top the crane shot?
Producer/auteur David O. Selznick had cut his teeth on fancy shots when he worked for MGM in the first half of the 1930s, but Gone with the Wind’s pull-back shot over a depot full of Confederate casualties became his most famous visual legacy. Victor Fleming directed it and cinematographers Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan shot it in vivid Technicolor. The pull-back just keeps going and going, revealing ever more soldiers lying in rows as Scarlett wanders among them in a daze. Along with Scarlett’s dark silhouette against a bright red sunset elsewhere in the film, this is the shot that made Gone with the Wind an icon of cinema.
A remake could create its own “wow” moment in any number of ways, but one of the most promising avenues may be music. The accomplished Austrian composer Max Steiner scored the 1939 film, but it was not even one of the 13 (yes, 13!) works nominated for Best Score at the Oscars for that year. This is a category in which a remake could fairly easily surpass its honored predecessor. Instead of a traditional score, a new Gone with the Wind should go the Tarantino route and use non-period-appropriate music to set a radically different mood for pivotal scenes. That approach has generated dozens of “wow” moments in contemporary movies like 2012’s Django Unchained, and it has elevated otherwise forgettable literature adaptations like 2013’s The Great Gatsby.
This is just one way to adapt Gone with the Wind. There are other ways to do it, some probably better and some surely worse. One thing’s for certain: with a property this big, a remake is, frankly, inevitable.
Gone with the Wind on Flickchart
- Globally ranked #443
- Wins 43% of matchups
- Ranked by 29444 users
- 197 users have it at #1
- 2518 users have it in their top 20