Quick Thoughts: Two Epic Romances
As part of my viewings this week, I made a point to watch two epic romances that I have been putting off for quite some time. One of them is an American classic that is still the biggest movie of all-time (despite what Avatar has done), and the other is an overlooked film from a visionary filmmaker.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Okay, so I finally got around to watching “the most magnificent picture ever.” I’m not going undermine the importance of the picture or its status as a massive Hollywood production that took the nation by storm in a year that is considered to be the peak of American cinema. Having said that, I did not like the movie. Vivien Leigh’s performance was tremendous, but the lead character is probably the least likable I have seen in a major movie. Hannibal Lecktor and Jason Vorhees are more lovable than Gone with the Wind‘s Scarlett O’Hara. The Wrestler‘s Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a self-destructive family neglecting has-been wrestler, has more redeeming qualities. If I’m going to invest four hours in a film, the least I could ask for is a main character worth caring about.
That brings me to the length of the movie. I usually love long movies. Many of my favorite movies are extremely long films (Zodiac, The Thin Red Line, The Godfather, etc), but the length did not seem justified in this one. We waste four hours watching a story that isn’t even resolved by the time the movie ends. There are long lapses where nothing important happens, and I just didn’t see the “romance” in what is supposed to be the most romantic movie ever made. The story isn’t involving and complex enough to warrant its runtime. Scarlett is selfish, always wanting more than what she has. The movie is especially well-made for its time and the costumes are tremendous, but it is almost too lavish and self-indulgent for its own good.
Maybe moviegoers in 1939 were only looking for a four-hour escape from reality, but I was looking for so much more. It’s almost as if the length of the film was used as its main attraction, a gimmick. Avatar‘s success has come partially as a result of a similar phenomenon, with many people seeing it simply because if its controversial budget and the amount of time it took to create. The fact that Gone with the Wind beat The Wizard of Oz for the Oscar is a cinematic crime.
The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
The New World is master filmmaker Terrence Malick’s interpretation of the Pocahontas story. It’s a beautiful tale of forbidden love. A love that blossoms under the most unfortunate of circumstances, only to be captured, taken away. Unlike Gone with the Wind, the romance’s complexity doesn’t result from indecision or selfish greed. At 135 minutes, The New World is only about half the length of Gone with the Wind, but its story is ten times as compelling.
I could go on singing the praises of The New World, but I’m going to save the rest for a longer piece that I’m working on for Terrence Malick.
RIYL: Avatar, Dances with Wolves, Troy.