Lots of Contradictions in Birthin’ That Movie

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Seventy years after its premiere “Gone With the Wind” remains at or near the top of many lists of the most seen, most loved, most admired movies, right up there along with “Star Wars,” “Casablanca” and “The Godfather.” In the bitterly fought election year of 2008 it was one of the few things that Democrats, Republicans and independents agreed upon: in a 2008 Harris poll, all three groups picked it as their all-time favorite film.

“Gone With the Wind” has endured through decades of social change, despite its romanticization of the Confederacy and its depiction of black Americans as mammies and slaves. And its central characters — Scarlett and Rhett, Melanie and Ashley — have entered the cultural pantheon as instantly identifiable archetypes, as immediately recognizable as Hamlet or Don Quixote or Lear.

It is small wonder then, that “GWTW,” both the 1939 movie and Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, has provoked reams and reams of scholarly exegesis and fan commentary. Among the books already on the subject are “On the Road to Tara” by Aljean Harmetz, “Gone With the Wind: The Definitive Illustrated History of the Book, the Movie and the Legend” by Herb Bridges and Terryl C. Boodman, “GWTW: The Making of Gone with the Wind,” by Gavin Lambert, “Gone With the Wind as Book and Film” edited by Richard Harwell and “The Complete Gone With the Wind Trivia Book” by Pauline Bartel — works that deconstruct and anatomize virtually every aspect of the novel and movie from the story of its creation to the casting of the film to its place in American cinematic and cultural history.

The newest entry in the dissection sweepstakes is Molly Haskell’s “Frankly, My Dear: ‘Gone With the Wind’ Revisited,” a highly discursive essay that breaks no new ground but manages to retrace familiar arguments and stories in an engaging — and occasionally inspired — fashion.

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