Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Making of A Legend: Gone With the Wind

One of the great things about being unemployed is that you can sit back and watch TV shows you wouldn't be able to watch if you were at work. (I can't watch TV much at night as my Dad dominates the telly with his endless reruns of Law and Order.)

Today I saw a show I'd taped, The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind. I'm an official Gone With the Wind junkie (see the link on this site to the GWTW Forever site).

I have the DVD of the feature film, I just hadn't realised how much had gone into making it.

I knew, of course, that GWTW was the only book Margaret Mitchell wrote. Scarlett was initially called Pansy, and the book was not initially written for publication. Then a publisher read it and was interested, but didn't like the name Pansy, so Margaret Mitchell agreed to change it to Scarlett.

And then David O. Selznick secured the rights for $50,000 to produce GWTW.

I watched the show as they showed the search for Scarlett. It seemed they had an easier time deciding on Rhett Butler - the public demanded they choose Clark Gable. The only problem was that Gable was with MGM and Selznick wanted to do the project alone. It wasn't for ages and after lots of money and negotiations that he made a deal with MGM - they would let him 'use' Gable, and they'd also lend some money to fund the project, so long as they got half the profits of GWTW for the next 7 years.

Then it turned out that Gable didn't particularly like the deal, as he didn't want to play Rhett, so they 'sweetened' the deal for him by giving him ... $50,000 so he could pay off his wife and get rid of her and a weekend off so he could marry his new girlfriend (an interest payoff!)

Anyhow, I watched a lot of the auditions with the different Scarletts and Ashleys. After seeing what Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard can do - especially Vivien Leigh - watching the different screen tests is like watching a series of Australian Idol auditions, you just feel how wrong they are and you want a nasty judge to pop up and give them a gong and tell them they're absolute crap.

It was amazing to see how much work went into creating - or destroying - some of those sets. They decided one way to make a set was to burn down an old set and then rebuild. An idea they had was to burn down the old set and then film it as the burning of Atlanta. At the time they hadn't got Leigh and Gable working yet so a stunt double is what you see when you see the horse and carriage driving through burning Atlanta at the time. And they really did just burn down a whole set, film it, and then rebuild a set.

Then some sets were only partially built - for instance some of the big houses were built without roofs - it was less expensive - then an art director comes in later and "draws in" different style roofs later to make the different places.

And the scene in Atlanta with the soldiers all lying wounded ... well while they called in many extras to lie there as wounded men, but they didn't have enough so they put in some dummies as well and instructed extras how they could pull a string on the dummy so the dummy could move a little so it looked alive. (Apparently Margaret Mitchell's husband said when he saw that scene that if they'd had that many soldiers, they would have won the war!) I know, I know, I guess they cheated too because those extras, they only pretended to be wounded. Many of them weren't really shot or anything at all. They only pretended to be shot. And int he scene where Dr Meade is supposed to amputate the leg - I think he doesn't amputate it at all. It's all faked!

So much work went into the recreation, it was amazing, especially when you consider there was not the advantage of the special effects that we have today.

I watched in amazement as every detail of dress was attended to ... the only thing I think I could compare it to was watching This is It when I watched the perfectionism that went in to making the Michael Jackson tour show. How many people actually put the time and effort and research into their shows any more. It's immense and it's amazing.

By the way I still love Scarlett's green barbecue dress - it must be her most famous - but now I've really taken a fancy to that little light blue jacket and white dress she wears to the store when she's caught with Ashley.


TimT said...

I was reading in the New Yorker a while ago how James Cameron went about writing the part for Sarah Connor in the original Terminator film: he wrote the part originally as a man, and then changed the name.

Um, one up for women's equality, one down for depth of character, I guess.

Maria said...

That would be quite interesting!

How did the original Stan O'Connor or whatever get impreganated by Kyle the future friend of his son?

Did James Cameron change it to Sarah because it was meant to be a gung ho action film to appeal to a man but he tested the sex scene and found out the guys were not quite as accepting of homoerotica as he thought they would be?

TimT said...

Let me just check...

TimT said...

You win!

As a young writer, Cameron borrowed a trick from Walter Hill, who, working on the outer-space horror movie “Alien,” took a character (a young ensign named Ripley) that was originally male and, with minimal revision, made the character female. (Sigourney Weaver played the role, Ellen Ripley.) As Cameron described the technique, “You write dialogue for a guy and then change the name.” After “The Terminator,” Cameron was hired to write and direct the sequel to “Alien.” His movie, “Aliens,” intensified Ripley’s machismo, and gave her an important new motivation: to save a little girl whose parents have been killed by aliens. Weaver says that she was shocked when she showed up for work, not having read the script’s stage directions carefully. “I had been working for gun control since college,” she said. “I get to the set and, I’m telling you, I had never seen so many guns, all designed by Jim. And then there was my weapon, this super-weapon—a machine-gun-bazooka-flame-thrower all in one.” Her performance was nominated for an Academy Award, a rare recognition for the star of a sci-fi action film.

Guess I didn't read that bit right.

kiki said...

who writes a book that isn't for publication?

Maria said...

Hi kiki,

Ummm - it seems that plenty of people write books intended for publication that are not successful (or are successful but the general consensus is, darn it, it's a pity they were) ... and as for books that aren't intended for publication ...


I guess that is the number one kind of book that is written not for publication that I can think of.

I used to keep diaries for years. Therapeutic. They are complete unreadable trash. They sound nothing like the diaries that people in books write. I feel sorry for anyone else if they tried to read them let alone tried to publish them (I think most are thrown out now).

I also wrote a book recently on my trip to Canberra; I did not expect it to get published. It was a short picture book.

If you go to the Canberra Art Gallery there is a Bird Activity Table for Children with a Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas picture book on it, it says "Read the book and write your own bird book!"

There are some blank books and coloured pencils available.

I obediently did so.

Then I looked around to see if someone was going to give me a nice gold star on my forehead but when no sauch someone materialised I slipped my personal bird book in my handbag and took it as a souvenir of Canberra. Never intended for wide release :)

Anonymous said...

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.