This is our third entry in The Film Experience's long-running series Hit Me With Your Best Shot, in which the film blog masses choose their favorite shot from selected movies.
From the first frames of the 1939 epic Gone With the Wind, it's clear the action takes place in an alternate reality. It's a place where slaves are euphemistically billed as "House Servants," and delusions of grandeur run wild, with the Old South fetishized as a time when "the age of Chivalry took its last bow [...] the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave."
Let's call a spade a spade: Gone With the Wind is racist to its core.
But despite this, in part because of it, the film deserves consideration, dissection, evaluation.
While watching the first disc of this (nearly four-hour!) movie, we homed in on the relationship between Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Mammy (Hattie McDaniel). This being an Old Hollywood epic, subtlety takes a back seat to gesticulation, but their interactions are revealing of Scarlett's character and Mammy's place in the O'Hara home. Shackled by her physical and cultural enslavement, Mammy can never overcome her role as cipher, but she continually cuts through Scarlett's shit to expose her as the conniving, self-involved, soon-to-be-obsolete Southern belle she is.
Conversely, Scarlett respects Mammy as a friendly foe, at least to the extent that Mammy knows the inner workings of plantation life and inter-family relations--and how Scarlett can successfully navigate them. But there's a coldness there, too, a divide of race and power that keeps Scarlett aloof and lacking of the intimacy she so freely gives to everyone else. When she returns to Tara at the end of Part 1, there is no running into Mammy's arms to find comfort in shared pain. There's a melancholy hello, a hug, a moment's hesitation that signals... what? The fear of what Mammy represents?
Scarlett exists in a dream world within a dream world where war is not coming and the Old South will never die, a house of mirrors where her perspective skews and she can wear whatever hat suits her fancy. Our best shot from Part 1 catches Scarlett in the act.
Here we see her dressed for mourning from the neck down but having already moved beyond it, trying on a new pose, a new face, a new tack to catch the object of her affection's eye. And Mammy in the background, trying to get through to her but constrained by a thousand social and cultural injustices. We see only her reflection, a mirage. Though Scarlett and her world would have you believe otherwise, Mammy is as enslaved as can be, as unable to wield influence as a funhouse mirror is to tell the truth.
Stay tuned for our Best Shot from Part 2 of Gone With the Wind, coming up tomorrow!