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Review - Gone with the Wind 4-disc Collector's Set (2005)
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Gone with the Wind 4-disc Collector’s Edition (DVD-2005)

Warner Home Video

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

 

Every once in a great while, a DVD set is released that fulfills the potential of the medium and is of momentous importance.  Such is the case with the new 4-DVD Collector’s Edition of David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind.  Few films in history have enjoyed the fame of Gone With the Wind.  From the moment it premiered in 1939, it was a cinematic blockbuster event.  Its fame has never diminished in the well over half a century that has passed since.  It is one of the world’s best loved films.

 

Gone with the Wind made an impression, not only because the Margaret Mitchell novel on which it was based was so universally read and the film version so widely and wildly anticipated, but because the final product from producer David O. Selznick demonstrated surpassing excellence in every conceivable cinematic category: acting, direction, production design, art direction, cinematography, music score, writing, editing, special effects, costumes, etc..  This sweeping tale of the life of Scarlett O’Hara, set in the old south during the Civil War, captured an epic grandeur and is an example of masterful storytelling.  The performances of Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, and Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton are classic in every sense of the word—and they are only the tip of an iceberg of an extraordinary ensemble cast of the highest caliber.

 

Gone with the Wind’s success led to numerous theatrical re-releases including a 70mm widescreen stereo version and releases in the 1980’s and 1990’s during which the film underwent restoration.

 

So impactful was Gone with the Wind that many doubted, before the advent of home-video, that it would ever be shown on television. Indeed, many decades passed before it finally premiered on television in 1976 as a special television event (split over two nights to cover the film’s nearly four hour length).  Olivia de Havilland, one of the films by then few surviving stars was asked to host the television premiere. She declined, fearing the film’s epic quality would be lost on the small screen.  But the television premiere was an enormous success and reached a gigantic audience.  De Havilland hosted a subsequent rebroadcast and admitted that her fears about the original TV showing had proven unfounded:  The film’s power and drama came through equally on the small television screen as on the big theatre screen.

 

Amazingly, nearly thirty years later, in 2004, de Havilland is still with us. A special feature of note on this multi-disc set is a brand new interview with her in which, the now nearly only surviving member of the original production, shares her reminiscences of working on the film.  It is an extraordinary interview—theatrical, eloquent and a direct time-machine type link to the original premiere some 65 years earlier! 

 

Another astonishing extra is the inclusion of the 1988 film—Gone with the Wind: The Making of a Legend—a two hour documentary narrated by Christopher Plummer.  Endlessly fascinating, it is one of the greatest documentaries made about the making of any film—period.  That Gone with the Wind ever found its way to completion is amazing in and of itself—so many were its setbacks, disasters and obstacles.  With its extremely rare footage and dramatic presentation, every moment of this informative, historic and entertaining documentary is riveting.

 

And there are other extras!  A splendid and detailed look at Warner Bros’ celebrated Ultra-Resolution process – which was used to restore the film, both picture and sound, to even better than its original elegance.  Indeed, the film transfer in this edition boasts sensational restoration values which reveal details in each film frame for the first time.  And the astounding music score by Max Steiner, one of the greatest and most famous in all of film, is crisp, detailed and cleaner and clearer than it has ever been the case in any of the many releases of the film. Ditto for the film’s dialogue and sound effects.

 

Additional extras include excellent documentaries on Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, cameo portraits of supporting cast members, the prologue for the international release, theatrical trailers, premiere and historical footage, the Fred Zinneman directed short film – The Old South, and a detailed film-commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer.  The various extra features, as with The Making of a Legend documentary, are also narrated by Christopher Plummer.

 

This deluxe DVD set is attractively packaged and includes a classy full-color reproduction of the original 1939 souvenir booklet.

 

Aside from its meritorious artistry and craft, Gone with the Wind remains the most commercially successful film of all time.  When its box-office grosses are adjusted for inflation, it towers over all the others – Titanic, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, E.T., The Sound of Music, The Ten Commandments, Jurassic Park,--all of them.  No less an authority than D. W. Griffith called it the greatest American film ever made.  Whether or not you agree, there is no denying the sweep and elegance of this extraordinary example of Hollywood filmmaking at its best.  The special 4- DVD Collectors Edition of David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind is a must own set, a special edition worthy of its subject, and one which fully captures and conveys the film’s power and grandeur.

 

 

2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams

 

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