VCU’s Southern Film Festival: Screening Southern Rebellion

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Film, Reading, Southern Literature, Writing
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Frankly, My Dear (2009)

Molly Haskell grew up here in Richmond, and it’s here that she fell in love with movies. One of her most vivid childhood memories finds her standing before a magazine rack in the Broad Street station waiting for the train to Florida, and persuading her father to buy her a magazine devoted to the child star Margaret O’Brien.* The pleasure Molly Haskell took in reading that movie magazine is one she would later pass on to the readers of her own film reviews and books.” Those are some of the words that I spoke about Haskell Friday night when I introduced her as keynote speaker at the third annual VCU Southern Film Festival at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

In her keynote address, Haskell discussed her most recent book, Frankly My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited (2009), which expolores Gone With the Wind as the product of three strong personalities: author Margaret Mitchell, film producer David O. Selznick, and actress Vivien Leigh. Published on the seventieth anniversary of the film’s release, Haskell’s book looks back more than eighty years to Mitchell’s drafting of the novel in the 1920s, while also considering the book and film in multiple cultural contexts and reflecting on its enduring presence in our collective memory and imagination.

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (2011)

Haskell‘s speech led into the screening of the recent documentaryMargaret Mitchell: American Rebel (2011), which features Haskell as well as John Wiley, Jr., who co-authored–along with Ellen F. BrownMargaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood (2011). Both Wiley, of Midlothian, and Brown, of Richmond, were in the audience Friday night as well, and after the film they joined Haskell on stage for a panel discussion moderated by me.

At the outset of the panel, I noted that the publication of Brown and Wiley‘s book marked an important contribution to Mitchell scholarship as well as studies of book publishing and copyright. Though I was prepared to offer more talking points  about their work and Haskell‘s, I didn’t need to. Their own observations about Mitchell, her novel, and the film prompted a nearly hour-long conversation with the audience, cut short only by the announcement that the museum would close at 9 p.m.

When one man sitting near the front of the auditorium expressed his ambivalence about calling himself a fan, I was reminded of the “Seven Stages of Gone With the Wind” that Haskell outlines in Frankly My Dear:

“For those of us who fell under its spell, the range of emotions attached to the film fluctuate over time with the predictable volatility of a love affair and its aftermath, in my own case what we might clinically designate as the Seven Stages of Gone With the Wind: Love, Identification, Dependency, Resentment, Embarrassment, Indifference, and then something like Half-Love again, a more grown-up affection informed by a film-lover’s appreciation of the small miracle by which a mere ‘woman’s film’ with a heroine who never quite outgrows adolescence was tansfigured into something much larger, something profoundly American, a canvas that contains, if not Walt Whitman’s multitudes, at least multiple perspectives” (xiii).

Along with those words of Haskell‘s about the Seven Stages of Gone With the Wind, I would’ve liked to address how fans of the novel and the film have formed online communities, particularly on Facebook. That’s something that Ellen Brown mentioned back stage when the four of us–Brown, Wiley, Haskell, and I–were clipping on our wireless microphones.

In their introduction to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Brown and Wiley write: “We do not claim to have rewritten Gone With the Wind, but we have refocused the lens” (3). Similarly, Haskell‘s Frankly My Dear refocuses the lens, and the insights of the three authors inspired Friday’s night’s audience to see the book and film anew.

*The childhood memory of Haskell‘s that I mentioned in my introduction is one that she recounts in From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1974, Second Edition 1987).

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