|GONE WITH THE
WIND ( FOUR DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION)
(WARNER HOME VIDEO)
I was very young when I first saw a 3- Strip Technicolor print of GWTW at a Museum of Modern Art screening, and it altered and changed my perceptions and passions about motion pictures forever. For one thing, that was the first time I was ever truly aware of the importance of great film music, and the degree that it could enrich the art of cinematic story-telling. My second revelation was the color. I had never seen anything to remotely equal the richness and vibrancy of true Technicolor, as I was essentially used to Eastman Color, Warnercolor, Metrocolor, Trucolor, Anscocolor, Pathecolor, DeLuxe Color, Cinecolor, and whatever other inferior processes were being foisted on an unsuspecting public at the time. When the camera panned in to that first close-up of Vivien Leigh with her luscious peaches-and-cream complexion I was instantly mesmerized and, dare I say, hopelessly in love!
Years went by and I waited and waited and waited and finally it was announced with great fanfare by MGM that not only would they re-release GWTW but it would now be in "70 MM and Fully Directional Stereophonic Sound." I was in heaven and anxiously counted the days until the opening at the Loew's State. I was the first one on line at 8:00 A.M. and had ample chance to repeatedly appraise every minute detail of the copious GWTW advertising that surrounded me. One particular line that attracted my fevered attention was "YOU'VE NEVER SEEN GWTW LIKE THIS! " They were certainly right about that!!
It seemed like decades before the corpulent and uninterested box-office lady showed up, and finally, with great reluctance and sloth-like speed, generously agreed to accept my by now sweaty $2.50 and bestow me with a ticket, which was torn by an even more indifferent and evidently half-asleep pimple-faced ticket-taker. So eager was I that I passed up my customary Jordan Almonds to be the very first in the cavernous theatre and take my favorite seat, which was always third row center. Some generic and dull music blared from the theatre sound system as the paying public entered and found their respective seats, an activity that seemed to go on for days until, finally, the lights came down v-e-r-y s--l--o--w--l--y as the first glorious strains of Max Steiner's awesome overture commenced.
It seemed to me that the overture sounded somewhat muffled due to the fact that the curtains were still down, and then at long last, they parted and the Selznick logo appeared, bigger than I'd ever seen it before and the huge letters G--O--N--E W--I--T--H T--H--E W--I--N--D floated from right to left across the immense screen backed up by the introduction of the thunderous main theme. I was thrilled. I was euphoric. I was ------ Wait a minute! Is it my imagination or do the credits look washed out and excessively grainy and does the great score sound echoey and distorted? Why are some of the credits cut off on the top and bottom of the frame? Why is that first shot of Tara so ---- UGLY? Slowly the camera panned in to the dreamy, creamy face of the bewitching Leigh and ------ HOLY CRAP! WHAT HAPPENED ?!? SCARLETT HAS DEVELOPED JAUNDICE!!! What happened to the pink and rosy complexion? ---- now it had an unsightly and exceedingly unhealthy yellow tinge to it. The trees have lost their luster and the skies their deep blue and ---- OH, NO!! ------ WHY ARE THE TOPS OF EVERYBODY'S HEAD MISSING? After about an hour of this desecration I walked despondently out of the theatre.
Repeated efforts over the years to see GWTW in all its original magnificence were met with continuous and dispiriting failure. When I saw it at the Carthay Circle, and the Fox Wilshire, the Beverly Wilshire etc., the same hideous image and sound were duplicated. I eventually found out that the ORIGINAL NEGATIVE had been cut into to create that monstrous 70mm abortion and that there was no other negative. To add insult to injury all reissue prints had been hastily and carelessly reprinted in Eastman Color. When it was announced that GWTW would make its TV debut I was cautiously optimistic because I reasoned that it could only be shown in its original 4:3 ratio, but all hopes vanished the second I saw Scarlett's sickly yellow pallor.
More years passed and one day Daily Variety announced that MGM was "painstakingly restoring GWTW to its original luster" and that the fruits of their labor would be reissued theatrically across the country, with L.A's Cinerama Dome designated as the initial venue. The Day arrived and as I cautiously entered the Dome I experienced what seemed to me to be a somewhat more upbeat, hopeful attitude that hadn't transpired in along time. The overture sounded pretty good and as the curtain lifted I knew that the defining moment would be that first Scarlett close-up that had so enraptured me as a youth. As the camera drew closer and closer I became aware that some of the green had indeed been restored , but unfortunately not to the trees but to Scarlett's face --- the yellow pallor was now yellowish-greenish. I skulked out of the theatre.
Flash forward to 2004. Warner Home Video announces that they will release a 4 Disc Collector's Edition of GWTW which has been "stunningly restored with Warner's patent-pending 'Ultra-Resolution' technology." Despite the fact that I consider their ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD to be the most beautiful 3-Strip Technicolor transfer that I've ever seen anywhere, and that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS weren't far behind, years of being told by very reliable sources that no decent source materials for GWTW remain have tainted my expectations, and I'm somewhat skeptical.
I needn't have been. After looking at this incredible transfer the "me of little faith" has been joyously converted to a true believer. I took one look at Vivien Leigh's magnificently restored alabaster complexion and I was transformed for the first time ever back into the mesmerized stripling I was on that magical day when I first saw GWTW. This is the film as it was meant to be seen and the accuracy and vibrancy and sheer variety of colors is nothing less than astonishing . Warner's claims that the sharpness provided by their "Ultra-Resolution" process enable one to see detail never before evident are once and for all proven to be entirely true to the point where, as many times as I've seen it, this DVD transformed this astounding film into an utterly new experience to me, and the 5.1 Dolby mix , while not aggressively rear or dialogue-directional, is powerful enough to give your sub-woofer a considerable workout, particularly in the Atlanta scenes when the left-right cannon fire knocks you out of your seat. Additionally, you can expect to hear Max Steiner's legendary score with a power, fidelity and richness never evident before.
The avowed primary concerns of DVD CLASSICS CORNER have always been to focus on the transfer quality of the film itself, to the exclusion of any detailed mention of special features, but we cannot conclude this review without mentioning that, among the vast variety of extras available in this collection is a captivating 45-minute segment, MELANIE REMEMBERS: OLIVIA de HAVILLAND RECALLS GONE WITH THE WIND in which Miss deHavilland shares a remarkable "sense memory" remembrance of her GWTW experience in such a compelling manner that what it amounts to is an absolutely riveting one-woman performance piece which one wishes would never end. Also included is the peerless 1989 documentary THE MAKING OF A LEGEND: GONE WITH THE WIND which is, for me, hands down the finest and most incisive documentary about every conceivable aspect of the creation of a cinematic milestone ever produced. A film of the exalted standing of GONE WITH THE WIND deserves no less!