New print of Gone With the Wind is discolored and poorly restored
GONE WITH THE WIND
Directed by Victor Fleming, et al.
Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh,
and Olivia de Havilland.
At the Brattle Theatre until March 3.
By CORINNE WAYSHAK
THIS YEAR MARKS THE 50th anniversary of the David O. Selznick production Gone With the Wind, the epic tale of Civil War romance. The story, which revolves around the feisty and manipulative Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), offers a reminiscent glimpse at a part of Americana known as "The Old South." With fiery scenes ranging from Rhett Butler's (Clark Gable) virtual rape of Scarlett in her bedroom, to the spectacular burning of Atlanta, Gone With the Wind embodies the fervent passion of the Confederate South.
For the production of Gone With the Wind, which lasted three years and used up half a million feet of film, Selznick Studios chose to use the newly developed Technicolor process introduced in 1932 (which was affectionately named after inventor Herbert Kalmus' alma mater, MIT). The system used three negatives, one sensitive to blues, another to reds, and the third to yellows. Special cameras were used which exposed the three separate strips of film simultaneously through a single lens using a prismatic beam-splitter behind the lens. The process was so complicated that the Technicolor Corporation actually provided its own cameramen and equipment. Throughout the 1930's, Technicolor was so expensive and tricky to work with that it was used mainly for Disney animation, where the director could have complete control over the actors and circumstances. Gone With
the Wind was one of the most notable exceptions to this rule.
Over the years, the stunning print of Gone With the Wind lost the vibrance of its vivid colors due to the frailty and instability of the film stocks. Since his Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) had acquired ownership of the print in 1986 when it bought the MGM library, Ted Turner decided to restore the film by returning to the original nitrate negatives. Roger Mayer (originally from MGM) and Dick May headed up the $250,000 project to create a new, stabler negative of the film from the original three.
The restored print of Gone With the Wind is disappointingly inconsistent in the quality of color. One shot would be breathtakingly beautiful only to be followed by another shot whose colors would be washed away. While the blues in a particularly good shot would be intense and vivid, the reds in that same shot lacked the garishness associated with the reds in Technicolor. Several shots also appeared to be from a 1960's print of the film in which some of the images were optically lifted, leaving a strip of black on the bottom of the frame, which may be a result of the destruction of some of the original negatives. Repeated attempts to contact representatives of Turner Entertainment about these issues have proved fruitless.
Although the quality of the image leaves the audience wanting more, the soundtrack is quite good, and includes an overture. The soundtrack itself is an optical music track recorded separately from the three color negatives on a fourth negative. The optical track on the restored print is from the original recording, although it has been processed to make the sound cleaner. For those who enjoy Max Steiner's soundtrack, MCA has released a recording on compact disc that was digitally remastered from the original optical recording.
Despite the poor quality of the restoration, the run at the Brattle of Gone With the Wind is still a good opportunity to see one of the great American epics, a genre that in recent years has died away because of the production costs. The film's passionate and energetic quality jumps out and lures present-day audiences into the romance and chivalry of a way of life now "gone with the wind."