That was then...
we wish it
Yet beware of what you wish for! I, for one, am thankful it’s not 1939, when GWTW premiered! If it were, the Great Depression would still be on us like a lead jacket after ten years, with unemployment numbers (initially 25% and remaining above 14% through 1940) that dwarf ours. On the other side of “the pond,” Czechoslovakia would just have ceased to exist. Poland sliced and diced by Hitler, The St. Louis. a ship carrying a cargo of 907 Jewish refugees, would just have been turned away from Florida, forced to return to Europe, and what would become the death camps.
Which brings me to Gone With the Wind, a movie I loved as a little girl, and still felt a certain yearning for in early adulthood, before coming to terms with its racially- and sexually-disturbing underpinnings.
In 1976, when my husband and I ran The St. George Theatre, a movie palace in Staten Island, just up the hill from the ferry docks, I still longed for the reds and golds of David O. Selznick’s epic, playing on the gilded statuary of our almost empty theater. Accordingly, we ran the trailer for GWTW week after week, with no intention of actually showing the movie at all. It would have flopped, in that tough urban zeit, when what our audiences wanted was Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon. So I do sympathize, when the United Palace longs for Hollywood’s golden days...
In our theater year, 1976, for a mere $2.50 a week, we could run the GWTW trailer just for ourselves, and so we did, going broke while cuddling up in the first row, with a fully-buttered popcorn.
Trailers are really short films — there’s an art to making them. They’re hors d’oeuvres. If we couldn’t dine out on a classic, we could snack on brief glimpses of it: A spooked horse and a rickety wagon against the backdrop of burning Atlanta, Scarlett and the white portico of Tara, Rhett carrying his flailing wife to bed up an improbably long crimson staircase. As dated as the movie itself, the trailer was a glimpse of what our endangered movie palace had been built to contain.
That full-color trailer was crafted in 1939, just days before the movie’s release. Dark as impending war was, it was still the golden year of movies, when stylized Deco letters swung in from the right and popped over scenes of a promised film. Even though GWTW was one of Hollywood’s first full-length feature films shot entirely in color, its trailer stuck — but for the use of color — with the classic trailer formula: an establishing shot of name actors, a two-minute-thirty-eight second sound track, and the inevitable baritone announcer, “The most memorable event in the annals of motion pictures...”
GWTW’s original trailer (or the closest I can come to it, re-cut for the centennial of the Civil War), currently boasts 133, 660 views, while another modern adaptation stands at 1,716,917. I’ve added one to each of these numbers. Remarkable! You don’t have to rent a movie palace to visit Tara anymore.
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And now for the rest of what the United Palace had to say in its recent email:
“While we’ve hit pause on Movies at the Palace, here’s a throwback from yesteryear, when the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre (as we were once known) hosted Gone With the Wind the week of March 28, 1940... That got us thinking about the top five movies we wish we could screen this week... [note that this announcement came out 5/4/20, when the 4th was still with us].
The Longest Yard Featuring one of the greatest 4th quarter comebacks in cinematic history!
Independence Day Because on July 4th we fight back! And we'd pay good money to see Will Smith punch Coronavirus in the face!
All the President's Men Hail to the 4th estate for its relentless pursuit of the truth.
Gremlins Capturing the spirit of "go 4th and multiply". We may see similar results nine months after quarantine.
Deadpool This film breaks the 4th wall so often it feels like lead actor Ryan Reynolds is actually the director.
Honorable Mention: Spaceballs May the Schwartz be with you. (Or is this not the sci-fi film you were thinking of?)
These flicks are probably streaming somewhere right now, so you can watch them today at home even if you don’t have a 50-ft screen, state-of-the-art projection, and 3,400 seats. But when things return to normal, we’d love to have you back to watch classic movies the way they are meant to be seen: in a movie palace. Until then, keep those phones on silent and enjoy the picture without interruption. Pass the popcorn!”
Hurrah for the United Palace, which reminds us there will be movie theaters on the other side of this crisis! Meanwhile, go find yourself something to stream.
1. If you’re a trailer buff, here are a few more from Hollywood’s prime era: THE LAUGHS ARE MONSTROUS! (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), MIGHTIEST ADVENTURE OF ALL TIME! (The Charge of the Light Brigade).
2. Now here’s my list:
• Lawrence of Arabia, a movie which should never be seen on a screen less than 50 feet across!
• The Wizard of Oz, which shares its magic birth year of 1939 with GWTW.
• Casablanca, not a big-screen epic, but an epic nonetheless, from a time darker even than ours.
• Dr. Zhivago; it demands a big screen to contain its volatile combination of history and romance.
• Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, never saw it on a big screen, but wish I had.
•The Man Who Would Be King, The Dead, Chinatown, you name it. John Huston was a big-screen thinker.
• The Piano, Jane Campion’s 10th movie. Never seen on a really big screen, but a girl can dream...
• Fanny and Alexander, Bergman’s childhood writ large, interestingly enough was originally conceived for a TV miniseries! That version, totaling 312 minutes was eventually spliced together into a longer version of the film, released first. I’m glad I saw it at the Gramercy on 23rd Street, a tolerably large screen.
That’s way more than five. I got carried away! What’s your list?