Classic Movie Review: Gone With the Wind (1939)


TitleGone With the Wind
Release Date: December 15, 1939
Director: Victor Fleming
Production Company: Selznick International Pictures | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

I’m not really sure what I can say about Gone With the Wind that hasn’t been said before.  For good or for ill, this film is steeped in our culture.  When I was a kid in the 70s & 80s, the annual broadcast of Gone With the Wind was a major event spread over multiple nights like a big new miniseries (and delightfully parodied on The Carol Burnett Show).  My mom and sister loved watching the movie, but I avoided it until I was a teenager and found that it was actually better than I imagined.

Still, even if my great-grandfather hadn’t served in the Civil War defending his home state of Pennsylvania, I would find it hard to love a movie whose opening text declares the slaveholder aristocracy to be a great, lost civilization and their insurrection to be a noble cause.  I decided that this movie really actually works as a satire of the South, since all the characters are universally awful in their narcissism, pettiness, duplicity, and greed.  Well, except Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) who seems to have found a happy place divorced from reality.

I can’t deny that this is a technically brilliant and beautifully shot film that was innovative for its time and still holds up (although it says something about our nation that so many of the American film industry’s milestone films – from The Birth of a Nation to The Jazz Singer to Song of the South – are deeply racist).  I also can’t deny that Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable are terrific in their roles.  I quibble with the idea that the story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler really deserved the epic treatment and nearly four hours of run time, but it did hold my attention.

I guess I did have a few things to say about Gone With the Wind.  I don’t think it really deserves the revered position it holds, but it is worth giving it a watch if you haven’t seen it yourself.  I don’t think I’ll watch it again.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz


Author: Tony Hortwitz
Title: Confederates in the Attic
Narrator: Arthur Addison
Publication Info: Newport Beach, CA : Books On Tape, 1999
Other Books Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Around 20 years ago, I read Confederates in the Attic and Tony Hortwitz immediately became my favorite history/travel writer. I had just moved back to New England after living seven years in Virginia, and I related to the experience of meeting people obsessed with the past of the lost Civil War. I laughed, of course, at the most eccentric characters, such as the woman who created a Cats of the Confederacy chapter or Robert Lee Hodge, the hardcore living history reenactor.  Hodge, pictured on the cover, was the star of the book and so focused on authenticity that he eschewed Civil War battle reenactments for long marches and drilling in period attire.

Reading this book again in 2021, it feels less a reflection on a way of life that was slowly dying, and more of a warning to the future.  Since this book was published the United States has seen an alarming reemergence of the undergirding ideology of the neo-confederate beliefs depicted in this book – white supremacy and Christian nationalism – and not just in the South.  This has manifest itself in:

  • the hyper-militarized response to the September 11th attacks, built on anti-Muslim discrimination, and the immediate questioning of the patriotism of anyone who challenged these notions.
  • the perverse interpretation of the Second Amendment from an insurrectionist perspective that allowed access to firearms for countless mass murderers
  • the increase in mass incarceration of Black and brown people, the militarization of police forces, and the ability of police and vigilantes to murder Black and brown people without consequences
  • the rise of the Tea Party, numerous white supremacist gangs and organizations, and ultimately the Trump administration
  • And, on the day I finished re-reading this book, all of these things coming together as armed insurrectionists of white supremacists and Christian nationalists invading the US Capitol, some bearing the Confederate battle flag.

Tony Horwitz is no longer with us to offer his perspective, but in retrospect, Confederates in the Attic is a chilling account of a menace within our midst.  Horwitz’s great talent was his ability to meet strangers, talk with them, and form a bond, even when he considered their ideologies loathsome. Through his interviews and experiences in this book he offers a keen insight into the popular memory of the Civil War and its aftermath. 

A lot has changed since Horwitz’s journey through the South in the 1990s, and despite my list above, some of it is for the better.  It would’ve been hard to imagine the sculptures of Confederate generals would ultimately be removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia at the time Horwitz wrote about the controversy about adding an Arthur Ashe statue. I was also fascinated that some of the people who he interviewed had more nuanced views on the Civil War than I recalled, some expressing anti-militant feelings. I also appreciate Horwitz debunking Civil War myths, such as the story of Wilmer McLean, who is said to have had the Civil War beginning and ending in house, but his true story is much more nuanced.

Confederates in the Attic remains one of my favorite books of all time and offers a lot of insight into America’s past and present, and possibly our future.

Recommended books:

Rating: *****

Book Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland


Author: Justina Ireland
Title: Dread Nation
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2018)
Summary/Review:

This novel is set in an alternate universe where the dead rose from the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War ended because of the zombie apocalypse. Twenty years later, the surviving society has adapted by training Black and indigenous people to become “attendants” who protect the white elites from attacks by the “shamblers.” Among these are this books narrator, Jane McKeene, a student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore as the novel begins.

Jane is a highly-skilled but outspoken student often ending up in trouble. A series of events lead her to being exiled to a new model town on the prairies of Kansas with her colleagues Catherine and Jackson. The town of Summerland has its deep secrets, though, and is under the rule of the virulently racist sheriff.  The book works as metaphor for the slavery and Jim Crow periods, and how the ruling caste seeks to perpetuate social divisions even under existential threats to humanity.  But the book also works as a straight up adventure and horror story, with no shortage of humor, especially in Jane’s wry narration.

Recommended books:
Rating:

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 3rd


Re:Sound :: Tsunami Song

The true and complicated story of the Confederate anthem, “Dixie.”  Also, tsunamis & migraines, and Romeo and Juliet texting in the afterlife.

Fresh Air :: Documenting Hate in America

Journalist A.C. Thompson’s investigative work into the white supremacist organizations of America.

The Truth :: Bonus: Everything is Alive

This is actually a preview of a new podcast where inanimate objects get interviewed, in this case a can of generic cola.  This sounded like a one-note joke, but the story went into some very odd places.

Hub History :: Boston’s Pickwick Disaster and the Dance of Death

A building collapse at a popular Boston nightclub in 1925 causes the death of 44 people and leads moral crusaders to campaign against the dangers of dancing the Charleston.

 

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


AuthorGeorge Saunders
TitleLincoln in the Bardo 
Narrator: Cast of Thousands
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

This is a curious, experimental novel that is built upon the true story of President Abraham Lincoln making several visits to a crypt to hold the body of his recently deceased son Willie.  The “bardo” is a Tibetan Buddhist concept that of an intermediate state where a person doesn’t know if they’r alive or dead. The author gives voice to dozens of deceased people who comment Lincoln & Willie but also tell their own stories and interact with one another.  A third element to this novel are sections which are merely collages of writing, newspapers clippings, and historical works about Lincoln and his times. The novel is an oddly abstract attempt at understanding grief and coming terms to death, both on Lincoln’s personal level and the large scale trauma of the Civil War.  The audiobook is particularly interesting since each character is read by a different actor, several of them quite famous, lending it the quality of an audio play.

Recommended booksThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust  and Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler

Rating: ***

JP A to Z: M is for Monument #AtoZChallenge #JamaicaPlain


M is for Monument

At an island at the fork of two of Jamaica Plain’s “main streets” – Centre and South – stands a prominent landmark, the Soldier’s Monument, known to many as just The Monument.  Dedicated in 1871, the Monument is a memorial to the 23 men of West Roxbury (as Jamaica Plain was part of the Town of West Roxbury at the time) who died fighting for the Union in the American Civil War.  A smaller plaque remembers the locals who died in the Revolutionary War cause.  The Monument still serves as a place of memory and reflection, and is frequently decorated with flags on holidays and solemn occasions by local activist and Boston Marathon bombing hero Carlos Arredondo.

A few years back the Monument was restored and at the rededication ceremony they read off the names of the soldiers who died in the Civil War, all of whom are buried in the South near the battlefields where they died.  Several of the men are buried in Williamsburg, VA where I went to college and lived for seven years, making the Monument extra resonant for me.

The Monument is surrounded by prominent buildings including the First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist, Curtis Hall (once the town hall for independent West Roxbury), the Jamaica Plain library branch, and the Loring-Greenough House.  A colonial-era milestone by the Monument marks five miles distance from the Old State House in central Boston.

Post for “M” in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

Click to see more “Blogging A to Z” posts.

Book Review: Civil War on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne


AuthorMary Pope Osborne
TitleCivil War on Sunday 
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2000.
Summary/Review:

In read this book aloud to my daughter who loves Magic Tree House books or “Annie and Jack books” as she calls them. In this story, Jack and Annie travel to the Civil War where they go to a field hospital and encounter Clara Barton, black soldiers, and a familiar looking drummer boy. I was impressed that this book explored the horrors of war and slavery at a level that kids can understand. 

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Fiery Trial : Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner


Author:  Eric Foner 
TitleThe Fiery Trial : Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
Publication Info:  New York : W. W. Norton & Co., c2010.
ISBN:   9780393066180
Summary/Review:

Every year on or around Lincoln’s Birthday I read a book about Abraham Lincoln, and this year I read this study about Lincoln’s evolving views on slavery.  Some people consider him the great emancipator while others think he was racist and never freed a slave.  Both views have an aspect of truth.  Foner shows that Lincoln was anti-slavery from early in his life but did not think freed black persons were equal or capable of living alongside white Americans.  Until late in his Presidency he held true to a plan of colonization and resettlement of freed blacks in Africa or Latin America.  Yet, even these views were modified over time as during his Presidency he was actually exposed to meeting and respecting black individuals on a regular basis.  It’s an interesting look at how a mind changes and how the country changes as Lincoln was often just a step ahead of popular opinion.

Recommended booksThe Radical and the Republican by James Oakes
Rating: ***1/2

  • The Fiery Trial : Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner