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Posts Tagged ‘Gone With The Wind’

William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come

Monday, December 21st, 2015

An absolutely essential book on one of the most influential cinema artists of all time.

James Curtis’s William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come is easily one of the best film books of 2015. It manages to pull off an amazing feat; it’s prodigiously researched, but it never succumbs to a recitation of mere facts; it includes an enormous amount of personal detail, but never gets lost in a forest of statistics.

It is above all a supreme synthesis of history and theory, treating all of Menzies’ work, whether as a director or a production designer (or often, as both simultaneously) with great care and respect, illustrated with a stunning array of color and black and white plates, including many rare behind the scenes shots that really put the reader into the center of the narrative.

Most of all, it is the careful, conscientious, but never pedantic style of the book that impresses. Curtis clearly knows Menzies’ work inside out, and yet he wears this knowledge easily, creating an accessible, reasoned, brilliantly written book, one of the most carefully detailed and critically measured volumes written on any historical figure, no matter what their profession.

Time and again, I was struck by the carefully reasoned tone of Curtis’s work, his sharp yet graceful prose style, and the remarkable way in which he managed to gather such an incredible amount of material in one volume, and make the whole thing flow so smoothly – it’s easily his finest book. The design of The Shape of Films to Come is another plus factor; the volume is overflowing with images, and the layout of the text and illustrations – something Menzies would appreciate – is impeccable.

Curtis’s book is thus a supreme achievement on every level, and for those who don’t know Menzies or his work, it opens up a world of wonder and amazement – often amazement at how much Menzies managed to accomplish on many of his assignments with very little in the way of a budget.

From Menzies’ production design on Gone With The Wind, to his science-fiction children’s nightmare Invaders from Mars, to the pioneering futuristic epic Things To Come, to his work on such projects as The Whip Hand, Address Unknown, The Maze, Around The World in 80 Days and numerous other films, Curtis meticulously details Menzies’ long career, a life filled with hard work and a good deal of tragedy, but one which ultimately left us with some of the most memorable images in cinema history.

In short, this is a must read for anyone with even the remotest interest in the cinema, and a singular accomplishment in every respect. The Shape of Films to Come gets my highest possible recommendation – this is literally a flawless book. And considering the massive amount of detail that went into it, that in itself is a stellar accomplishment. Once you pick this book up, I guarantee you won’t put it down.

This is a major work of scholarship, history and theory, and a genuine delight to read.

21 Days Together (1940)

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Leslie Banks on the set of 21 Days Together.

Shot in 1937, but not released until 1940 to capitalize on the newly famous Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind (1939), 21 Days Together (also known simply as 21 Days) is a rather curious film, based on a 1920 novel by John Galsworthy, The First and The Last, scripted by none other than novelist Graham Greene, directed by Basil Dean, and edited by future director Charles Crichton, who later made The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and much later after that, A Fish Called Wanda (1988). That’s a lot of talent on board!

Without giving away too much of the plot, Laurence Olivier plays ne’er do well Larry Durant, who kills Henry Wallen (Esmé Percy), the husband of his lover Wanda (Vivien Leigh), and then confesses the crime to his brother, Keith (Leslie Banks), who is in line for a judgeship, and in no mood to have Larry spoil his career.

Thus, he talks Larry into staying silent about the matter, and Larry instead spends an idyllic 21 days with Wanda (Leigh), even as an innocent man is being tried for the crime. The simple question hanging over all of this is will Larry let an innocent man hang for his crime, or come clean and face the consequences?

The on-the-set shot above gives a sense of the relaxed mood of the piece – it really isn’t so much a murder mystery as a romance, and Olivier and Leigh were really falling love, so much so that director Basil Dean thought they were derailing the finished product. Indeed, it’s really not that suspenseful at all, but rather a curiosity that’s more important as a record of a time and place now lost to authentic recall.

But with these hands on board, the result, clocking in at a scant 72 minutes, is well worth watching, and just another example of a film lost to conventional history, and the kind of filmmaking that flourished during this era in Britain, when costs were minimal, and everyone’s career was just taking off.

See the entire film by clicking here!

Gone With The Wind Screen Tests

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

When David O. Selznick decided to go all out in producing Gone With the Wind, (directed by Victor Fleming, George Cukor, B. Reeves “Breezy” Eason and numerous other hands before it was finally completed in 1939, including Selznick himself), Selznick launched a massive publicity campaign to find the “perfect” actress for the part of Scarlett O’Hara — of course, Vivien Leigh won the role. It was great publicity for the film, for Leigh, and for Selznick himself.

Vivien Leigh was perfect for the role. You can hardly imagine anyone else delivering this, among many other signature lines from the film: “As God is my witness, as God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

Here are the screen tests for the other aspirants for the part, as well as color silent test footage of Leslie Howard and Clark Gable at the end of the clip; interesting viewing.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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