This year is the 70th anniversary of Gone With the Wind and this week my Civil War Memory class will watch it. Depending on how they respond to it we may even watch it in its entirety. There are so many thought provoking scenes, which will allow us to address a number of interpretive threads that have been passed down in our collective memory. With Birth of a Nation already under their belt they will also be able to begin to track certain themes in popular culture during the first part of the twentieth century.
In addition to viewing the movie, students will have to write an analytical review that addresses questions that I have provided. This time around they will also have to spend some time on one of our school’s databases that includes newspapers from around the country. They will have to integrate reviews and editorials into their essays. We will start with the following blog post from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to get the juices flowing.
I showed the movie last spring, and the students in my Civil War course loved it (including two African American students — a third wrote a good essay arguing that its racism was more insidious than “Birth of a Nation” precisely because the movie was so entertaining). Watching it along with the class for the first time in a few years, I found myself surprisingly moved by the opening sequence of Scarlett with Gerald — the love of father and daughter. The richness of the acting, among other dimensions, keeps the movie from ever being one-dimensional.
Thanks Jim. I just finished reading student reviews of Birth of a Nation and was really impressed with their maturity and appreciation for how it fits into the broader Lost Cause narrative of the time. I am pretty sure that they will enjoy GWTW.
I don't think there will be a cinematic phenomenon like that ever again. Atlanta was literally shut down for the premier of that movie. In modern terms, that movie made something close to $3 billion I understand. I don't think people will be as excited about history again either.
Hey Kevin, have you ever heard of the Clark Gable/Atlanta Cyclorama tale? Priceless!
The Time magazine article describing the scene in 1939 states, “Crowds larger than the combined armies that fought at Atlanta in July 1864 waved Confederate flags, …” Other then some patriotic bunting over the Budding Dale shop I don't see anything that looks like a flag.
Good luck to you and your class on the assignment.
You might also be interested in the “re-premier” of the Gone With the Wind movie that was part of Georgia's commemoration of the Civil War Centennial. I think the date was March 10, 1961.
I've been doing some research on the Centennial in Georgia, and this event, and the antebellum dress ball that was the next night, were signature events for the state commission, although they didn't raise the $$ that they had hoped they would.
Georgia at the Centennial was definitely an example of the ironic juxtaposition of civil war memory and the civil rights movement that Robert Cook talks about in Troubled Commemoration. January 1961 was the integration of UGA, and later that month, while the town of Milledgeville was holding events to reenact the secession convention, the governor and other powers that be went to Washington DC for the inauguration of President Kennedy, rather than going to Milledgeville.
I am working on a paper for the Georgia Association of Historians on this topic. If any one has any suggestions for me, I'm grateful for them.
Nice to hear from you, Laura. Do you have any Online links to the re-premier of the movie? That would fit perfectly into what I am doing with the class. Thanks.
I’m not sure if any of the newspaper articles from that era are online (or accessible for free). I did most of my research with the old fashioned microfilm. I will do some more searching and let you know. Thanks!
J.L.McDonough and J.P.Jones have a book “War so Terrible” dealing with the Atlanta campaign that has probably been supplanted as a key text about the battle, but they do have an interesting Epilogue, “Frankly, Margaret Mitchell Did Give a Damn!”, dealing with the history of the battle and how it was handled by its most famous narrator.
They found that Mitchell is at her historical best dealing with the war itself, but weak on the Antebellum South and on Reconstruction. This does not detract from her ability to tell a rattlin' good yarn.
“War so Terrible” was published by Norton in 1987.
War So Terrible was withdrawn by the publisher after it became evident that one of the authors (not Mr. Jones) had plagiarized.
Ouch! Not sure what that says about the books view of Margaret Mitchell!
I find that I bought the book in Dublin, Ireland, I think about 1990.