‘Gone With the Wind’ 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition: wow

There’s box sets, and then there’s this 70th anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition Gone With the Wind set, which is just insane. In a good way, of course. If you’re looking for an impressive Christmas gift for a lover of this movie, this could be pretty sweet. And if he or she is one of those people who shakes prezzies before opening and tries to guess what’s inside, there’s no way in hell your giftee will guess “DVD.”
It’s sort of ridiculous, actually: you could use the set as a doorstop, it must weigh 10 pounds. Except you wouldn’t want to ruin the red-velvet box all the goodies are nestled in. (Maybe Warner Bros. should have saved this till Valentine’s Day, it’s that sexy and luxurious.)

This isn’t for someone who doesn’t already know and love the movie, so I’m not even going to bother reviewing the film (though you can read my old review here): either you know and you adore it (or you hate it, in which case, you’re not gonna buy this anyway), or you’ve never seen it, in which case, for pete’s sake, rent it before you invest in this treasure chest of a set.

You open the box, and there’s a nice little picture book on top: it contains lots of lovely photos and production sketches from the flick, and hardly any text. (This is probably a good thing, because right in the front of the book, it refers to Viven Leigh as a “Britisher,” which I think most British folks would find, um, an insulter.) Under that are replicas of memos and letters and telegrams from the film’s production, such as the one in which producer David O. Selznick reveals his three choices for the role of Rhett Butler: Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Erol [sic] Flynn. (I think I would have gone with Gary Cooper — *swoon.*) Also here: what looks like a playbill. Did they used to give out playbills at movies? I know how we’re always hearing that you used to get a newsreel, a cartoon, an A movie, and a B movie all for a nickel back in the good old days, but no one ever said anything about a playbill, too.

Then there’s a CD with selections from the soundtrack, a little over half an hour’s worth of music. I’m pretty sure they didn’t used to give out CDs for your nickel movie ticket, so that’s probably a modern bonus here.

Then comes the real shit: two folders of DVDs. In the first, there’s the movie, on two discs, with both the original mono soundtrack and a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 version, plus audio commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer. This is hilariously, obsessively nerdy, down to what drugs everyone was on to help them get through the production — where Behlmer found this info, I dunno, but it does put a whole new spin on the flick. No wonder Rhett Butler didn’t give a damn about anything, or why Scarlett O’Hara was so hungry: she had the munchies. (Also in this folder are a collection of postcards, “The Art of Gone With the Wind,” reproducing watercolor production sketches. I’m not really sure what anyone would do with ’em — hang ’em on the fridge, I guess.)

The second folder contains three discs. Disc 1, “About the Movie,” includes the 1988 feature-length doc The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind, narrated by Christopher Plummer — guess what kind of payoff was required to get Clark Gable onboard? There’s also some old newsreels about the film’s various premieres, and a look at the restoration process that makes old movies look so good today. Best of all is the short “The Old South,” which Warner Bros. produced to prepare 1930s audiences for the setting of the film: it’s an interesting artifact of Hollywood’s — and America’s — racism at the time (the Great Depression, that is, not the Civil War era). Disc 2, “About the Cast,” is more material that’s been around for a while but is still intriguing, including an elderly Olivia de Havilland’s reflections on playing Melanie, and profiles of Gable and Leigh. Disc 3, “New Celebratory 70th Anniversary Extras,” is the best. Here, there’s a new, really awesome feature-length documentary narrated by Kenneth Branagh about 1939, that pinnacle year of Hollywood’s Golden Age, plus the hilariously catty 1980 TV film Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara War, starring Tony Curtis as David O. Selznick, Sharon Gless as Carole Lombard, some nobody as Gable, and Morgan Brittany as Vivien Leigh (Brittany went on to do six years on Dallas after this).

I could imagine Rhett running blockades to bring copies of this to the entertainment-starved people of Atlanta. Or maybe Scarlett could make a hat out of the box. Anyway: it’s good stuff.

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Mon, Nov 16, 2009 2:18pm

Also here: what looks like a playbill. Did they used to give out playbills at movies?

Yes, for premieres and some of the big “roadshow” features – the kind that played for months (sometimes years) at the big, beautiful movie palaces of old – they would often include printed programs.

The inveterate film score geek in me wonders why they wouldn’t throw the entire score in with this super-deluxe-kitchen-sink package, instead of just a sampler CD. Is that looking a gift horse in the mouth or what?