Monday, May 21 , 2018, 2:53 am | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

‘Gone with the Wind’ to Screen for One Night Only at Plaza Playhouse Theater

To honor its 75th anniversary, the Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria will host a one-time-only showing of Gone with the Wind, the Academy Award-winning film that brought Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel of life in the Old South to the big screen in 1939.

Gone with the Wind, produced by the legendary David Selznick, has recently been put through an intensive, high definition digital 4k restoration process that brings it back to its original Technicolor brilliance and includes all the footage seen when it was first released.

“On top of that, it has been returned to its original aspect ratio, which means it will fill our screen perfectly,” said Peter Bie, a member of the board of the nonprofit venue.

There was no "wide screen" projection back in the day, so Plaza Theater moviegoers will view the film just as audiences saw it 75 years ago — much like the shape of your old TV before flat screens came along.

“This new restoration gives an eye-popping clarity to every frame and the soundtrack is phenomenal,” said Bie, noting that the movie will be shown using digital projection, which the theater has been proudly doing for several years.

The wildly anticipated production had its premiere in Atlanta, Ga., on Dec. 15, 1939, and most of the stars of the film, including Clark Gable (Rhett Butler) and Vivian Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara), were there along with a million fans, many of whom had traveled across the country to take part in the three days of festivities and to see the picture at the Loew’s Grand Theater. (Tickets were $10 and went to charity.)

Sadly, the black members of the cast were not present due to the Jim Crow laws in effect at the time which would not allow them to be seated in the auditorium with whites. Gable at first refused to attend in protest, but was convinced by Hattie McDaniel, who played the feisty maid Mammy, that he should go.

A fair number of critics panned the film as too long, too melodramatic and with too much of everything and “not much of a story,” but the public ignored them and turned out in droves, driving the movie into the box office stratosphere even though MGM had raised ticket fees to anywhere from a $1 to $2.20, something unheard at the time. It would later play movie houses at lower prices, often proclaimed with the headline “Nothing cut but the price!” It is still considered to be the biggest money making film of all time (adjusted for inflation).

It was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won 10: Best Picture, Best Director (Victor Fleming), Best Adapted Screenplay (Sidney Howard), Best Actress (Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), Best Color Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Art Direction along with two special Oscars. (Clark Gable had been nominated for Best Actor, but the award went to Robert Donat for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chips).

But the February 1940 Oscar ceremony at the Coconut Grove in L.A. was bittersweet; while waiting to hear her name called, McDaniel and her escort were forced to sit at a segregated table at the back of the room.

She also endured criticism from the black community and other commentators who said she had “sold out” and was no more than an “Uncle Tom” for taking the role in the film, which they roundly criticized for its depiction of blacks and its glorification of slavery and for perpetuating the long-held myth that slaves were happy and content on the plantations of the South. McDaniel shot back by declaring, “I would rather make $750 a week playing a maid than $7 a week being one!”

Following its initial release in ‘39, the movie was re-released several times to theaters over succeeding decades, often severely trimmed for time and in some instances completely reformatted to allow for wide screen presentation, leaving out portions of the standard frame which made for some odd looking scenes.

It first aired on TV on HBO in June 1976 and came to network TV in November of that year after NBC paid a whopping $5 million for a one-time showing broadcast over two successive nights. It was the highest rated TV program presented on a single network at the time with nearly 48 percent of TV households tuning in totaling 65 percent of all TV viewers.

“For many watching then, especially baby boomers, this was the first time they had seen the film and for most this has remained their experience ever since — watching it on TV, usually with lots of interruptions,” Bie said. “We want folks to come to the Plaza, sit in the dark and enjoy the magic of the movie, uncut, in its original screen format, the way it was meant to be seen--on a big screen, with big sound and no commercial breaks.”

Bie explained that the legacy of GWTW is not necessarily that it’s often been called the greatest movie of all time, but that it was such a monumental undertaking for its day, driven by a producer who would not take no for an answer, shot in a brand new color process (Technicolor), a pre-production nightmare of two years that nearly killed the film and a cast with many of the biggest stars of the day. Notably, it goes from being called "Selznick’s folly" to reaping millions of dollars and securing its place in the annals of moviemaking.

“To give you an idea of how far reaching the book itself has been — which by the way, is still in print — I came across a story by a National Geographic writer/photographer who had visited North Korea," Bie said. "He was startled to learn that the book had been read by millions of people in that cloistered, secretive country and discovered that they felt it was very close to their own history of struggle and survival through wars and famine.”

“GWTW is worth seeing on the big screen because of its scope and grandeur. If you’re a movie lover, a film history buff, or you just want to know what all the hype was about, this is the your opportunity to rediscover this epic or see it for the first time. And when you leave the theater I’ll guarantee you’ll have lots to talk about, discuss and debate.”

Tickets for GWTW, which is rated G, are $5 and available online now by clicking here or at Seastrand, 919 Linden Ave. in Carpinteria, during regular business hours. Check or cash only.

Your price of admission also qualifies you for the drawing of two door prizes: Each is a limited edition numbered gift box set containing the movie, several discs about Hollywood’s and MGM’s history, a two-hour documentary on the making of the picture narrated by Christopher Plummer, reproductions of memos from producer Selznick, a 52-page full color booklet and more.

This cinematic landmark also has an epic running time: three hours and 38 minutes with an intermission, at which time the drawing will be held for the door prizes.

The Plaza Playhouse Theater is located at 4916 Carpinteria Ave. in Carpinteria. Phone: 805.684.6380. Click here for the website. It’s ADA compatible with wheel chair access. The box office opens at 6 p.m. the night of the film’s showing with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Gone with the Wind screens at 7 p.m. Seating is limited.

— Peter Bie is a board member for Plaza Playhouse Theater.

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