You might think you’ve seen Gone with the Wind in all its glory, but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. The epic masterpiece has undergone a 4K digital restoration and is returning to the big screen more magnificent than ever. The BFI is celebrating its release with an entire season dedicated to its star Vivien Leigh, fiction curator at BFI national archives, Jo Botting says.
Set against the turbulent backdrop of the American Civil War, Gone with the Wind –based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel- tells the story of melodramatic southern belle Scarlett O’Hara and her tumultuous love affair with scandalous Blockade runner Rhett Butler. However, the making of the movie was as intriguing as the script itself, Jo says. “Vivien Leigh was a complete outsider in America; they auditioned 1400 women over two years for the role of Scarlett O’Hara; they scoured the country, they screen-tested Bette David and Katharine Hepburn and the actual casting of the film became a part of this big publicity machine,” Jo tells. “The anticipation of this beautiful film was unbelievable at the time. Vivien was very canny; her agent was the brother of the filmmaker. These stories have become legend.”
The new restored version of the film, which won ten Academy Awards, is showing at the BFI will be the first time in around 25 years that the film has been shown on the big screen in the UK. “It looks absolutely fabulous. Most films that are released digitally are shown in 2K; this is in 4K. The lines and resolution are so sharp especially the stuff that was shot straight to camera,” Jo explains.
Spanning 233 minutes, the film –which will be screened in two parts with an interval- is a cinematic experience, Jo says. “It’s an event, you feel you’re really following Scarlett’s story.”
With this year being the centenary of Vivien Leigh’s birth, the BFI season will screen fourteen of the actress’ films. “She only made nineteen films and although she died nearly 50 years ago her legend is still so alive,” Jo says. Although the actress did a great deal of theatre with her husband Lawrence Olivier, she picked her film roles carefully and played some epic parts including Cleopatra and A Streetcar named Desire’s Blanche DuBois.
“My interest was to show some of Vivien’s early British films: St Martin’s Lane, Fire over England, and the Deep Blue Sea, which has not been seen since 1955,” Jo reveals. “The events are already selling out; she’s got such an aura about her.”