Gone with the pages

Every movie is a miracle. Reading “Scarlett”, one will understand that this adage so true of the film industry must have been invented for “Gone with the wind”. François-Guillaume Lorrain depicts the fever that surrounded the production of the most emblematic work of the golden age of American cinema.

There’s an entire library, thousands of hours of footage of “Gone with the Wind,” the eight-Oscar-winning film that has long been the most expensive and highest-grossing in history. Even today, the two-hundred-forty-three-minute Technicolor melodrama is at the heart of Americans’ re-reading of its story: Netflix has suspended its broadcast while waiting to offer it with an explanatory introduction; the controversy centers on how he would present slavery as a happy “family institution”, in which affection trumps servitude. With his novel “Scarlett”, François-Guillaume Lorrain, normalien and film historian who has long signed film critics in “Le Point”, tells a quest for the Grail: that of David O. Selznik, the visionary producer, demiurge, obsessive of “Gone with the Wind”, to find the one who will play the character of Scarlett O’Hara.

“Scarlett”, by François-Guillaume Lorrain (ed. Flammarion, 333 pages). – © DR

Around this almost three-year quest unfolds the “Gone with the Wind” fever that America experienced from 1936 to 1939, since the publication of the novel by Margaret Mitchell, who did not believe in her thousand-page manuscript (in a society concerned with reconciliation, this story under the Civil War will obtain the Pulitzer Prize), until the premiere in Atlanta, December 15, 1939. “Scarlett O’Hara was not a classic beauty, but the men hardly noticed it when, like the Tarleton twins, they were captive to his charm. Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Paulette Godard, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Ingrid Bergman… will have been approached, approached, cast to play her, not to mention the hundreds of unknown young Americans. Far from overwhelming us with a Hollywood name drop, the story catches us in the wake of the nabob David O. Selznik, in his mad, impossible enterprise, to produce the monument “Gone with the wind”, to surpass his father, to to fight MGM and Paramount which keep actors under contract, to revolutionize the cinema industry like Ford for that of the automobile, to seduce women, to abuse some of them, to guide screenwriters (the filming begins before the script is finished!), to oversee every shot and, in fact, to participate in the creation of a masterpiece. “He played with others, with money, with his health”: only his amphetamine pills will allow him to hold on.

Francois-Guillaume Lorrain.
Francois-Guillaume Lorrain. – © richard schroeder

One of the literary originalities of “Scarlett” is to be a novel whose two main characters are of different essence: if David O. Selznick was a very real person, the heroine of this book is the fictional character of Scarlett O’ Hara, becoming incarnation. “How sincere and yet, she also lies as she breathes.” During the story, François-Guillaume Lorrain makes us relive this Scarlett O’Hara whom we end up loving for her audacity, her non-conformity in a world of conventions, for her courage, how Vivien Leigh loved her “at madness”. Against all odds, this little-known English actress, whose lover was called Laurence Olivier, got the role when filming had already begun. The character of the character of Scarlett will turn out to be that of Vivien Leigh, on the verge of madness which will carry the actress of the “Tramway named desire”. “Gone with the Wind” speaks to our modernity because it is the story of a war of the sexes where men and women clash no longer on their difference but on their resemblance. Going back to the creation of the film is also going through the history of the segregation of black actors in Hollywood whose films, intended for whites, recalled white supremacy and caricatured black Americans. Hattie McDaniel, Mamma in the film, is one of the heroines of this novel. She will be the first black actress to win an Oscar. This virtuoso novel, in which each chapter is a scene, would make a very fine film. On good terms.

“Scarlett”, by François-Guillaume Lorrain (ed. Flammarion, 333 pages).

Judith Housez

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Gone with the pages