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Spectacle/gender/history: the case of Gone with the Wind

By Tom Brown


The essay asserts that, since pioneering work in the 1970s and 80s (in Screen in particular), the study of classical Hollywood cinema has failed adequately to acknowledge and understand the role of spectacle therein. This essay outlines theoretical but, even more, practical understandings of particular kinds of spectacle; they are susceptible to the practice of close analysis. Seeking to discuss spectacle in precise terms and in particular contexts, I define two kinds of spectacle associated with the historical film: ‘the decor of history’ and ‘the spectacular vista’. \ud The example of Gone with the Wind illustrates the interrelationship between these two kinds of spectacle and their associations with particular ideas of femininity and masculinity. This gendering of spectacle is related to ‘the historical gaze’, a performative gesture that exemplifies the wider rhetoric of historical films, in their seeking to address the historical knowledge of the film spectator and to uphold a vision of history as being driven by powerful men, aware of their own destiny. Over the course of the three famous hilltop scenes in Gone with the Wind, one can plot Scarlett O'Hara's increased access to this kind of foresight and fortitude coded as ‘masculine’. This character arc can also be traced through Scarlett's shifting place within the film's use of spectacle: she begins the film wholly preoccupied with the domestic world of lavish parties and beautiful gowns; however, after her encounter with cataclysmic history visualized as a vast, terrible spectacle (the fall of Atlanta), Scarlett assumes the role occupied by her broken and emasculated father. \u

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2008
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