The first movie I ever cried in was "Gone With the Wind." I don't mean just small, lady like sniffles and tears wiped away surreptiously with a dainty handkerchief. I'm talking about full out sobbing.
We had gone with the whole family to the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, N.J. My mother was very excited that we were finally going to see this classic of her own youth --a movie that had won 10 Academy Awards -- and I was at my most arrogant thirteen-year-old self.
Shopping had taken place earlier in the day -- and probably bell bottom pants and huckapoo shirts were bought. A lunch of fast-food hotdogs or Chinese good had probably also been on the menu.Popcorn was bought. And as my father and mother and little sister all settled into the plush velvet seats and Scarlett O'Hara uttered her first: "Oh Fiddle Dee Dee " I was hooked.
It's not that I wasn't a movie lover before. I was. My entire fantasy life took place in that home cinema of the1960's known as the Million Dollar Movie. On at usually 4:30 in the afternoon or 9 at night, I was introduced to such classics a "Gigi" and "West Side Story" and "Gypsy" -- which taught me the art of stripping Like a Lady and how to say: "I'm a pretty girl, Mama." And "Splendor in the Grass." When Natalie Wood recited the poem by Wordsworth:
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in t he grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind
and saw her old love Bud at the end, I walked around with a lump in my throat all day.
But GWTW was a turning point for me -- I think. It wasn't just personal. The scene at the Atlanta railway station during the Battle of Gettysburg revealed thousands and thousands of wounded, dying confederate soldiers laid out over a vast space brought up an overwhelming grief -- an epic grief.
Our heroine Scarlett -- and yes -- she was a heroine -- despite the fact that she stole her sister's fiance and pined after a man who was not her husband and treated her soulmate Rhett Butler terribly -- she runs to ask Dr. Meade for help in delivering Melanie's baby. But Dr. Meade says, No, he can't help her deliver a baby. He has all these men dying. "And not even any chloroform to ease their pain."
The camera pulls back then and the vastness of the tragedy that was the American Civil War is there to see. The music by the incomparable Max Steiner swells and a sense of overwhelming grief for the tragedy of war is manifest .
It was a moment that intimated of losses to come, larger griefs that might occur onscreen and offscreen -- not just the private tragedies of Gigi not wanting to be a Kept Woman -- or Maria losing Tony in West Side Story -- or even Lassie being lost -- while all heartwrenching, were still personal. But this grief was Bigger -- it was about the Folly of War -- and the darkest losses that it engenders.
Later, just before the intermission, Scarlett -- back at home -- at the once palatial Tara, crawls on her hands and knees on the now barren barmland searching desperately searching for something to eat. She finds the pathetic outlines of a potatoe, I think, and tries to get it down but throws it up. Her losses have mounted: Her mother and father dead; Tara ruined; Her spirit smashed to smithereens. And then she stands there, her first clenched at the sky and she vows:
As God as my witness. As God as my witness they are not
going to lick me. I'm going to live through all this and when it's
l over I'll never be hungry again nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill as God as my witness I'll never be hungry again.
And then my sobbing begins. So much epic loss. Everyone around me was crying too. Tissues were distributed. They surrounded my chair and made a small pile. At the intermission drained, spent, I gathered them all up and walked slowly with my mother up the aisle to the water fountain. Perhaps we would buy more popcorn. And my mother said: "War is hell, isn't it Dear?" I could only numbly nod my head and say, "Yes, It Is."