Technicolor was a movie lover's aphrodisiac during Hollywood's Golden Age. It produced colors of astonishing depth, boldness and subtlety via a complex beam-splitting camera that generated three separate negatives. Lab technicians built them into a photographic sandwich that was developed with a unique dye-transfer system called imbibition.
Now New Line Cinema has reissued the Old Hollywood classic Gone With the Wind in a "new-and-improved 'Glorious Original Technicolor' dye transfer process." The results are exciting--and frustrating. At one advance screening, the focus in the early reels was wobbly and diffuse; after intermission, scratches and speckles marred the otherwise brilliant image. But at its best, this rerelease lets us savor the nuances of Technicolor's palette and the full range of its tingling spectrum.
Few films have made more vivid use of Technicolor's deep reds and blacks--not just in scenes of spectacular destruction, but also in expressionist strokes like Clark Gable's Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara clinching in front of a tangerine sky, or Scarlett raising her fist as dawn breaks over the ground of her plantation, Tara. The moviemakers worked out the central drama in vibrant hues. Color doesn't decorate the characters--it develops and completes them. When Scarlett outrages onlookers at a charity ball by dancing with Rhett in her black mourning clothes, or, later, faces down scandal by showing up at a party for Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) in a garish crimson gown, the red and the black convey the volcanic essence of one of the screen's great antiheroines.
There's a satisfying balance between the actors and their surroundings, which makes the moments when history floods the screen and engulfs the characters all the more powerful. This movie boasts qualities painfully lacking in its self-styled successor Titanic, including a cascade of memorable lines, like "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" and "After all, tomorrow is another day!" If GWTW lures the same hordes of teenage girls who made Titanic a phenomenon, it may mark the coming of age, and the wising up, of a new filmgoing generation.