GWTW: The Making of “Gone With The Wind”
The Citizen Kane Book: Raising Kane
The Citizen Kane Book: The Shooting Script
“Casablanca,” Script and Legend
More About “All About Eve”
The Magic Factory: How MGM Made “An American in Paris”
The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book
Broken empires, scattered dynasties. Hollywood always loved nostalgia, and Gone With The Wind was a better title than anyone knew. Early Egypt, ancient Rome, the gracious old American South cropped up so often and so appealingly in Hollywood movies because they were an gone, taken by Time’s fell hand. The flashback in the Forties and Fifties was not really a narrative device at all but a compulsion, the instrument of a constant, eager plunging into the past. A slow, misty dissolve, and off we went into the day before yesterday, when things were different; into a time before all this (whatever all this might be in any given movie) happened to us.
It looks now as if there was plenty of prophecy there; premature symbolic mourning for the time when Hollywood itself would also be gone. Certainly Selznick, producer and onlie begetter of Gone With The Wind, came to think so. “Hollywood’s like Egypt,” he told Ben Hecht. “Full of crumbled pyramids. It’ll never come back. It’ll just keep on crumbling until finally the wind blows the last studio props across the sand.” Hollywood, in spite of daily rumors of its death, is probably livelier than such an elegy implies; but a glance at a stack of recent books about American movies suggests that Selznick ought to have been right, even if he wasn’t.
Here are books about the making of Gone With The Wind itself (1939); about the making of Citizen Kane (1940); a book to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Casablanca (1943); an assortment of Mankiewicz’s recollections about the making of All About Eve (1950); a collection of interviews with people involved in the making of An American in Paris (1951). The Kane, Casablanca, and All About Eve books have screenplays of those movies for good measure. Every now and again an editor or a writer in one of these texts will murmur something about scholarship and history and the study of film, but the heart isn’t in it. Good old soupy nostalgia is what these books are about, and of them all only Arlene Croce’s brilliant essay on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is entirely free from it; and that is only because nostalgia is the wrong word for the confused, haunted longings that Fred and Ginger provoke in us. Fred and Ginger were too crisp and casual and stylish for us to be simply nostalgic about them, so we have to shift our nostalgia to the brittle dancing world they seemed to inhabit.
Citizen Kane, of course, remains an unsafe, unsure, unsettling movie, and Pauline Kael escapes nostalgia at least some of the time because she is serious and intelligent about the film. The other four books, though, are really serious and intelligent only about the pastness of the past, or rather about nostalgia’s curious paradox: here we are, talking about films gone by, because they are gone; but they are not gone, since here we are …