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Gone With the Wind Holds Its Own on DVD

Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia De Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen. Directed by Victor Fleming. Aspect ratio: 1.33:1. Dolby Digital 5.1. 233 minutes. 1939. MGM 906311. Rated G. $24.95.

Anyone who has ever seen Gone With the Wind---and who hasn't seen it more than once?---must associate the film with the compelling human truth of specific scenes. It's the collective, streaming veracity of this mirror held up to the human condition that makes GWTW such a magnetic experience. On DVD, the film-cum-mirror reveals a depth and complexity that fall little short of full-scale cinema.

Indeed, this latest video incarnation reminds us why so many critics, separated by generations, have concurred in calling Gone With the Wind the greatest movie ever made. Viewed on a properly grand screen (in my case, a 7-foot canvas), the miraculously intertwined elements form a perfect mosaic of human interaction. On one level, we behold the story itself: the decline and fall of the splendrous old South, idyllic beauty turned to carnage and tragedy. But the transcendent tale is one of vivid characters grappling with events, testing each other, seeking themselves.

In a booklet of essays included with the DVD, Clark Gable recalls how powerfully he was struck by Margaret Mitchell's delineation of Rhett Butler in her novel. Writing at the time of the film's world premiere in 1939, Gable observed, "Rhett was everything a character should be and rarely is: clear, concise, and very real. He was flawless as a character study."

That much can be said of every soul depicted in this magnificent film, down to the most incidental character---from Vivien Leigh's impetuous and intractable Scarlett O'Hara to Hattie McDaniel's ever-scolding Mammy, and even to the nameless soldier, his leg blown away, begging for relief amid a sea of wounded comrades on a plaza in shattered Atlanta. Then there's Gable, in his outward gallantry and ultimate self-examination as convincing as the character he admired in Mitchell's own hand.

Visually, this DVD's digitally reprocessed color pulls us irresistibly into the film's cinematic grip. The color is vibrant and true, even in deeply shadowed scenes. Sonically . . . well, not even a Dolby Digital 5.l remastering can make us forget we're listening to sound recorded 60 years ago. No matter; the play, the great human drama, is the thing. And that comes across as we have never known it before in living-room cinema.

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