Sunday, Sep. 7, 2014
When I first read and watched "Gone with the Wind" at 14, I fell in love with Ashley Wilkes--the sensitive, cultured, and honorable man Scarlett O'Hara was in love with. To me it was obvious why she preferred Ashley to Rhett Butler--Ashley was clearly a romantic figure who always did the honorable thing.
I revisited the book after I moved to Atlanta from New Jersey a few months ago, having purchased a copy with an erotic romance novel cover from the Margaret Mitchell House. Only now am I able to understand the appeal of Rhett Butler and the outdated sentimentality of Ashley Wilkes. These two men in Scarlett O'Hara's life represent two worlds at odds with each other: the Old South with the New South.
Both men recognized that the Confederacy was going to lose the war and that Southerners would have to brace themselves for a very different world as a result. But while Ashley chose to fight a losing battle valiantly, Rhett Butler looked at things practically and sought to profit from the war through blockade running and food speculation. Rhett mocked the traditions of the Old South Ashley belonged to and possessed the spirit necessary to survive after the war. More importantly, he fell in love with Scarlett O'Hara, and together they came to define the New South.
When I first got to Atlanta, I noticed that the Civil War is memorialized here in a way that you really don't see in the Northeast. Sure I learned about the Civil War in school and I'm sure we have some museums, but for me the war has always been history, here it has a constant presence.
The Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta is a reminder of this. Touted as the world's largest oil painting, the panorama circles the room at 358 feet and weighs over 10,000 pounds. The room resembles a planetarium and is meant to make visitors feel immersed in the battle. The painting, itself, is impressive as details such as the top of Stone Mountain in the distance and a soldier leaning over his dying brother to give him the drop of water he so desperately needs create a vivid image of what the battle and life was like. But the three-dimensional foreground is really what makes this panorama breathe.
There are figures of soldiers fighting and dying on red Georgia clay in the panorama, and some are placed in such a way that they appear to be half in the painting and half in the foreground. It's a pretty cool effect not being able to tell where the painting actually ends and the 3D foreground begins.
As we made our first rotation around the painting, I had my eye out for one soldier in particular. While he never did fight in the war, I had heard that one of the figures was made in the likeness of Rhett Butler aka Clark Gable, because Gable thought that he could make the Cyclorama better.
Laying in the grass with a bloody bullet wound in his abdomen is the dying Clark Gable, hamming it up for his audience with his trademark smile. Does the corpse of a smiling Mr. Gable actually make the Cyclorama better? Perhaps. But, frankly, who gives a damn?