It’s a Lilly!
A still image from the end of the first act of the epic movie ‘Gone with the Wind’, Selznick International Pictures, Metro Goldwin Mayor, (AOL Time Warner Company).
It’s a Lilly!
This image is fabricated, created from scratch in a Hollywood film studio. The sky is hand painted using a technique called movie-matte-painting. The tree and fence are just props.
The first impression I have, looking at this picture, is a sense of foreboding and a feeling of uneasiness.
What we see: a sunset, a triangular shaped cirrus cloud, a very low horizon, a picket fence and a small female figure. We appear to be looking at her from in front and to her right, so as to see the silhouette of her chest. Her left arm is just out of view, but her posture suggests that it must be mimicking the right. To the far right of the picture stands a tree. Its branches are naked. One branch leans over towards the female figure and ends in a shape reminiscent of a hand-held scythe, with the tip of its blade pointing down on the figure below.
This is the final image from the last scene in Act 1 of the motion-picture ‘Gone with the Wind’. The audience has just witnessed this lady turn from desperation to determination; and the final image is made to look satanical with its fiery sky a witch like figure and a scary looking tree. We are encouraged to draw parallels from our imagination. I see Dante’s imaginable idea of ‘The Inferno’ and to quote from Canto III, lines 1 -3, ‘Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye.’ I am also reminded of the lines from psalm 23:4, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me…..’
I see a lot of symbolism in this image:
From the point-of-view of the movie, The American Civil War was still within living memory of an elderly American generation; and perhaps because it was made with access to living witnesses some of the scenes are so remarkable (the siege of Atlanta for example). Therefore, the movie makers intended that this image translates that fences still need mending between the North and South.
However, I see the picket fence on several levels:
1, As representing home, family and her life; it is rickety and in need of repair.
2, Seen with a stripped tree, the broken picket fence also appears to suggest destruction and hardship.
3, The fences denote a road; and the setting sun behind her, with the fence leading to the foreground, connotes a journey.
The horizon has been set very low to give emphasis to the sky above Scarlet’s head, she stands as a small figure, as if under heaven or a damned soul at the bottom of the pit. The sky is like her name Scarlet; and it is also acts as a signifier for many ideas: the unholy oath she just made in this scene, loss of innocence, war, and a sun setting over a disappearing civilization and way of life.
I see 1939 in this picture, war had been declared in Europe. For many people watching this film, their own civilization was in danger of going the way of the South and the sun was setting over their world and their way of life.
The space for the sky on the left is filled with a triangular cirrus cloud with a faint suggestion of a crucifix in its pattern, strengthening this idea of heaven and earth. This iconic symbol can be identified for denoting, love and peace; but it also connotes hope, forgiveness and unity under one faith.
The lone female stands like the tree leaning back angled in symmetry with its trunk. Her arms hang down by her sides and her visible hand appears clenched. Her posture suggests that she is standing to attention, just as a tired and battle weary soldier might stand. For the American audience of 1939, the woman could be regarded on different levels, depending on who you were:
1 For middle-class white Southern and Northern citizens she is the fair and defiant but beaten and battered South.
2, She could also be symbolic for many working class Americans who suffered during the 1930s economic recession; and could be regarded as a figure denoting a nation that is getting back on to her feet and standing defiantly against her adversaries; thus connoting National strength and endurance.
3, In 1939 many people were still denied equal rights. For the audience, this figure in silhouette could therefore be black, white, yellow or any cast the viewer chooses. She is a woman, considered the weaker sex, but seen here to be strong and encouraging hope. “I know I have the body butt of a weake and feble woman, butt I have the harte and stomack of a king, and of a king of England too” Elizabeth I, 1588, Tilbury.
The tree is stripped and broken, yet it still stands, heroically defying the ill winds that have stripped it. In his book, ‘Camera Lucida’, Roland Barthes described a feature in a picture that is a focal-point that he calls a ‘Punctum’ something that makes a nice picture an interesting picture. I see the tree as the Punctum in this picture. The silhouetted woman against the sunset and cloud makes a nice picture which Barthes calls the ‘Studium’ but the sinister tree with the branch hanging over her head turns this in to a more engaging photo (in my opinion). The branch immediately above Scarlet’s head looks like a bony finger; it appears to point down on Scarlet like a condemning finger that is passing judgment. In the context of the movie the tree could also represent the Union with its terrible judicial judgement on the South.
So why the title?
As the Technicolor movie camera began to photograph this scene a technician would have held a card with different colours printed on it in front of the camera to assist for colour calibration later on in development. The Technicolor team referred to it as a ‘Lilly‘ card if the filming was successful at the end of the scene the technician would call “It’s a Lilly!”
Word Doc. Amended Final Draft-Its a Lilly-1
Link to Image http://dearmrgable.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/gwtw5555.jpg
The trailer to Gone with the Wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFu-jemU-bA
Selznick International Pictures https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selznick_International_Pictures
David O. Selznick Biography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_O._Selznic
MGM history https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
MGM website: http://www.mgm.com/
AOL Time Warner http://www.timewarner.com/
Movie matte painting video – Gone with the Wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idQOBhiF-DM
Movie matte painting video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_kaA6250S4
Met Office / Cirrus Clouds: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/clouds/high-clouds/cirrus
Dante Alighieri Inferno, Canto III Lines 1 – 3. Translation by Henry Francis Cary, Published by London Folio Society (MCMXCVIII)
Dante’s Biography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dante_Alighieri
psalm 23:4 – Translation from the original tongues being the version set forth A.D. 1611 Revised A.D. 1881 – 1885 and A.D. 1901 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised A.D. 1952 (The Bible Revised Standard Version Published by WM Collins Sons & CO Ltd. For The British & Foreign Bible Society)
The American Civil War https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War
Scarlet O’Hara Biography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarlett_O%27Hara
The South http://docsouth.unc.edu/
Confederate Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_States_Army
1930s economic recession https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression
Elizabeth I Tilbury speech http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/elizabeth-i-tilbury-speech
Rolland Barthes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Barthes
Union Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Army
Technicolor color card ‘A lilly’ http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Technicolor
The three strip Technicolor process https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technicolor#Three-strip_Technicolor
Technicolor Film Camera https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-T8MVrw1L0