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The opening scenes from Gone With The Wind (1939) move swiftly through emotional changes and shifts in character dynamic. The film’s setting is the American South during the Civil War, which makes this film a period piece. Gone With The Wind is a film in the romance genre , and follows the story of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivian Leigh) and the difficulties of her love life. This film can also be considered an epic because it is a long story with many parts and mini plot arcs and climaxes.
This scene plays out linearly. It begins with the protagonist Scarlett descending the staircase where she finds Ashley (Leslie Howard) and confesses her love to him. While this story doesn’t have a clear antagonist, it could be argued that the antagonist is Ashley, as he provides the central conflict for Scarlett. He does so by telling her that he is marrying Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), and they fight. This scene has a subjective point of view following Scarlett, which becomes clear when Rhett (Clark Gable) reveals himself behind the couch, previously unseen to both Scarlett and the audience. Finally, Charles (Rand Brooks) confesses his love for Scarlett and she agrees to marry him. The film then cuts to after their marriage. Even though this is still chronological, it is considered nonlinear editing because it jumps in time. Charles then goes off to war, and the film cuts again to a letter showing that Charles died in the war and Scarlett has become widowed. Overall, this scene has many changes in mood, but tends to portray a feeling of trappedness and melancholy.
While Scarlett descends the staircase, the music also descends. This melody is tuneful in a major key and has mostly small intervals as it descends, making it mostly conjunct. The music is soft and the orchestrator selected flutes and piccolos to create a lofty, flighty mood. This helps the audience feel at ease while also rendering Scarlett’s current status to be weaker and more vulnerable.
Just before Scarlett slaps Ashley, the music walks up in a short melody before holding a chord just as she slaps him. This short phrase has an open cadence which is unsettling because it feels like more should come, but doesn’t. This piece of the music is not as tuneful as the rest. The orchestrator uses a homophonic texture as all of the instruments play this melody together. It is hard for me to discern which instruments are used here.
The music is soft and melodic, using mostly strings until Scarlett sees the vase. At this point, the music crescendos, the brass and woodwind sections become louder, and the melody walks up. The notes fall more regularly on the beat and the tempo increases slightly. Just before the vase hits the wall a slight glissando can be heard, mimicking the vase’s flight through the air. This makes the buildup very intense and the silence after the vase smashes is even more striking.
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