Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the Peabody Award-winning network that is the leading authority on classic films, is a premier sponsor for the Harry Ransom Center’s exhibition The Making of Gone With The Wind, which opens September 9, 2014.
In its 20th year of presenting uncut and commercial-free films, TCM also hosts events such as the TCM Classic Film Festival. At the 2014 film festival, TCM will commemorate the 75th anniversary of Gone With The Wind (1939) with a screening of a recent restoration of the film in collaboration with Warner Bros. Studios.
Held in Hollywood April 10–13, the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival will celebrate its fifth consecutive year of bringing together legendary stars, award-winning filmmakers, and classic movie fans. TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne serves as official host of the TCM Classic Film Festival.
TCM’s sponsorship will support the Ransom Center, which plans to exhibit more than 300 original items from Gone With The Wind film producer David O. Selznick’s archive housed at the Center, including behind-the-scenes photographs, storyboards, correspondence, production records, audition footage, fan mail, and gowns worn by Vivien Leigh. Donations for the exhibition will contribute to tours, an exhibition catalog, and programming.
The Ransom Center has begun conservation work on the gowns from Gone With The Wind, and readers can follow the progress of the project on the Center’s website. Cultural Compass solicited questions from readers, and staff will answer a few of those questions in the coming weeks on this blog. Below, Jill Morena, collection assistant for costumes and personal effects at the Ransom Center, answers a question about the repair process after the conservation team removed weights from the burgundy ball gown.
Question: Can you explain the repair process; i.e., how did you go about re-stitching the casings for the weights? (type of thread, hand- or machine-stitched?) Does that type of “tampering” significantly affect the item’s value? Or is the trade-off worth it in terms of the efforts to arrest further harm?
What kind of a background do conservators have to be competent in textile preservation such as this?
Answer: When a garment enters a museum or archive’s collection, the balance between preservation and access becomes an ongoing discussion. The garment has passed out of the private sphere and into a public institution, so questions of value shift from monetary and market value to cultural value and long-term preservation. It is the institution’s charge to preserve the garment for future generations and to make items available for public view. The institution must consider these two aims and continually make decisions that allow a garment to have a “second life.” The institution must make the preservation, condition, and longevity of the garment a top priority.
Conservator Cara Varnell’s remark, “this girl’s never dancing again,” alludes to the archival second life of the dress that Vivien Leigh once wore. It is no longer being worn or used, and yet the gown is not lifeless; it still retains traces of the former wearer in physical form on the fabric, indeed in the knowledge that Vivien Leigh, a celebrated actress, once wore the gown.
Removing original material from a museum or archival item is a choice that is not taken lightly, and it is often in the best interests of the item’s “well-being.” Weights were removed from the burgundy ball gown because the strain created by their heaviness caused small holes at the waistline and hemline. Packing and unpacking from storage containers also places strain on the garment. Removal of the weights decreases the likelihood of damage to the gown when it is handled, dressed, and displayed.
Removing the weights was a preservation-motivated task that is also reversible. Only the smallest amount of thread was removed, just enough to slip the weight out from the bottom of its cloth compartment. We kept the weights and documented exactly where and how they were removed. If for any reason in the future it is decided that the weights should be returned to their compartments, there is a clear map for doing so.
If stitches or sewing of any kind is needed for a conservation treatment on a historical garment, it is usually done by hand. Conservators learn a variety of stitches, and their choice of stitch and the type of thread depends upon the condition of the garment, its construction and fabric, and the intended goals of the treatment.
Conservators specialize in a variety of mediums, including books, paper, photographs, paintings, and textiles. Conservators must have a strong background in science and the humanities, fulfill many volunteer hours at archives or museums before they can apply to a graduate program, hold an advanced degree with courses in their area of specialization, and complete years of apprenticeship under an experienced mentor. For more information about conservators and their work, visit the website of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), the professional organization for conservators in the United States.
The Harry Ransom Center kicks off the Tennessee Williams Film Series tonight with Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. The series runs on some Thursdays through July 21 and features films highlighted in the current exhibition,Becoming Tennessee Williams, which runs through July 31.
Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 film adaptation of Williams’s 1947 play, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. No other play of Williams’s rivaled A Streetcar Named Desire for its intensity, insight, or impact, and it was Williams’s favorite because it embodied “everything I had to say.”
In the story, Blanche DuBois (Leigh) moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law (Brando) while her reality crumbles around her.
British actress Vivien Leigh was the only leading member of the screen cast not originally in the 1947 Broadway production of the play. Leigh was given the movie role because the film’s producers felt Leigh had more box office appeal than Jessica Tandy, largely for her Oscar-winning performance as Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone With the Wind.
Leigh’s performance earned positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New YorkTimes called it “haunting,” adding that “Miss Leigh accomplishes more than a worthy repeat of the performance which Jessica Tandy gave on the stage…Blessed with a beautifully molded and fluently expressive face, a pair of eyes that can flood with emotion, and a body that moves with spirit and style, Miss Leigh has, indeed, created a new Blanche Du Bois on the screen—a woman of even greater fullness, torment, and tragedy.”
Later, Leigh, who suffered from bipolar disorder for much of her life, would claim that the part was responsible for her illness following the film’s production. She was hospitalized multiple times and treated with electroshock therapy.
Visit the galleries, open until 7 p.m. on Thursdays, before attending the screenings. Please be aware that the Ransom Center’s Charles Nelson Prothro Theater has limited seating. Line forms upon arrival of the first person, and doors open 30 minutes in advance.
This post was written by Ransom Center volunteer Emily Butts.
Click on the four-way arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the slideshow to convert into full-screen mode.
The Ransom Center seeks to raise $30,000 to restore and preserve five original costumes from Gone With The Wind (1939). Donations to restore the costumes can be made online .
The Ransom Center holds the film collection of David O. Selznick, a well-known and admired producer of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” of the 1930s and 1940s. Selznick’s production of Gone With The Wind is considered one of the quintessential films of the period, receiving 10 Academy Awards.
Among the more than 5,000 boxes of materials in the Selznick collection are five original costumes from Gone With The Wind: character Scarlett O’Hara’s Green Curtain Dress, Green Velvet Dressing Gown, Burgundy Ball Gown, Blue Velvet Peignoir and Wedding Dress. Most of the costumes, all worn by actress Vivien Leigh, are in too fragile condition to be exhibited.
“An historical garment in a museum collection is often most compelling when it is displayed on a mannequin, and yet each time a fragile costume is removed from storage, handled and placed on a dress form, that garment is at risk,” said Jill Morena, Collection Assistant for Costumes and Personal Effects at the Ransom Center. “Conservation work and custom supports for storage and display are essential components in ensuring that the Gone With The Wind costumes can be enjoyed for years to come.”
Donations made to the Ransom Center will allow for the restoration of the original dresses and the purchase of protective housing and custom-fitted mannequins to allow for proper exhibition. The Center hopes to display the costumes in 2014 as part of an exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of Gone With The Wind and to be able to loan the dresses to museums internationally.
“Nothing evokes the human element in film quite like the costume,” said Steve Wilson, Curator of Film at the Ransom Center. “A character’s social and economic class, for example, can be represented through the style and quality of her clothes, shoes, and jewelry, and whether those clothes are clean and fresh or tattered and soiled. And not only must the costume support and enhance the actor and director’s interpretation of the character, but it must also allow for the actor’s movement and withstand the rigors of shooting. The appreciation of costume design can deepen our understanding of film as an art form and reflection of our culture.”
Concerning the creation of costumes for Gone With The Wind, costume designer Walter Plunkett had remarked, “I don’t think it was my best work or even the biggest thing I did… But that picture, of course, will go on forever, and that green dress, because it makes a story point, is probably the most famous costume in the history of motion pictures.”
Like costumes, hairstyles and makeup can reveal nuance and place characters in an emotional, geographical, or historical context. Certain hairstyles, for example, are instantly associated with certain periods, such as the bob cut in the 1920s or the ducktail haircut of the 1950s. Film makeup must look natural and appropriate when magnified on the big screen. It must also be durable enough to survive multiple takes and reproducible in case retakes are needed at a later time.
This makeup reference photo of actress Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind, for example, suggests not only character Scarlett’s O’Hara’s emotional state, but her current economic situation—her face is dirty from working in the dusty fields. Real tears would evaporate, and tear tracks would be different every time Leigh cried, so painting these tear stains on her face with makeup proved to be much more effective and reliable. View a full slideshow of photos of various actors from Gone With The Wind.
As the production of Gone With The Wind fell behind schedule, as many as three scenes were shot simultaneously. In order to maintain “continuity” (the seamless appearance of characters and settings across different shots), it was normal procedure to shoot makeup reference photos of every significant character.
This is just one item from the “Hair and Makeup” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”
For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.