Coleman Hutchison

The Harry Ransom Center opened it’s “Gone to the Wind” exhibit to the public on Monday morning. The exhibit showcases orignial artifacts and documents involed in the production of the film.

Photo Credit: Lauryn Hanley | Daily Texan Staff

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable graced the silver screen 75 years ago in the antebellum classic “Gone with the Wind.” To commemorate its anniversary, the Harry Ransom Center is showcasing hundreds of original artifacts and documents, offering visitors a look behind the scenes of the casting and production of the film. 

Although “Gone With the Wind” is often regarded as an American classic, its subject matter sparked controversy. Letters from the Ku Klux Klan to director David Selznick are included in the exhibit. Some of the letters in the collection lobby for the KKK’s presence in the film’s production and script. But the KKK was not the only group attempting to influence the film’s messages; the NAACP also called for the sensitive treatment of slavery and African-American culture. 

Hutchison said the book “Gone with the Wind” has a dual nature, which was partly responsible for its controversial history.

“[It was] popular and problematic — loved and loathed,” Hutchison said.

While the story line of the film sweeps viewers away into a dramatic love story, critics are quick to catch the inaccurate portrayal of certain historical aspects, particularly slavery. In many ways, Selznick encountered the same dilemmas modern directors face. He once admitted he was willing to sacrifice accuracy for a stunning effect. 

Danielle Sigler, the Ransom Center’s associate director for fellowships and programs, said such issues as race, violence, war and gender are still prevalent in society today. She suggested that directors of movies like “12 Years a Slave” have to confront many of the same questions Selznick did in the 1930s, deciding where to draw the line between accuracy and sensitivity.

English associate professor Coleman Hutchison compared “Gone With the Wind” to a modern-day series, such as “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games,” explaining how the public overlooks questionable details as it falls in love with the rich storytelling. Fans of “Gone with the Wind” pass their love of the film along to their children and grandchildren.

Old newspaper clippings line the walls of the exhibit, which updated the public on the search for the perfect actress to play the role of the main character, Scarlett O’Hara. Wilson said many women even identified so closely with O’Hara that some believed they actually were her. When it was first announced the novel would be adapted to film, a nationwide obsession as to who would snag the coveted lead roles began.

“It all came down to Scarlett O’Hara,” said Steve Wilson, the Ransom Center’s film curator. 

Open to the public starting Tuesday, the exhibit takes viewers through the film’s casting, production and premieres. Documents, makeup stills, memos, newspaper articles and other mementos from the film are all on display.

Walker Evans, Floyd Burroughs, Hale County Alabama, 1936. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

There are not many musicians who have stayed as culturally relevant for as long as Elvis, The Beatles or perhaps Bob Dylan. These musicians are known for significantly influencing the voice of American youth culture in their time. But before all these men made their way to the stage, Woody Guthrie was there, singing simple tunes with challenging messages.

So why does it seem like young people today think of Guthrie, who would have turned 100 this year, as nothing more than an old folk singer and not as one of the most important musicians who criticized the elite and empowered the working class?

“Woody Guthrie’s influence on American popular music and culture cannot be overstated,” Coleman Hutchison, associate professor of English, said. “He helped to make protest music a vibrant part of American life.” Hutchison said the song “This Land is Your Land” — written by Guthrie — remains an almost “alternative national anthem” to this day. Hutchison also mentioned that while students may ask “Woody who?,” his subtle presence in today’s culture is not to be missed.

Hutchison’s point is this: the influence of Guthrie extends far beyond the songs he wrote that became popular, and Stephen Slawek, professor of ethnomusicology and division head of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the Butler School of Music, agreed with him, saying Guthrie’s music is “quintessential Americana.”

“I should state that I hardly ever use the word quintessential,” Slawek said. “There is something about the way Guthrie’s simplicity of musical style connects with his manner of back porch storytelling that produces a sense of everyday America. Of course, his aesthetic is rural and down-home, and he was concerned with the inequities faced by what we now call blue-collar workers.”

Hutchison described Guthrie as “such an ingrained part of American life — just like, say, George Gershwin or Hank Williams Sr. — that one needn’t know his work in order to appreciate his influence.”

Slawek agreed that Guthrie might have sneaked onto young people’s musical radar through the songs of Bob Dylan.

“[Guthrie’s] influence in music is seen both directly in the continuing interest in urban folk and old-timey music, and indirectly mediated by his number one fan, Bob Dylan,” Slawek said. “It was Dylan who brought a conscience to American popular music, but it was by channeling Woody Guthrie.”

Austin is home to many artists creating music with the same simplicity and approachability as Guthrie’s. Singer-songwriter Shakey Graves said he found an honesty he didn’t know he was looking for within Guthrie’s music.

“As the sub-woofers thump and the guitars wail, I believe that humans, young and old, will feel drawn towards his archetype,” Graves said. “[They will be drawn] towards the man with the guitar. His body of work reminds me that there was a time not so long ago when musicians were the jukebox, the news anchor, the political pundit, the hero and the villain.”

Now could be just the time, politically, for Guthrie to make a comeback among young people.

Many have been drawing the parallels between Great Depression America and America today. “The issues he sang about are still here, as millions of Americans continue to struggle in their lives and the income of lower and middle-class Americans has stagnated for the past decade,” Slawek said. “Not to mention the right-wing attacks on unions and the reduction of social services as a result of shrinking state budgets. Conditions might indeed be ripe for the emergence of another troubadour willing to tell it like it is.”

The hope of Slawek’s next Woody Guthrie is compelling. People today crave the authenticity and simplicity that Guthrie represented in his music. It will be up to the individual to rediscover the old Guthrie or encourage the newer musicians who note Guthrie as an influence. Either way, his simple, sticky melodies will likely never be far from mind.

Printed on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 as: Guthrie's impact remains intact