Saturday, May 23, 2009

Inventor of Dreams

Americans adore their own mythology. Maybe it's because we're still young enough as a country. The biggest manufacturer of that mythology is and was the movie business, which was a far more energetic and prolific creative force earlier on, during the Studio Era. The era, to take two examples, of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Both pictures are fundamental to how America imagines itself. Both were made in one year, 1939, by one film director who hardly anybody remembers today: Victor Fleming.

Fleming gets his desserts (or is it deserts?) on page 211 of A Book of Ages, and is one of only a handful of unfamous people in the whole book. But his imprint is so indelible our forgetfulness ought to be a crime. The half of us who don't dream about Oz dream of Tara.

Fleming also gets a well-deserved treatment in this week's New Yorker magazine, in the capable hands of David Denby. The occasion is a new biography of Fleming by Michael Sragow. Biographers are like entrepreneurs in one important sense. They devote years of toil based on a hope that people will give a damn, if I may quote Rhett Butler. In this case, the subject is fascinating and important but virtually unknown, less famous, for instance, than Chelsea and her vodka.

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