Monday, December 22, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

"It's a Wonderful Life" is a movie a surprising number of people haven't actually seen all the way through. Given the homage, parodies, etc... and insertion of clips of the film into countless other Holiday movies, I think a lot of folks think they've made it all the way through, but when you really press them, they know the story but aren't all that familiar with the original movie.

There was a very interesting story in the New York Times recently that discussed the discrepancy between how many people (in my experience, usually those who've never actually watched the film) believe it to be schmaltzy and painting a sugar coating on the world, when those who know the film a bit better know... that isn't "It's a Wonderful Life" at all. At the same time, I found the article a bit confusing as it seemed to conflate the common misconceptions about the movie with the reality presented in the movie, and without much credit given in the way of historical context regarding what life might have actually been like during the film's release.

Ah, the Holidays...

And, he takes a dig at "Bells of St. Mary's", which was actually a hugely popular movie of the era, earning a couple of Academy Awards and a huge number of nominations.

I saw "It's a Wonderful Life" the first time on television in the late 80's, before a copyright dispute got it yanked from the airwaves where it had been a favorite of UHF channels for years (the sitcom Cheers had a gag about how, in December, their UHF affiliate became "It's a Wonderful Network" showing the movie over and over).

It's easy enough to latch onto the message at the end of the movie, which is probably why the movie gets props even from those who consider it a bit sugary. We'd all like to believe our lives are worth something, not just to us, but to the people we're around and who matter to us. And if we've lived well, perhaps our value goes well beyond that.

And certainly, the movie means something far different when you see it when you're young versus how you see it as an adult and you, also, perhaps never boarded that steam ship and maybe life isn't quite as full of adventure as you'd hoped... And I'm not sure that the article's author gives full props to the fact that George Bailey doesn't want to toss himself off a bridge because of his legal troubles, but because of how he feels he's spent his life in a manner he never intended, and now he may be going away for a long, long time thanks to the mistakes of one of the folks he's carried with him.

I think that unless you're living a pretty awesome life, then there are very few people out there who can't relate a little to George Bailey.

There's actually some pretty entertaining stuff about how cool Pottersville looks compared to Bedford Falls, and in an America where the ideal vacation is in Las Vegas where they serve you free drinks as long as you keep gambling, its hard to argue the point. Maybe a vice-ridden town didn't equate to prosperity in anyone's book in 1947ish, but, hey... all I'm saying is that apparently you could pick up dames like Gloria Grahame. That's sort of jolly.

Swingingest neighborhood in Capraland

"It's a Wonderful Life" delivers pretty well on trying to demonstrate the value of the life of the everyman, that we effect more than we believe and our lives do have value. It's an interesting message for this time of year, when the "should be's" of the Holiday season are so much more apparent and painful when we're at our lowest. And that's, really, who the movie is for.

It's also important to note that before George's financial situation resolves itself that he's already at peace with his life, and, in fact grateful for it. I won't say that the deus ex machina of the tidy ending dilutes the film's conclusion and moral denouement, because its meant to reinforce the message of how one man is always more valued than he realizes. But its interesting, too, that its all gravy as far as George Bailey is concerned.

I used to watch the movie every year, but I think I'm now pacing myself. It's a movie I don't just like, but I actually believe in. Sure, it's sentimental, but to try to say its saccharine when you consider the sort of DOA Holiday junk we've been getting since, I think, Scrooged. I'll take a movie that isn't "Christmas with the Kranks", "Jingle all the Way", "Deck the Halls" or "Four Christmases"... secular Christmas movies that focus incessantly on the annoyances of the holiday/ having a family who loves you.

I'm not going to try to convince you. But give the article a read. If you get a chance, watch the movie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read the article too, and enjoyed it, even if I disagreed with a few points.

Even more than Pottersville being "more fun," I liked the way they pointed out that Pottersville had a better shot at surviving as a resort town rather than an industrial town.

I love, love, love this movie. It makes me cry like a baby. It's in the collection, but I haven't watched it in a few years.