Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's a Wonderful Life

I had originally written a long post in response to a bit written by my friend over at "Open Doors." She raised an interesting point about the direction our society has taken in recent years, a seasonally appropriate theme since it involves Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Sure, jaded critics like to point out how corny Capra could be - hence the derisive term "Capra-corn" - but the director was a great storyteller. Moreover, his populist vision of America reflected a very important element in the national psyche during that period. But, alas, a computer malfunction caused me to lose two-thirds of what had become a rather curmudgeonly post on the effects of sprawl and how it is analogous to the depiction of George Bailey's alternate reality - Pottersville - in the movie. (If you've read this blog for very long, you know how I feel about sprawl!)

Last week I managed to watch bits and pieces of Capra's classic on NBC, making sure I saw that unforgettable ending. It's a Wonderful Life remains one of my favorite Christmas movies, along with Miracle on 34th Street (the original), A Christmas Story, The Bishop's Wife, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (just kidding . . . maybe). And I still manage to shed tears at the end, when they're singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Auld Lang Syne."

Why do I love this movie? First, I've always been a big Jimmy Stewart fan. That "aw shucks," "everyman" quality is perfect in this role. (One also has to admit that Donna Reed was hot as George Bailey's wife.) I also enjoy the contrasting visions of the town, between the quiet, friendly Bedford Falls, and the frenetic, noisy Pottersville. The ugly truth for most of us in America today is that we live in scattered equivalents of Pottersville. So it's nice to think there could be idyllic towns like Bedford Falls in which one has neighbors like George Bailey. Moreover, who wouldn't want to be hailed as the "richest man in town," not by virtue of our bank balance or political influence, but measured by the friends and family one can count on in good times or bad. And finally, one has to enjoy the idea of a "do over" or the opportunity to witness how the world would fare without one's presence, thanks to a visit from Clarence the angel.

Jimmy Stewart always said this was his favorite role in a lengthy film career. I think if one possesses a mere gram of Christmas spirit, it has to be a favorite for many people. With its talk of savings and loans, runs on the bank, and possible suicide, it may prove a little dark for my kids. But having experienced Dickens' Christmas Carol this year, they may soon be ready to discover the joys of Bedford Falls and the Bailey family.


jblack designs said...

I so agree--I love this movie.

Your post reminds me of a line from another movie I love, The Mission. In this scene, Hontar, the main Portuguese authority, is discussing the horrific demise of almost an entire village of GuaranĂ­ Indians in 18th century South America with Altamirano, the Papal emissary.

Hontar shrugs and says: "The world is thus."

To which Altamirano sadly replies: "No, thus have we made the world... thus have I made it."

It's a Wonderful Life always reminds me that we have the power (at least to a certain degree) to make our own Bedford Falls, no matter where we live, even in Pottersville.

Merry Christmas, Brian!

BooCat said...

This has always been one of my favorite movies, also.
We tend to believe that things like that could only take place in small towns. You would have a better grasp of this, but I get the feeling from walking about in cities, even New York City, perhaps especially in New York City, that pockets of Bedford Falls exist even there. There are neighborhoods that seem to be close knit where people know each other and look out for each other just as there are pockets with the feel of Pottersville where chaos seems to reign--micro-villages within the greater city.

Scott Greider said...

My favorite, too! And I'm actually playing Bob Cratchit in our local community theater production. :-)

And completely separately, Hallie's expecting!

Hope all is well you you all.

One Wink at a Time said...

Just popping in to wish you and yours a warm and wonderful Christmas. :-)

Tish said...

Merry Christmas, Brian!