Thursday, December 20, 2012

Movie: "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)

Last night our son, who is home for Christmas, and I went to Medford's Tinseltown to see "It's a Wonderful Live" on the big screen.  I have seen the move dozens of times on TV, DVD and own it in Blu-ray but seeing it on the big screen was the most memorable of all my viewings.  A few months ago my wife and I saw Casablanca (1943) at the same theater and while I enjoyed it but it was not the experience I had expected and was a little disappointed.  Not this time........ the experience exceeded my expectations.  One think that I enjoyed is we sat  only about half way up the theater so we had a larger than life view.  The movie sort of enveloped us.  My wife always likes to sit near the back of the theater which I think lessens the experience.   This movie was made before wide screen movies became the norm so it has a smaller picture than more recent movies. After the movie we went home and my son ran my blu-ray copy and the picture was great but even on my "big screen" TV there was not the power of the movie at the theater. It was fun to pick out small details in the movie such as the pictures of Presidents on the walls of the characters homes or offices (Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, Hoover) or the framed butterfly collection that George Bailey inherited from his father.  The look in Jimmy Stewart's face when he realizes he will never get out of Bedford Falls or when he realizes he  loves the  Donna Reed character in the phone scene are haunting. Reed projects a wholesome beauty throughout out the film. It was hard to believe, that in real life, Stewart just a few months before filming this movie was flying bomber raids over Germany in World War II. Some have said the power Stewart brought to the screen was born from that experience. I am not sure, having seen "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" that was made before the war. In any case, this is my favorite Christmas movie.  I will never again listen to the song "Old Lang Syne" without seeing in my mind the town of Bedford Falls gathered at Stewart's home singing the song at the end of the movie.  Call it "Capra Corn" (Directer Frank Capra) if you will, but we need a little of that now more than ever.

From Wikipedia:

Like his contemporary, director John Ford, Capra defined and aggrandized the tropes of mythic America where individual courage invariably triumphs over collective evil. Film historian Richard Griffith speaks of Capra's “ on sentimental conversation and the ultimate benevolence of ordinary America to resolve all deep conflicts.” [48] “Average America” is visualized as "...a still tree lined street, undistinguished frame houses surrounded by modest areas of grass, a few automobiles. For certain purposes it assumed that all real Americans live in towns like this, and so great is the power of myth, even the born city-dweller is likely to believe vaguely that he too lives on this shady street, or comes from it, or is going to.” [49]
There is a strong libertarian streak in Capra's films, a distrust of power wherever it occurs and in whomever it is invested. Young people are won over by the fact that his heroes are uninterested in wealth and are characterized by vigorous ... individualism, a zest for experience, and a keen sense of political and social justice. ... Capra's heroes, in short, are ideal types, created in the image of a powerful national myth.[8]