Sunday, December 28, 2008


Teenagers are pretty dumb, and sadly I was no different. Don’t get me wrong I’m not needlessly picking on the pubescent it’s just that between the ages of 13 and 18, if not longer you tend to think almost everything is stupid. You’re young, your hormones are raging, you’re trying to carve out an identity for yourself and therefore one of the easiest ways to do that is to subscribe to the opinion that everything that everyone (Especially adults) likes is lame. Sadly I was at this stage in my life when I saw IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE for the first time.

I remember sitting there watching this “hokey black and white movie” that had no explosions, no violence, no guns or heck… anything good and thought, man this sucks. Seriously what kind of drugs was this guy taking when he made this sappy, melodramatic pap (Yes even as a teenager I had an expansive vocabulary so I knew what that meant)? Life isn’t really like this. People don’t really act this way. Where’s PULP FICTION when you need it?

Sitting here, a year away from hitting the three decade mark on this planet IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE sends my heart soaring with so much happiness and love I can barely comprehend a time when I had anything but unabashed love for Frank Capra’s seminal work. Like I said teenagers are morons.

First and foremost I feel I need to get something off my chest. I’m a pretty smart guy. I don’t think you’ll run into very many people that will disagree with that statement. I’ve studied film for almost my entire life and I can debate it and analyze it with the best of them. I only bring this up because in these first three pieces I don’t know if that comes across at all. In my first two blog posts and for sure in this one I have spoken much more from the heart. I know people love delving into the subtextual, intellectual details of everything and trust me so do I. It’s just that in the past three instances that’s not what’s called me to put finger to keyboard.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a rich, layered film filled with remarkable subtext, first rate craftsmanship and one of the more interesting histories of any film ever made. All of that though is not why it has become one of if not THE, single most beloved film of all time. Yes, Frank Capra, Jimmy Stewart and all involved were working at the top of their game. Yes, the film is a brilliant subtextual examination of “wants vs. needs”. Yes, the film was a box office and critical disaster upon its release. At the end of the day though that’s all just background noise as to why this film has enraptured so many people. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE first and foremost makes people FEEL, and that above all else is why it has stood the test of time and if anything continues to grow more and more popular with age.

I have over the course of my life, due to my religion, my upbringing and various things I’ve learned and experienced developed my own sort of personal philosophy. Everyone has one, whether they realize it or not, mine is just something I’ve put a lot more thought and understanding to than most. It would take hours to delve into every single facet of it but most of it can be summed up in just a few words. Aside from serving my God and my creator with every ounce of my being I feel that it is my job, my goal in life to make the world at least a little bit better each and every day. Secondly I feel that no matter what there is ALWAYS hope and that if you try hard enough you can change the world and make peoples lives better. That, at the end of the day, after all the analysis and dissection is what George Bailey’s story is all about.

I love idealists. They may be off their nut crazy but I love them none the less and as a result many of my favorite artists fall under that category. Aaron Sorkin, my favorite writer of all time is a dyed in the wool dreamer and idealist and in every single way he is cut from the exact same cloth as Frank Capra. In fact I think at the end of the day Sorkin owes his career and everything he’s ever written to Capra.

Frank Capra was a lot of things but for the most part the guy was not a realist by any stretch of the imagination. His two best films, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON aren’t accurate portrayals of reality. They’re Capras’s dream of the way the world should be. They’re his way of telling the world to pull it’s head out of it’s rectum and make things better.

In my last post I gushed about my love for George Lucas and how he helped the world learn to fulfill it’s dreams and fantasies. While that’s commendable in many ways I think Capra deserves even greater praise because his visions, his dreams were attainable, they were and still are within mankind’s reach. Capra wasn’t convincing the world it could travel to other galaxies, defeat ultimate evil and have a Wookie for a co-pilot. Instead he was showing the world that if each and every single individual were to simply live for the betterment of the people around them and not themselves nothing would be outside of mankind’s reach. Of course as a religious guy I love the fact that in the case of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE he did this all within the frame work of an approving Christian (If albeit slightly theologically off) God.

We live in some very scary, very bad times caused by some very scary, bad (And in the case of certain outgoing politicians, inept) people. Fifteen years ago, as a dumb, punk teenager I would have sat there and thought how stupid it all was. Now as an adult I realize how sad it is and I, like Frank Capra, like George Bailey realize how easy it is to make it better. I don’t think hope, optimism, love and good old fashioned kindness are stupid, I think they’re absolutely essential to furthering mankind.

In every possible way, on every possible level IT’S A WONDEFUL LIFE is one of the best films ever made. One of the greatest film makers of all time directed one of the greatest actors of all time in a story filled with love, drama, heart, emotion, desperation, loss, redemption and so much more than could ever be covered by me or probably any other writer. That’s only part of the reason though that more and more people flock to the simple story of George Bailey, the luckiest man in the world year after year. George wasn’t the luckiest man in the world, he wasn’t the noblest or even the best he was simply a guy that did what he had to do to try and make the world a better place. Frank Capra captured the essence of that idea and displayed it to the world at 24 frames per second. Nothing neither I, nor anyone else can say can hope to match that.


LittleDreamer said...

You may consider me officially convicted. I need to watch this again. I did see Holiday Inn again a few weeks ago. It was much better than I rememembered it being a mere five or six years ago...

Chris W said...

Trust me it's one of those movies that you can't help but like more and more the older you get because it's a very practical adult fairy tale.

Senor Granto said...

I would have to agree with you on all accounts, especially in praise of Capra as I've read before that his films had a lot of influence on Mr. Lucas.