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This place matters

Monday, December 19, 2011

An angel gets his wings

Every year on my birthday, Jeremy and I watch It's a Wonderful Life. It started one year when I was so depressed I cried through my birthday dinner. To remind me to be happy I'm alive. I'm not saying Frank Capra's an acceptable substitute for modern psychology, but you could do worse for therapy. If you haven't seen it, particularly if you haven't seen it because you're put off by the title, you're robbing yourself. You can borrow it after my birthday's over.
I've always said I'd like to spend a day living in the world inside of Frank Capra's head. In fact, according to his biography on imdb.com, Capra's often rosy outlook earned him the scorn of critics, who coined the term "Capra-corn" to describe his typical fare. Critics accused him, among other things, of wandering about "wide-eyed and breathless, seeing everything as larger than life." Capra didn't consider this an insult, responding, "To some of us, all that meets the eye IS larger than life... Who can match the wonder of it?"
I'm with that. Nobody's ever accused me of being Pollyanna, but I do know that life, through all our suffering, is amazing, and if you want to see it for what it is, all you have to do is open your eyes. If that makes me corny, I guess I'm in good company. 


Some Wonderful Life trivia for you, courtesy of IMDB and my brain:

  • Speaking of corny, before It's a Wonderful Life, movie directors created artificial snow by painting snowflakes white and dropping them from above. This snow was loud, requiring filmmakers to record and add the dialog later. Capra didn't want to lose the authentic nature of dialog recorded live, so he came up with a mix fire retardant and soap pumped through a wind machine. Which is cool; I've always thought that the "snow" in George's hair when  he jumps after Clarence in the river looked like soap.
  • Much of the movie was set in the winter, but filmed during a heat wave. That's why George is sweating in many of the scenes. I always assumed he was feverish with fear and grief, although heat wave certainly makes more sense. 
  • The film, during the Red Scare, was accused of being socialist because it cast bankers and corporate greed in a negative light. However, Capra was a Republican who spied for the FBI during the Red Scare. I wonder why Elia Kazan (director of On the Waterfront) was strung up for naming names when Capra wasn't. Too many feel good stars in their eyes.
  • In an early scene, Bert the cop is reading a newspaper with the headline "Smith Wins Nomination." Jeremy and I were sure that this was a reference to Jimmy Stuart's character in another Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Not so, says IMDB claims this article referred to a real-life presidential candidate Alfred Smith. Given the prominence of the headline in the shot, I have a hard time believing it was complete coincidence. Maybe it did refer to a real guy, but I you've got to wonder why that particular headline was picked.
  • Uncle Billy's pet raven was one of Capra's trademarks - the bird appeared in five of his films. I think I remember reading that Crook's pet bird in The Shawshank Redemption was an homage to Capra, but I can't corroborate. 
  • Jeremy just noticed that Mr. Potter is a thousand years old when he first appears in the movie, in what's supposed to be 1919. The main action of the movie takes place in 1946, at which point Mr. Potter doesn't look a day over a thousand and one. Dude's an evil vampire. Explains so much. Must've lost the use of his legs before he turned. 
    Mr. Gower must be a vampire too, because he was a thousand years old in 1919 too. But he must have been the victim of some gypsy curse that gave him a soul and made him not evil. Or something.

Here's a little Christmas gift from me and Clarence the angel to you: Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.
And if you don't have any friends, I'll be your friend. And we'll not be failures together.


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