director Frank Capra
viewed: 12/22/2013 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA
Unlike most of America, I somehow grew up without Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life as a staple of Christmas. Actually, I don’t even know if I ever even saw it as a kid. I’m not even totally sure when I finally did see it for the first time, perhaps in the early 1990’s. So, I don’t have personal associations with the film to further color my experience of the film, at least not those ingrained from childhood.
My kids don’t have television at their home. Well, not live television to watch, so they are not inundated that way by pop culture. They get it one day a week when they come to my house and get to watch whatever. I’ve noted before that those television traditions like The Wizard of Oz (1939) or The Sound of Music (1965) or It’s a Wonderful Life have gone the way of the dodo because those were the days of few television channels (few options) and no home video of any kind. Really, we’ve entered the era of anything you want whenever you want it. Forced exposure, for better or worse, is a thing of the past. Still, there are all of us who grew up in that era and whether we grew up with a particular film or not, have been familiarized with the Hollywood Christmas canon.
The week before, I took the kids to see To Catch a Thief (1955) at the Castro Theatre. This week it was It’s a Wonderful Life. They really enjoyed it.
First of all, Jimmy Stewart. I mean, with Harvey (1950) and this film, you’ve got two of his most definitive films. This is from a rather broad ranging litany of great movies. It’s pretty much impossible to think of this film with any other actor. He’s so perfect as George Bailey, the man whose life comes to a crisis on Christmas Eve, nearly ending his life before his guardian angel shows him the world without him and makes him realize his worth and joy. It’s a tearjerker.
It’s interesting to watch because the film has come to signify (perhaps with a number of others) a definition of American ideals, particularly with the sentiment of the winter holidays. It does so very successfully, so successfully that it’s easy to just eat it up, and feel that happy glow. But coming as it does, in 1946, right at the end of WWII, there is nostalgia and small town idealism, populist stuff, perhaps, but things deeper than that as well.
But I don’t feel like digging into it at the moment, though I do feel like seeing some more Frank Capra movies. I definitely file this one under “enjoyed by all.”