Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Sap-lings

Although I'm not feeling particularly festive this season, I confess to being moved by Scrooge! when it comes on. Except for Die Hard, there are few Christmas movies we watch regularly.


Die Hard is a Christmas movie! What better captures the spirit of the season than "Ho, ho, ho! Now I have a machine gun, too"?

We used to watch It's a Wonderful Life when it was on constantly, before they re-secured the copyright on it. And it's still one of my favorites. There's an NYT article up now about it where the writer takes a somewhat contrary view. Apparently, people are outraged by this opinion piece.

Which I guess goes to show that outrage is the new mistletoe.

It's actually not a bad article. There are a few points worth refuting, though. Maybe some people actually do think of IWL as a "cheery Christmas tale", but I don't know any. It's a feel-good movie, sure, but not a "cheery" one. In some ways, it's just this side of Job for cheeriness.

Then there's the claim that Pottersville is better than Bedford Falls: More exciting, more economically vibrant, etc. I think I've read that before, from a strictly economic viewpoint. The author supports his point by citing other resort towns that have thrived where manufacturing has failed.

Those who find merit in this just demonstrate how much closer we are today, as a society, to Mr. Potter than the Baileys.

Pottersville is a slave state: Nobody owns anything but Potter, and nobody does anything without his permission. It produces nothing but wasted lives. It's probably not even a nice place to visit but you definitely don't want to live there.

Then the author talks about George's criminal liability for the loss. This occurred to me, too, since it's the action that's criminal whether not the money is replaced. But does a scene with the Inspector agreeing to look the other way--as is implicit during the singing of "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing"--actually improve the movie?

It's like that alternate ending as seen on SNL (which I can't find, so here's another version).

Then there's a reference to George humiliating Mary (when she's unclothed in the bushes), and later to him treating her cruelly right before they first kiss. The former characterization is just heavy-handed. The latter shows a fundamental lack of understanding about George and Mary's relationship.

She, of course, is Bedford Falls to him and George must overcome his attraction to her in order to do what he wants. But when fate intervenes, and he's given the choice between doing what's right and doing what he wants, it's only her that makes doing the right thing bearable.

Also, the article characterizes the townspeople as bitter and small-minded which I think is that "inner Potter" talking again. At the same time, referring to brother Harry as being a slick self-obsessed jerk seems uncharitable, given that he does offer to take over the S&L. And I think he would've done it. It's George who feels he can't let him do it.

OK, "emasculated" by being kept out of WWII? Really? Would anyone have seen it that way at the time? This was a war when the home efforts kept the war machine going!

The article wraps up with the economic prospects of Pottersville versus Bedford Falls and concludes that P-ville had the brighter future.

Au contraire: Potter did indeed win (and bigger and bigger Potters against more and more Bailey's), yet given the current econominc situation--in these difficult economic times, if you will--the Potters of the world are busy trashing things while the Bailys of the world are doing fine.

The Bedford Falls are doing all right, too, unlike the Pottersvilles.


  1. blake, this was well done!

    George treated Mary "cruelly"? No, no, got it exactly right.
    I actually love that part of the movie. When love overcomes him, and he's shaken by it.

  2. Thanks, Darcy!

    Yes, it's actually under-rated as a love story. His attraction to her is enough to shake his ideas about what he wants. And in the end, it's not the town going to hell or his children not-existing, it's the thought of her being alone and not loving him that pushes him over the edge.

    And really, there's something primal about the whole thing: Man wants to explore and have adventures, and Woman seduces him into creating the future instead.

    Something else missed in that analysis: George has the idea that his life hasn't amounted to anything because it hasn't worked out the way he planned. His epiphany is that he has had not just a wonderful life, but a really big life without ever leaving.

    Plus, I always sort of figured that after the movie, he got to do some traveling. Heh.

  3. Oh, good call about the underlying primal clashes.

    And I also love how the Bedford Falls-type deep community roots and traditions often prove to be the winning, lasting formula.

  4. Well, that last paragraph sounds like I'm adding some new insight, when I meant it to sound like I was agreeing with another of your refutations of that article.

    And I'm not feeling the usual festivity, either. I'm not down or anything, just not looking at Christmas or New Year's Eve with any special anticipation.

  5. Yeah, I think it misses that George's problem wasn't that he had given up his dreams. After all, that's pretty mundane. Most of us do to some degree or another.

    It's that despite doing the right thing all his life, he didn't realize what he had given those dreams up for.

    In essence, today, we look at that story and say, meh, why bother?


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