So many Americans have different dreams – many just dream to survive
December 22, 2017 3:28 PM   Subscribe

"I can’t think anymore, George. I can’t think anymore. It hurts." - The nightmarish darkness of It's a Wonderful Life
posted by Artw (50 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
For the first 15 times, I saw this movie, I thought that George was screaming: “Merry Christmas Booby House!”

Then I bought it and turned on closed captioning and I realized he's saying, “Merry Christmas Movie House!”

I'm still sad about this.
posted by Fizz at 3:49 PM on December 22, 2017 [12 favorites]


What an extraordinary essay. Vivid and harrowing. I wouldn’t have thought there was more to say about that movie, but this piece opens a new vista, or at least explores one deeper that may have been opened only a little before.

I confess to a degree of sentimentality. But even so, midway through the essay, I found my stomach trembling in recognition and empathy at the description of Uncle Billy’s nightmare.

Thank you for the post, Artw.
posted by darkstar at 3:51 PM on December 22, 2017 [9 favorites]


/imagines BOOBY HOUSE floating by in neon in Pottersville scene.
posted by Artw at 3:52 PM on December 22, 2017 [18 favorites]


The guests on The Incomparable went over IaWL recently, and it was a surpringly good conversation:
Stand above the icy river waters and ponder what life would be without 1946’s holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Would you be shocked to discover that not everyone likes it? In this episode we’ve got two fans of the film to tell us why it’s great, and a detractor who is attempting to crash this car into the town’s oldest tree. What are the pros and cons of one of the definitive Christmas movies of all time?
https://www.theincomparable.com/theincomparable/382/

They touch on the darkness at the movie's heart, as in this essay.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:55 PM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


And like so many other things in life, this film is a reminder of the power and strength of a woman. My mom made a comment during one of our viewings a few Christmas' ago. Mrs. Bailey is the one who rallies the community and finds a way to save the day. She is the one that goes above and beyond when things are at their lowest for the family and yet she doesn't get the recognition she truly deserves. The redemption and focus is all on George and what he endured.

I kind of want that deleted scene, hell give me an entire movie told from her point of view. The one where we see Mary deal with a husband that is never happy with his place in life, that doesn't see the beautiful family that is right in front of him, the scene where she runs around town getting everyone to pitch in and save the day.
posted by Fizz at 3:57 PM on December 22, 2017 [45 favorites]


Sorry, wasn't trying to derail from the linked essay. It's a good post and I love this movie. It is a film that provokes lots of thought every time watch it. As I've grown older, I've also noticed different things and my focus has shifted with the times.
posted by Fizz at 4:05 PM on December 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


I introduced my kid to this movie this year, he wasn't sure what he thought. Poor Uncle Billy.
posted by emjaybee at 4:14 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am appearing as CineSanta before an Xmas Eve screeing of this film! I mark this post useful!
posted by mwhybark at 5:05 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


The original ending, of course, focuses more on the restoration of justice in Bedford Falls through stern retribution..
posted by Naberius at 5:13 PM on December 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


This Embezzlement is very bad.
posted by ovvl at 5:33 PM on December 22, 2017


mwhybark -how many santas are you?
posted by Artw at 5:35 PM on December 22, 2017


Well, I am Osiris Claus. This year I have learned that I am (due to putting in the hours on Mithrandir) eligible to embody Santa Odin, but the embodiment is newly granted and requires more time in the halfbakery, despite past blindings and current useless hand. Santa proper is a given, of course. My wife insists that both Hot and Hipster Santa are applicable. CineSanta was called to duty mere hours ago. Santaism is holographic and multifarious, it seems.
posted by mwhybark at 5:51 PM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


A couple of years ago I attended an event in Seneca Falls, NY at which the actresses who portrayed Zusu and Janie appeared.

Janie described the day the scene was shot where Stewart blows up at the family as she played the piano. She said that prior to shooting, both Capra and Stewart spoke to the younger cast members, explaining what was about to happen and how they needed to react.

When Stewart rushed into the room in character, however, the children were actually frightened; the tears in her eyes were real, she explained. “I was scared to death,” she recalled, “I had never seen an adult man that upset before.”
posted by kinnakeet at 6:26 PM on December 22, 2017 [20 favorites]


When Stewart rushed into the room in character, however, the children were actually frightened; the tears in her eyes were real, she explained. “I was scared to death,” she recalled, “I had never seen an adult man that upset before.”

That is definitely a moment in the film where I fee like Stewart is acting at his finest. You truly believe that he's a man on the edge, that has lost his mind a bit. The sweat and the shaking. Maybe I make it more intense in my own mind but something about that moment just has me hiding behind my pillow.
posted by Fizz at 6:49 PM on December 22, 2017 [9 favorites]


I don’t know how people can watch this movie like, once a year. It’s raw and harrowing and Stewart is clearly going THROUGH SOME SHIT (he had like, just returned from the war , right?) and there’s way more naturalism then you expect from a Capra movie or a movie if that era ( the Bad Dad stuff is very well observed ) and it always leave me shaken the hell up.
posted by The Whelk at 7:01 PM on December 22, 2017 [10 favorites]


mwhybark; congrats on avoiding the satanism autocorrect.
posted by Start with Dessert at 7:04 PM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, my experience watching this movie before I became a veteran and after has definitely changed. The fucking responsibility of it, too - Bedford Falls resting all on your shoulders, so you can never, ever leave...god.
posted by corb at 7:36 PM on December 22, 2017 [15 favorites]


I love this movie. The emotions are so raw and I can get teary just thinking about it. I'm also grateful that every single time we watched the movie, when they get to Mary outside the library my mom would say sarcastically "an old maid! the horror!".
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 7:38 PM on December 22, 2017 [8 favorites]


when they get to Mary outside the library my mom would say sarcastically "an old maid! the horror!".

I mean in the other Black Mirror Potterverse, Mary just looks like she has her shit together. She's got a nice job at the library, she's on her way home, probably to eat a nice meal. She's not about to trifle with some crazy drunk lunatic.

Seems like George is the one that needs to get his act together, he's the one that doesn't exist and is lost in another universe.
posted by Fizz at 7:45 PM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also, I cry every time Mr. Gower realizes his mistake with the pills after finding out his son has died. And young George is weeping and bleeding from the ear. It's so tragic and it just tugs at my heart-strings.
posted by Fizz at 7:50 PM on December 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


My brother haaaates this film, largely for the 'George agrees to things and makes himself into a complete doormat and never sets his own boundaries and bottles up all this resentment at other people and then explodes at them, when he was the one making the decisions that put him there' spine of it. I think that spine shows through most upsettingly in the way George turns so aggressively on his wife and children when things get tough--that shows up as one of the angles of toxic straight masculinity even today, the thing where a man gets married, has children, then his wife is THE OLD BALL AND CHAIN and his family is OPPRESSING HIM, MAN and it's utterly unfair and cruel to them--oh did this just happen to you, didn't you actually choose some things along the way.

I don't dislike the movie as much as he does, but I have definitely backed away from the Christmasy/purely-heartwarming image of it painted by the major media establishments. I find it pretty dark. I mean, yes, there is a big heartwarming thing in George's friends and community rallying round to raise the missing money. But it reminds me so much these days of crowdfunding money for someone's chemo. Yes, it's great that that happened, thank goodness, Merry Christmas Booby House GoFundMe. But the fact that that ever had to happen, that that's how the situation and society are structured, which means it could easily have to happen again...brrrr.

Potter is still in charge. George is still laboring under all the burdens he agreed to carry for other people. He still has a wife and children. What happens to them the next time the pressure gets to ol' George?

And the funny thing is, I started feeling iffy about the movie--without ever giving special thought to Uncle Billy! I had forgotten about Billy's line about rooms that have been locked ever since I lost Laura! In and among all of George's YOU MADE ME DO THIS, YOU MADE ME GET ANGRY AT YOU, YOU MADE ME BE AGGRESSIVE TOWARD YOU histrionics, I hadn't fully realized just how tragic and upsetting a figure Billy is. This article is extra interesting for that reason--it opened up a whole new door for me. (I'd better forward it to my brother.)
posted by theatro at 8:08 PM on December 22, 2017 [14 favorites]


That's there but it's kind of what's good about it?
posted by Artw at 8:17 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Perhaps not everyone's cup of eggnog, but let me offer you a Fishbone chaser that'll cheer you up one way or another.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 8:40 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Let's get one thing straight- Mary, not George, is the real hero of this movie. Everytime shit gets real for George (the bank run after he gets married, Uncle Billy losing the money), it's Mary who takes the reins and saves his self-pitying, self-absorbed ass. You might as well call the movie "The Emotional Labor Of A Wonderful Life."
posted by KingEdRa at 9:04 PM on December 22, 2017 [23 favorites]


I fucking hate this movie

because this: "George agrees to things and makes himself into a complete doormat and never sets his own boundaries and bottles up all this resentment at other people and then explodes at them, when he was the one making the decisions that put him there" and because this: "The one where we see Mary deal with a husband that is never happy with his place in life, that doesn't see the beautiful family that is right in front of him, the scene where she runs around town getting everyone to pitch in and save the day."

OVER AND OVER he could have left, OVER AND OVER he could have pursued his dreams, and he keeps CHOOSING to stay and then being a whiny baby about it and acting like he's the only man in the world who's ever compromised his dreams. At least he had a choice! Other people are toiling in the mud with no choices. And he takes it out on his wife and his children (who legit did not ask to be born and had no choice in who their shitty father was, unlike George who's enraged about the lot in life that he chose). And, oh, George, if it turns out you hate people depending on you? Maybe you shouldn't have gotten married and reproduced, you jackass.

Also I object to George Bailey being made out to be a hero for making so many subprime mortgages he manages to make his bank go bust. He's not better than the slumlord, the mortgage crisis taught us that.

Absolutely a horror film. The horrifying weakness of George as a person, his toxic masculinity, the way he, feeling trapped, traps his wife and children in misery ... awful. It's weirdly violent, "unhinged" from the article is a great word, and I do not understand how anyone can watch this movie and feel anything remotely Christmassy. It's about a terrible, violent world full of toxic people, and the man we're supposed to view as the hero is a whiny man-child stuffed to the gills with toxic masculinity.

Every time we get to the scene where Mary's the spinster librarian I'm like "STAY IN THIS REALITY, MARY, IT'S WAY BETTER!"

The only hopeful bit of the movie to me is that at least I know that in an alternative universe she didn't end up trapped in such a horrible marriage.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:29 PM on December 22, 2017 [16 favorites]


You might as well call the movie "The Emotional Labor Of A Wonderful Life."

or, The Emotional Labor Of A Wonderful Wife?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:30 PM on December 22, 2017 [16 favorites]


"A toast to my big brother George: the richest man in town."

Cue gulping sobs.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:32 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee: "I fucking hate this movie"

As frequently happens, I just don't understand people's reactions to things.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:10 PM on December 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


I am - as many are - occasionally struck by the very last moment of a work of fiction, wherein the author masterfully encapsulates a theme or notion of the whole work, yet does so in such a way as to make us review the whole thing in a slightly different light.

The last page of “Lord of the Flies” is one, where all the violent depravity of the children that we’ve been experiencing those hundreds of pages is reflected into a condemnation of all mankind at the end by that last glance at the naval vessel in the water. The last page of The Great Gatsby’s “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” opens me up to so much personal, existential ache that the rest of the book - a rather ridiculously maudlin, contrived plot, otherwise - had never conveyed until that moment. The last redemptive moment of the film adaptation of “Breakfast at Tiffanies” (a scene not found in the novel) that elevates the whole sordid mess into something worth having experienced. You get my point.

Anyway, the moment that seems relevant here is on the last page of Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon Days”, in which a man, vaguely dissatisfied with things, is caught in a blizzard trying to return home and almost dies. He muses on his fortune, having barely reached the safety of home, that life doesn’t always give you what you wanted, but it does sometimes give you “what you would have wanted, had you known.” That life is not what we wanted for many of us, but in some cases, it turned out to be something far better than our shallower wants.

This is surely what George has learned: that while he didn’t “want” the life he has, it is surely what he would have wanted all along, had he known. It is easy to layer our frustrations on him for his toxic masculinity, his lack of agency, etc. But in the main, for all that, he is a “good man” that has been a good father, husband and friend, and a pillar and champion of the community, to boot. I think we can cut the guy some slack.

Mary, for her part, seems quite happy with her life, as well. She has a life partner she loves deeply, beautiful children she adores, and seems to be functioning well. When we see her as an “old maid” in the alternate timeline, I understand the impulse to decry the straw man presented to us. But the other life - in which she is shown as a happy wife and mother - is, presumably, what she would have wanted, too, had she known.

Both George and Mary are so obviously in love and happy together that I can forgive the film’s peccadillos that, to our more jaundiced eye today, make us question whether their relationship was as mutually supportive as it could be. The limitations in expressing their relationship in a way that satisfies our concerns, in my view, are limitations of the writers, and not of these two people we have come to know so closely through the film.
posted by darkstar at 10:54 PM on December 22, 2017 [19 favorites]


Yeah...Count me in as someone else who doesn't like this movie at all, and is completely baffled as to why it's so popular. Just let George jump and end the damn movie early.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I’m going to interrupt our annual “George Bailey is a terrible baby/no he isn’t” debate to respond to this way upthread:

For the first 15 times, I saw this movie, I thought that George was screaming: “Merry Christmas Booby House!”

So I was in Munich for work several years ago. MeFi’s own tracicle lives not too far away on the continent. I’ve known her over a decade but never met her; she founded Monkeyfilter when signups were closed here. I got excited when she said she’d take the train to Munich to meet me.

We hugged, we got coffee, we walked around the city center and ate and drank. We had a fun time explaining to some American tourists at a cafe that we’re old friends meeting for the first time, and yes we’re married, but not to each other, and yes our spouses know.

It was while walking around that we rounded a corner, looked to our right, and there on a business front was this sign:

BOOBS
GENTLEMEN’S CLUB


We had to stop and gather ourselves.

In keeping with the theme of the film, I feel obligated to tell you that your life has made the world better. Because of you, every year from now on I’m going to raise a glass in the direction of Munich and declare, “Merry Christmas, Booby House!”
posted by middleclasstool at 6:44 AM on December 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


Eyebrows, I totally don't dig your take, but goddamn do I dig your summation and presentation of your viewpoint. Well stated!

As a film critic, I guess I'm sort of indifferent to the film? I mean, I enjoy it. But it's not part of my annual traditions or anything. I surely wouldn't be seeing it this year except for being asked to drop in to share my astounding beard and Santa suit.

The parts of it I really like the most might be the parts Eyebrows hates the most - the existentialist entrapment emotions George blurts out actually usually make me laugh out loud, and I find his verbal expression of desire to never have been born sort of giddily liberating, surely not what the filmmaking team intended. It may be the first place I ever heard the notion expressed.
posted by mwhybark at 6:44 AM on December 23, 2017


ha ha ha, I just realized that I have agreed to things and made myself into a doormat by agreeing to be CineSanta at my friend's showing of the film! I totally would rather stay at home and not watch the film. Oh well, I am terrible at setting boundaries.
posted by mwhybark at 6:52 AM on December 23, 2017


I struggle to understand a lot of the negative takes on this. It's possible for something /someone and the choices you have made in your life to be BOTH a great net good in your life AND a source of micro frustrations/stress/regrets about the road not taken. (Think children, spouses, the responsibility of running a small business.) The whole point of the movie is that a basically decent man is pushed to the breaking point by a black swan event where a bunch of things go wrong at once. Does George Bailey scream at his kids, go around on drunken suicidal benders, violently shake his uncle in the course of his daily life? Of course not! If you were facing jail time, public humiliation, etc. over something which wasn't your fault, would you be at your best, kindest and most rational?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 8:16 AM on December 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


It's about a terrible, violent world full of toxic people,

Agreed, but whenever it was that I first started watching this movie as a child* the world, as far as I knew it, was filled with terrible, violent, toxic people. And this movie, it's ending, was some kind of catharsis: everyone coming together to help because people are flawed and do need each other's help and that there was forgiveness and second chances. Those last few minutes of the film, the neighbors and friends, the music, the pile of money, George, Mary and Zuzu, the bell ringing - I always assumed that George had finally gotten it. That he finally changed. That he grew up and realized how lucky he was. In the end, at least for the time being, it was all going to be ok for these people. I can't imagine my young Christmases without that moment.

And, it's interesting: I always liked seeing Mary on her own, locking up the library. To me this was showing that she would have landed on her feet no matter what. That was my take on that scene. I mean, even as a child, I thought this scene was to demonstrate that this was George's loss, that she would have been fine without him, and that he should get over himself and thank his lucky stars for having Mary in his life. The old maid stuff never occurred to me!

*sometimes 20 times a season, as was the tradition in the 1970's and 1980's when PBS would keep 'It's a Wonderful Life' on continuous loop during the month of December.
posted by marimeko at 8:38 AM on December 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


For people wondering why this is a popular Christmas movie - it’s popular because it’s free. It fell out of copyright by accident because it was forgotten, and so channels without a ton of money started playing it at low tv ad revenue times, like major holidays. It became associated with said holidays and is now a “classic”. Everything else is justification after the fact.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:48 AM on December 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't know that spinster librarian was the life that Mary wanted for herself, though. Sure, of everyone in Potterville, she probably turns out the best without George being there, but she's seems so diminished by his absence, like she's a ghost in her own body. There's no tragedy that George saves her from, yet her life is visbily smaller and loveless without him.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:01 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


It became associated with said holidays and is now a “classic”. Everything else is justification after the fact.

It won a Golden Globe for Best Director and was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. I don't think it's reputation is entirely a latter day artifact.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:16 AM on December 23, 2017 [13 favorites]


If you really want darkness, watch it alongside Donnie Darko. The plots are parallel but the world is a better place with Donnie dead.
posted by miyabo at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


*sometimes 20 times a season, as was the tradition in the 1970's and 1980's when PBS would keep 'It's a Wonderful Life' on continuous loop during the month of December.

Reminds of TBS and their obsession with A Christmas Story and the marathons that they've run in the past. What was once a film I looked forward to has now been ruined by its endless looping. I have grown to hate that film. I'm giving myself a break from A Christmas Story for the next 10 years.
posted by Fizz at 1:10 PM on December 23, 2017


I cry every time Mr. Gower realizes his mistake with the pills after finding out his son has died.

Both the Gower scenes -- this one and the later one at Nick's tavern -- get me.

I love also how economically the pills plot is set up. George teasing Mary about the coconut, Gower's angry sadness behind the curtain, the close-up on the telegram; George wordlessly pushing the sundae across the counter to Mary. It's only a few seconds of screen-time but it tells us so much about Gower, George, and their relationship.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:25 PM on December 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


Todd VanDerWerff, Vox: It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the best movies America has ever made about itself
What you do when you’re stuck is often the best example of who you truly are. It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t an argument that George is a morally superior man, just that he’s a moral man, surrounded by other moral people, and moral people try to take care of each other. The great kindness paid to George at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life suffuses every frame that came before that moment. It’s baked in.

Capra and Stewart, back home after the world nearly threw itself off a cliff, knew how easy it is to destroy our best qualities. They knew that humanity is only as good as it is kind, and they made a film about just that. Here, in 2016, 70 years later, it bobs up to us like a message in a bottle from the past. Do not let cruelty win, it says. Reach out. Hold on. Help.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:51 AM on December 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


Also, this is a great observation on how Capra frames shots in Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville:
In the early going, even when the shot is focused solely on George, Capra often places some other recognizable faces in the background — the moment might be our hero’s, but there’s always someone else around who’s worth working with or worth fighting for.

In the alternate reality, however, George is often filmed alone, or with faces in the background blurred out. Some of that is because he’s in a world where he doesn’t belong, where even Mary doesn’t recognize him. But some of it is because he’s forsaken his truest calling: helping others.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:55 AM on December 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Tuned in tonight for the last half hour and, aside from snorting “Booby house!” when George Bailey passed the Bijoux movie theater, I still cried at the end.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:11 PM on December 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


Uncle Billy to Harry, at the station: "Nobody ever changes around here."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:33 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


after screening report:

My recruiter, the man running the screening, had dutifully obtained a number of inexpensive toys which I as Santa distributed to persons waiting in line to purchase tickets. these toys included cheap gilded plastic coins, dinosaurs, farm animals, gaudy plastic rings for a toddler, plastic fighter jets in gaudy colors, and so on.

He had also picked up a relatively small selection of very inexpensive bells, the sort one might put on a cat or on the ribbon of a Christmas gift.

when I began handing these out to the people in the line, I realized that they also referred to several scenes in film. I began telling the line holders that the bells were for for a "ringalong." they would know what to do.
posted by mwhybark at 3:59 AM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Extended ASR:

Spencer and I had contemplated adding a minor bit of audience interactivity to the screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" by giving the audience a chance to sing "Auld Lang Syne" before the film. We eventually rejected the notion, in part because that's the song that *closes* the film, and in part because today we strongly associate the song with New Years, moreso than was the case in the 1940s.
Extended ASR:

I had asked Spence to pick up a few dollars worth of super-cheap toys so that Santa would have gifts for the moviegoers. He obtained some dinosaurs and farm animal figures and some little planes and plastic coins and some toy princess rings. He also had obtained two little packages of brass-colored decorative aluminum bells, open-base bells in the shape of a church bell. They were about the size you'd use for a finishing touch on a gift or to put on a cat's collar.

I asked if he had intended to pass these out for people to ring during the movie, and he replied no, he bought them because he associated them with the film's studio, which was "Liberty Bell Films."

The more I thought about it, the more I suspected that if I handed them out at the door, people would already know how to use them in the context of watching the film. So in addition to the toys, I handed the bells out as people came in the door.

At first I started saying "you'll know when to use them." people nodded and indicated yes, they knew what to do. At some point it occurred to me that I could also tell the filmgoers that the screening was a "ring-a-long". That brought even more immediate recognition and laughter.

Presumably, because you're reading this in English, and/or are alive, you've seen or heard of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Suffice to say, for now, the movie contains a couple of scenes in which the sound of a bell ringing is associated with the idea of an angel getting its wings.

When the first of the scenes occurred in the film, the audience dutifully rang their little bells. Just by accident, the little bells at approximately the same tonality as the bells on the movie soundtrack.

The soundtrack suddenly went from scratchy 1940s mono to multiply sourced surround sound. It dramatically increased the immersiveness of the film.

The next scene in which a bell ringing is noted in association with an angel getting its wings is the final scene of the film. It is an intensely emotional scene, the dramatic catharsis that closes the story, and it is the scene in which the characters on screen sing the song "Auld Lang Syne."

This time, when the audience rang their little bells, the surround sound immersion plunged the audience into the crowd of crying, cheering, singing people on screen. The emotional impact was electrifying, and some people in the audience spontaneously began to sing along with the film. It's not unusual for people to weep openly in a screening if this film, which I have seen theatrically a few times. I have never attended a screening in which the audience spontaneously began to sing along with the film. It was intensely moving.

Spencer, in the projection booth, could not hear the bells or the faltering effort to sing along, and it was a great pleasure and privilege to share this story with him as he emerged and people eased out into the lobby, dabbing their eyes and smiling.

I'm pretty sure next year we're handing out bells again, and by God, I will have those cue cards ready, and we will invite the audience to join George Bailey and his friends and neighbors in the front room of 320 Sycamore Avenue, Bedford Falls, New York, sometime around the end of the Second World War, and I think that audience will sing its' heart out. The audience last night was absolutely primed to do so, and I regret not being ready to lend a hand.

A magnificent, moving, and unexpected Christmas gift last night, you audience at the Grand Illusion. Thank you so much. Happy Holidays.
posted by mwhybark at 1:45 PM on December 25, 2017 [8 favorites]


MERRY CHRISTMAS, BOOBY HOUSE!
posted by mwhybark at 3:47 PM on December 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


I cry every time Mr. Gower realizes his mistake with the pills after finding out his son has died.

The (excessive, by contemporary standards) intensity in this scene was uncomfortably real in the screening last night. It was apparent that the child actor portraying George was in genuine distress and experiencing both real fear and physical pain. The actor portraying Old Man Gower was also acting at an extremely intense pitch, which of course echoes Stewart's work later in the film, down to having actually frightened the children portraying George's kids.

In talking about the film with Spence over the last couple days, he highlighted to me that the film was, for both Stewart and Capra, their first real postwar gig. He verbally shared some stuff he'd come across online, of course without links, but here's some of what I think I heard:

- Stewart's emotional intensity in the last third of the film was in part to his consciously channelling his wartime and immediate postwar emotional experiences into the role. The kids are scared of George? That's because Stewart was using his PTSD in the role.

- in the above-cited Gower scene, there are two takes visible, as the kid George actor has visibly different blood coming out of George's "trick ear", the character's left, in various cuts through the scene. Spencer told me that in one of the shots, the blood may be real. This strikes me as improbable and possibly an hyperbolic expression of what he'd seen, as in the moment of his telling me this he was excited and we had had a bottle of wine at table following the screening. But the two takes are easily distinguishable, and the blood, or "blood", does change shape.

the script of the scene makes explicit reference to George's ear being fucked up by the dive into the frozen pond a bit earlier. The rest of the film attributes his (um!) monoaurality to the day on the ice, and not to Mr Gower's abuse. I believe this is intended to underline George's willingness to accept self-sacrifice as a foundational condition of participating in a community.

I (as flagged above) just grokked that dimensionality (or the lack thereof) in aural experience, for George, is a key defining characteristic. which puts our screening's accidental surround sound moments into a new, er, key.
posted by mwhybark at 4:13 PM on December 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


In defense of Capra's film, if Ayn Rand Helped the FBI Identify It’s A Wonderful Life as Communist Propaganda, then it must have been doing something right,
posted by Doktor Zed at 4:26 AM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


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