Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Blind Spot Series: It's a Wonderful Life
I should have written this post at the beginning of the year and to be honest I saw it then too. But I thought I'd save it until the end of the year BUT as I completely missed April, It's a Wonderful Life is part of the double Blind Spot post this month.
I had never seen It's a Wonderful Life before and every year at Christmas, people are surprised. The truth is, is that I've never really had the urge to see it. I've seen some of Frank Capra's other films and I'm especially a big fan of 'It Happened One Night', I could watch that all day. The push that got me to see it, wasn't just this list but the fact that my friend and I wanted to see a Christmassy film and it was the only film that was on at the time we arrived.
George Bailey lives in the small town of Bedford Falls, New York and has dreamed of leaving and seeing the world since he was a child. Through a succession of events, both tragic and fortunate he is forced to remain in his home town. It is obvious that George has effected the lives of many people in a positive way. But when the bank that he has run for years and his father before him looks set to close, among other stressful occurrences, George, desperately tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge.
Instead he jumps in to save an old man from drowning. This old man turns out to be his guardian angel named Clarence and tells him how important he is by showing him an alternate reality where he didn't exist. George's brother would have died, the pharmacist George worked for as kid would have gone to jail for accidentally poisoning someone, the bank and the rest of the town would have been taken over the evil Mr Potter and George's beloved wife Mary would have been (shock! gasp!) an unmarried old maid. Clarence's words. This makes George rethink his suicidal plan and he returns home. He has a whole new outlook now. To make things even better, the whole town, all the people who George has helped donates money to save the bank. Oh and it's snowing too so it couldn't be more perfect.
Before seeing the film the only things I knew about was the story and that annoying quote 'every time a bell rings an angel gets it's wings'. I'm sure those who have seen the film would have imitated the child's voice too. The spirit of everything that is good in the world and its Christmas really does scream at you, in a positive way, throughout the film. I suppose it has a message too, do good things and they will come back to you. Unfortunately I couldn't help but think and see an alternative way.
I agree its a magical film and it is everything that I've read about. I can see why everyone loves it BUT I saw the story of George Bailey as tragic. A man who does what he can to help everyone and anyone but never really does anything he wants to do. All he's dreamed about since he was young was travelling, seeing the world, he doesn't even get to go to college. He's held back continuously and when he tries to leave he's burdened with emotional blackmail. Even with the conclusion of the film, I'm still saddened by the fact that George Bailey will never get to fulfill his own dreams. During the 'what if' scenes, its clear George's purpose in life is to exist for everyone else.
Lost dreams aside, the fantasy and supernatural elements break up from what would have been a tragic drama. With the main character wanting to commit suicide, its quite dark for a family film but the appearance of Clarence, the angel who wants his wings, provides a lighter way to look at life, even if the alternative past, present and future are far bleaker than the present. A funny little old man standing around in a nightshirt telling you he's an angel and he wants to help, may be like the last straw but by now, George is beyond that point and is ready to believe anything. He accepts this vision in anyway a normal person would. But he is only in denial and realises the horror of what his absence would mean. My favourite bit is George being told Mary is 'oh no don't look' an old maid, unmarried. It was over the top but reflected the times.
Apart from the ending with George running down the streets of Bedford Falls, full of joy and sweating in the heat wave that the production filmed in, there are two scenes that are literally wonderful. The scene at Mary's high school graduation dance where George and Mary are having so much fun they don't notice the gym floor open up to reveal a swimming pool. By the way, that's real, that was not built for the film. The other scene is what follows. George and Mary, now both soaking wet after falling into the pool, walk home. Mary, who has always had a crush on George, teases him about her dream house and yes its also the scene where George offers to lasso the moon for Mary. These scenes are just the beginning but they reflect, to what I consider part of George's genuine happiness. Of all the things that happen, marrying Mary was something he wanted, it wasn't an accident that delayed his plans.
Despite my negativity, the film is very good. Going beyond the feel good factor of the film, its perfect for Christmas and wonderfully acted by James Stewart. I probably won't include this in my yearly Christmas watch but if someone asks if I want to see it again, I own't say no.
To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers.