December 19, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life in 2008.

It's a Wonderful Life When I saw it for the first time in the early 80s, evidently around the same time Wendell Jamieson did, I was already a convert to Hollywood's classic era, but the friends I sat with in that Austin theater were most definitely not. They were there because it was assigned viewing, and they weren't happy about it. These were still the days when one sided with the rebels against the remnants of the old studio system. But what a watershed, Road to Damascus experience that night turned out to be; none of us left the theater with dry eyes.

Updated through 12/24.

"It's a Wonderful Life is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams," writes Jamieson in the New York Times, "of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife.... I haven't seen it on a movie screen since that first time, but on Friday it begins its annual pre-Christmas run at the IFC Cinema in Greenwich Village. I plan to take my 9-year-old son and my father, who has never seen it the whole way through because he thinks it's too corny. How wrong he is."

Rob Christopher will be watching it in Chicago, Joe Leydon in Houston, where he'll be seeing it on the big screen for the first time. Lucky man - take a look at the bank run scene in "high quality" for a taste of what's in store for Joe.

Rob Mackie has a brief note on the DVD in today's Guardian.

Earlier: AO Scott in the NYT; and much earlier, last year's "It's a Wonderful Blog-a-Thon" and the 2006 entry.

Update, 12/21: "[T]he film asks us to consider how family, community, duty and responsibility to one's fellow human beings is what characterises a person's worth," writes David Wilson for the Guardian. "Not piety or religious observance, but the struggle with the mundane and the banal, and the desire to create a self in the ordinariness and chaos of the practicalities of the everyday. I watch It's A Wonderful Life every year because that message needs to be repeated - time after time - and certainly just as often as Come All Ye Faithful, for it is that message that reminds us to do what we can to make this world a better place, rather than accepting our lot and waiting for God."

Update, 12/23: "Entire books have been written about It's a Wonderful Life," notes Leonard Pierce in Screengrab, "But one thing worth mentioning is that how terrifically effective the entire cast is: at a time when the star system was in full swing, Capra and his collaborators (which included script doctors in the uncredited form of Clifford Odets and Dalton Trumbo) populated Bedford Falls with an entire star system of great actors and actresses, many of them character types who gave the performances of their careers in the film. The entire cast seems to take their acting cues from the oversized yet surprisingly natural performance of Jimmy Stewart, who had to be talked into playing the role - his first since returning from a traumatic tour of duty in WWII."

Update, 12/24: For the Guardian, Paul Rennie takes a long look at the poster.

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Posted by dwhudson at December 19, 2008 5:57 AM


Would that be the Paramount Theater?

Posted by: vadim at December 19, 2008 10:58 AM

Ack! Just catching up with this question - sorry, Vadim. At any rate, no it wasn't the Paramount. It was a theater on the University of Texas campus. Nothing special, and who knows, it might have even been a 16mm print!

Posted by: David Hudson at December 20, 2008 2:22 PM

Sounds like the old Union Theater to me.

Posted by: vadim at December 20, 2008 8:31 PM

If I had my own movie theater, I'd program a double bill of It's a Wonderful Life and Bresson's L'argent. And the order would change each night. So you'd leave in a totally different mood. Both films are stories about money and the interconnectedness of all human actions--or what buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh calls "interbeing." Both films are in many ways both darker and more hopeful than they're given credit for. And both films are masterpieces worthy of seeing again with an audience of live fellow humans.

Posted by: Warren Oates at December 21, 2008 11:53 PM