Saturday, January 7, 2012

'It's A Wonderful Life' is a glorious film

Most people have traditions they like to observe during the Christmas season. Each of these traditions is special, and for many, they are reminders of a time in the past that was sweet and memorable.

A tradition that I recently dusted off was watching the film 'It's A Wonderful Life' starring Jimmy Stewart. As my life has unfolded, this movie has become required viewing in late December.

Though this film has become a part of Americana in recent years, it was not always that way. When it was released in 1946, it was something of a box office disappointment. I stumbled across the film by accident back in the 1980s.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was surfing through my television channels. I found the movie and only began watching it because I could not find anything else worth viewing. As I watched, its beauty unfolded in my heart.

In the following years, millions went through the same thrill of discovery I did. For a while, the film was broadcast dozens of times each December though in recent years it is not being shown as much.

For many, the film presents life as we wish it could be. The film follows the story of George Bailey (portrayed by Stewart), and it culminates with his friends rescuing him when all seemed lost. The film is a reminder that no person is a failure who has friends. The fact that its conclusion is set during Christmastime adds all the more to its holiday appeal.

Critics of the film have dismissed it for being too sentimental. Actually, sentimentality is a common thread through many of Frank Capra’s films. Capra directed 'It's A Wonderful Life' as well as other well-known films like 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.'

However, sentimentality is not necessarily a bad thing. Given how cynical our world has become, we need to look for it wherever we can. While I agree people can waste time living too much in the past, seeing where we came from can have a big impact on where we are going as a nation.

The sentimentality of the film can oversimplify the way life was generations ago. As an old chemistry teacher I had once said, "The good ol' days weren’t always so good."

And he was right. When this film was made, there were a lot of social issues that divided people. For example, legalized segregation still had a stranglehold on the South. For victims of that policy, I am sure they would argue the past was not as sweet as 'It's A Wonderful Life' portrays.

However, I do not believe that is the point. A movie like this is a reminder of what we are capable of and what we would like to be.

The film reinforces concepts like people working together and loving their neighbor as they love themselves. Simple concepts, but we do not see them flourishing in our communities as we should.

Films, like most forms of media, can have a tremendous impact on society. While people have the free will to make their own decisions, our decision making is easily influenced by what we see and hear.

While a lot of Hollywood's films today are lackluster and lack creativity, movies like 'It's A Wonderful Life' remind us this type of entertainment can be a bully pulpit when shaping mass opinion.

It is too bad that more filmmakers will not take chances and make statements with their films. I understand why they will not because movie making is big business, and if a person's movie flops, they often do not get a second chance.

Still, I would like to see somebody take a chance.

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