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Ed Driscoll

It’s a Wonderful Fountainhead

December 16th, 2013 - 12:20 am

From now until December 25th (and perhaps January 1st), Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life will be playing somewhere. It’s available on Blu-Ray. There’s currently a sharp-looking copy on YouTube. It will be on TV, where the film’s reputation was made during its many annual repeats; it was unexpectedly flat at the box office during its initial 1946 big screen run. And it will likely also be playing at a revival theater near you. My wife and I caught one such showing at the movie theater in San Jose’s Santana Row yesterday, which was actually the first time I had seen it on the big screen, in a beautifully remastered digital version. It was a vivid reminder that as popular as It’s a Wonderful Life is on TV, this was a film made to be seen by a large audience in a theater, and their knowing laughter during the film’s best moments — and likely, their weeping by the end of the film as we were — adds immeasurably to its impact.

The film is now a double piece of nostalgia, something not intended by its makers. Certainly Capra and company viewed its initial flashback scenes to the early 20th century, the 1928 high school dance and the 1932-era bank run, as nostalgia. But the film’s contemporary setting of post-World War II America is now almost 70 years in the rearview mirror, as are the morals of the people who made the film.

You certainly can get a sense of that merely from reading the film’s Wikipedia page, when you come to the section on how the film is viewed by leftwing urban critics today, particularly the scenes set in “Pottersville,” the segment in which small town Bedford Falls is transformed into Reno on the Hudson:

In a 2010 Salon.com piece, Richard Cohen described It’s a Wonderful Life as “the most terrifying Hollywood film ever made”. In the “Pottersville” sequence, he wrote, George is not “seeing the world that would exist had he never been born”, but rather “the world as it does exist, in his time and also in our own.”] Nine years earlier, another Salon writer, Gary Kamiya, had expressed the opposing view that “Pottersville rocks!”, adding, “The gauzy, Currier-and-Ives veil Capra drapes over Bedford Falls has prevented viewers from grasping what a tiresome and, frankly, toxic environment it is… We all live in Pottersville now.”*

The film’s elevation to the status of a beloved classic came decades after its initial release, when it became a television staple during Christmas season in the late 1970s. This came as a welcome surprise to Frank Capra and others involved with its production. “It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra told the Wall Street Journal in 1984. “The film has a life of its own now, and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”In a 1946 interview, Capra described the film’s theme as “the individual’s belief in himself” and that he made it “to combat a modern trend toward atheism”.

Of course, atheism doesn’t necessarily mean socialism — even if that’s how it invariably works out (more on that later); and after the page break, allow me to reprint my 2010 post titled “It’s a Wonderful Fountainhead,” which compares Capra’s 1946 film with its very different contemporary, which was based on Ayn Rand’s novel about a young man who dreams of going to the big city, becoming an architect and building giant phallic symbols, and, unlike George Bailey, who has to reconcile never leaving his small town, succeeds on his own terms. Followed by some further thoughts and links from 2013, and a jaw-dropping moment at Wikipedia.

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All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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"It's A Wonderful Life" is a good movie but it has one monumental plot flaw. No bank examiners would let the main character off the hook simply because his neighbors took up a collection. If Warren Buffet and Bill Gates offered to "make whole" the people cheated by Bernie Madoff would still have gone to jail.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1946 was quite a year for movies. I recently discovered the riveting "The Best Years of Our Lives," a 1946 film by William Wyler. All of these movies seriously addressed the questions faced by millions of Americans of the day, a reminder of the important social function of art. Trying to think of recent movies that do that and not coming up with any....
By the way a teacher friend showed "The Best Years of Our Lives" to high school history students and they did like it. Supports another one of those ideas about the definition of art, that it lasts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Best Years Of Our Lives is a magnificent film, perfection itself. Cheers to your teacher friend who showed it to the class. The films of the '30s. '40s and '50s - made before the breakdown of the studio system - are a treasure trove of not just wonderful entertainment, but an illustration to young people of what American values used to be presented in films that offer an historical perspective. The odious Ted Turner erased all of his faults when he gave us Turner Classic Movies, a resource that she should be shared with as many young people as possible.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The two tales could not be more different. Capra was a Catholic humanist. The enduring popularity of the film is important for America, which is why the leftists want to destroy it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I did a riff on these very pages a while back, It's A Wonderful Leftist Life , I think I called it.

Don't remember much of what I wrote, all I remember thinking is...Uncle Billy reminds me of what a cross between Joe Biden and Barney Frank would be like.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Fountainhead" is a much better read than "Atlas Shrugged", but all in all I find Ayn Rand's efforts admirable yet boring and rather stilted.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As a New York resident from the early '70s to the mid-'80s I have to say that Guiliani had very little to do with the city losing its edginess. It was creeping, unrelenting gentrification that turned the city into the up-scale shopping cart it is now. I saw neighborhood after neighborhood obliterated by the giant hand of gentrification. People who had lived in their neighborhoods for generations and who owned fine small businesses were driven out by the real estate sharks and their money-clutching clients. The places I'm thinking of were, in their day, like small Bedford Falls-like villages, Now they're very expensive Pottersvilles.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Did Mr. Potter also have a wonderful life? If he had never existed, would this banker with a heart have frittered away the capital of the townspeople? Did Mr. Potter make it possible for a town with a healthy economy to rescue Bailey's bank?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sometimes people want to leave Pottersville -- enough New Yorkers did 20 years ago when they elected Rudy Giulani followed by nanny-state scold Michael Bloomberg, who might be the definite anti-libertarian, but at the same time his puritanical views made him loathe to return to the squalor of the Dinkins years.

The problem -- both there and now in the nation as a whole -- is there are both too many people not old enough to remember the conditions of Pottersville New York, and are willing to listen to those who actually long for its return and/or say there's nothing that can be done or should even be attempted to recreate Bedford Falls out of Pottersville.

The result is voters in New York who don't see anything wrong with loosening the rules under a Mayor de Blasio, or those nationally who rationalize that no matter how bad things are under Obama, you can't even think about electing a Republican Senate in 2014 or a GOPer as president in 2016, because that would make life as horrific in the nation as they saw places like Times Square in New York becoming after Giuliani replaced Dinkins in 1994 (and, yes, they do see Rudy taking away the city's Pottersville-like 'edginess' as a huge negative for New York).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Somehow, I don't think crime would be a problem in Pottersville. Crime is bad for business.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You've never seen the movie, LOL
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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