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Confessional 4: It’s a Wonderful Life

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

 I have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. What’s more, I am proud that I have never seen this movie, and if I have anything to say about it, I never will see it. Ever. I feel this way for exactly the same reason that I hate Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and even The Santa Clause: I have a permanent grudge against Christmas. I grew up as one of two Jewish kids in my entire class, and as one of only a handful in my school. The month of December (and shit, November and January as well) were filled with songs, movies, TV shows, foods, commercials, toys, and decorations that all had to do with something with which I was uninvolved. I was brought to the front of the class every year by a teacher who would say “Boys and Girls, one of us doesn’t celebrate Christmas! Let’s get him up here to talk about HIS holiday!” In other words, for two to three months every year, I was labeled at every turn, and in every way, as different, at a time of life when to be different was the very worst crime imaginable. As I grew older, my distaste for the Christmas season turned into a general (and intense) dislike for the holiday itself, and everything that went along with that. It’s a Wonderful Life might be a classic, and it very well could be a good movie, but it is also seen as the quintessential Christmas movie. It’s shown dozens of times during that time of year, and I know that people everywhere include it as part of their Christmas tradition. Well good for them. But to me, it is yet another reminder of a holiday that shoves itself down my throat every year, even though I just want to be left alone. I will watch It’s a Wonderful Life the same day that I put on elf ears, drink egg nog, and put a tree up in my home. In other words…don’t hold your breath. Rebuttal: It’s all about the populism By Robert Wambold, special to CC2k I used to have a thing against It’s a Wonderful Life too, but it had to do with family brainwashing more than anti-Christmas fervor. (My Libertarian father always said that George Bailey was the first Savings and Loan crook.) Anyways, I finally rented it one summer with the intention of rippiing it apart. I had thought that the movie revolved around an angel named Clarence who comes back and shows a regular guy what would have happened if he didn’t exist. Basically, a slightly different version of Heaven Can Wait. My presumption was wrong. The movie runs a little over two hours and we only really deal with Clarence for the last thirty-five minutes. The rest of the movie is your typical Capra populism–you know you’re being manipulated but you still get cold-cocked into crying your eyes out and calling your mother. It’s a story about a dreamer who always wanted to leave his small town but something always got in the way, e.g. falling in love, keeping the family business and thus the small town afloat. Basically, your heart breaks for this guy well before Clarence or the spectre of Christmas shows up. When something terrible does happen, this ordinary guy feels that his life is a waste and almost commits suicide. Through his dealings with Clarence, he finds that he is anything but ordinary and the final scene reflects the town’s appreciation for him. What I’m getting at is this…the movie just happens to end at Christmastime and has more to do with common man populism than egg nog and elf ears. It’s like classifying When Harry Met Sally… or The Apartment as “New Year’s Eve movies” just because they happen to end on New Year’s Eve. Granted, NBC has been airing the movie around the holidays for decades, but TV programmers from the 1960s shouldn’t prevent you from seeing a remarkable film that has more in common with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington than A Christmas Story.     That said, I haven’t seen The Seven Samurai. And I’ve rented it 5 times and have owned it on DVD for the last 7 years. Oh, and I’ve seen Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon and loved them. I have no reason save for idiocy as to why I haven’t seen the quintessential Kurosawa movie. Rebuttal: Forget Zuzu’s Petals and go for the triple-dog dare of A Christmas Story By Tony Lazlo, CC2k staff writer Mr. Van Winkle, Do not rent It’s a Wonderful Life. Do rent A Christmas Story. I’m glad that Mr. Wambold responded first, because he recommends the opposite, on the grounds that It’s a Wonderful Life (IAWL) is mostly an exercise in Frank Capra populism. He even outright says that IAWL “has more in common with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington than A Christmas Story.” And indeed, why would I not recommend a movie where the high Christian holiday only plays into the story in the final half hour, as opposed to a movie that has “Christmas” in the title, that focuses all of its energy on Christmas, and which ends on Christmas night? Why? Because you, Mr. Van Winkle, have a sick fucking sense of humor, and so does A Chirstmas Story. Even though I’m not the Godfather expert that Mr. Carmichael is, I will be so bold as to say that A Christmas Story features another great confluence of original material (Jean Sheperd’s short story collection In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash) and director Bob Clark, who brought us Porky’s. But before I praise Clark’s handling of this material, let me defend my choice of this movie over IAWL. Mr. Wambold is right to say that Clarence the angel character (and his Dickensian mindfuck of George Bailey) only plays into the final 30 minutes of IAWL — but IAWL is a deeply religious movie, where no less than God himself actively figures into the storyline, personally informing Clarence in the opening minutes about George’s wish that he had never lived. God then goes on to narrate the rest of the movie, showing Clarence key moments in George’s life (George saving his brother’s life, George preventing the drunk pharmacist from dispensing poison, George curing cancer) and personally instructing him to mindfuck George until he realizes … what a wonderful, wonderful life he had/has, indeed. Zuzu’s petals, everyone! Add in the rousing Christmas party and the chorus of Christmas carols at the end and, well, you get the idea. Clark’s A Christmas Story, by contrast, is about as religious as the Hollywood Scientology center’s Santa Claus display. It’s all about pure, holiday greed, and about how young, otherwise normal kids turn into insane crazypants people every year. And even though the movie takes place at Christmas, shows Christmas trees, shows a Christmas parade and a Christmas dinner, a good chunk of Clark’s movie is pure childhood shenanigans. To wit: A fantasy about going blind from “soap poisoning.”The first time you slip up and swear in front of a parent.A Lone Ranger send-up, complete with Warner Bros cartoon effects.A nail-biting scene where a kid tries to decode a scret message in the bathroom while his little brother pounds on the door, needing to take a shit.A parental fight about a sleazy “major award,” played like it’s King Lear.An ongoing feud between the main family and the hound-dawg breeding hicks next door. The list continues, but I contend that A Christmas Story is worth a look because it’s more about Jean Sheperd’s dry humor than Christmas. The writers use the holiday as a unifying device, but again, they draw on a lot of stories from the original collection (a few of which even got made into other, less-satisfying movies).{mos_sb_discuss:4

Author: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

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