Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life -- (1946)

I’ve never seen a Frank Capra film. 

Yes, I know. Lynch me. Hang me. Call the police. In the film world, it’s essentially akin to sacrilege and appropriately, I deserve death. However, as of this Christmas, that has changed. Before I launch into my full-fledged review, I need to take an aside and properly explain this website and its ultimate purpose. 
I’m a young, aspiring screenwriter who, like many in this drafty economy, cannot afford film school. With little cash but massive passion, I am trying to not only recreate film school but further my education by watching—well—everything. I’ll read every screenplay, which I’ve mostly done. I’ll talk about my experiences, though they’ll be veiled and somewhat secretive, as I am already working within the industry. And finally, I’ll review everything. Old, recent, this will be an honest template for reviews, thoughts, and mainly a collection of my experiences with the masters of old—and considering the current state of cinema, perhaps even now. As previously stated, there will be reviews, retrospectives, and orgasmic flairs of literature as I discover new voices and talents that I had not dared look at before.

It’s been done before, of course, and likely much better. However, the personal touch of this blog—the raw opening of having never seen so many pictures—will hopefully lure a select few to occasionally read. 

And that—somewhat terribly—brings me to Frank Capra. The magician (isn’t every filmmaker?). I’d never seen a film of his—which is terrible to admit, especially writing a few films in the vein of his work—and tonight, on the official launching post of this blog, I’m reviewing perhaps his most popular work… It’s a Wonderful Life.

First, this is a terrific picture. While I’m only admitting what every other review has ever admitted, I was particularly struck by Capra’s smooth directorial style. Every choice in Wonderful Life is made with careful precision, either focusing on James Stewart—who is simply sensational as George Bailey—or simply letting the camera tell the story. Stewart is clearly the main attraction here, as is the story. In fact, I was stunned by how little the story actually matters, at least at first.

Capra is able to actually let us feel George and his plight. He is constantly stopped from flying the nest and is instead destined for a small town life. James Stewart is constantly ripping our hearts apart – his facial expressions, the beautiful close-up toward the end that is masterful in its depiction of horror… frankly, I was more than impressed. Like so many others have told me before, I was kicking myself—as I will kick myself many times over the course of this blog—for not having seen it previously.

In the film’s penultimate scene—at least, my favorite scene of the film, I should say – George Bailey arrives home in contempt and anger. He has once again been stupefied by life and more appropriately been disappointed by it. In fact, to take an aside here, I would say the picture is about the value of one’s life. Do we ever truly value what we have, when we have it? Do we ever look around and appreciate our surroundings? Bailey is akin to a blind bat—he’s flying around the in darkness, fumbling for a little something called happiness, and when the lights finally turn on in the third act, he wants nothing more than for them to shut off again. It’s emotionally charged writing, but performance driven as well. James Stewart is the anchor for Capra to move his camera around. Heck, Stewart could practically stand there and look handsome, but he is an actor, and like very few before him and after him, he attaches himself to the audience and dares them to come along.

However, back to the scene in which Stewart truly shows his charisma and depth as a star of motion pictures. He enters the room, which is lit beautifully by Joseph Walker, and casually sees an old drawing Mary, his wife, played convincingly by Donna Reed made. He is so moved—or at least I believed he was moved—that he slides into bed, awakens his wife, and stares into her eyes. It harkens back to another scene in which Capra executes their romance in an even more cinematic way—while talking, George and Mary move closer and closer together, finally kissing and embracing. In fewer words, it’s the closest to a filmmaker can reach to being an actual author of film.

While this is the first of Frank Capra’s extensive filmography that I’ve seen, this has only fueled my engine for more. I love Capra’s fluid camera. I appreciate his commonality with actors—evident in every frame and scene. In totality, I appreciate his work, and when a film is finished, that is all a filmmaker can ask for. 

Next: Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai—the epic that launched a thousand and one spin-offs, and one really terrific Western.

No comments:

Post a Comment