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Archive for December 24th, 2012

by Joel Bocko

If there’s a more American film than It’s a Wonderful Life, and a more American hero than George Bailey, I don’t know it. No other film more comprehensively or powerfully captures the common American experience between the wars – that is to say, between Armistice Day and V-J Day – and no other film creates a richer dialogue between the dreams and ambitions that motivate us (then and now), the comforts and camaraderie that soothe us (perhaps then more than now), and the responsibilities and burdens we feel toward our families and communities (now more essentially than ever). It is timeless but it is also very, very much focused on its own time (or rather, a time just passed), a quality that gives It’s a Wonderful Life tremendous strength rather than dating it. By featuring popular songs and political references, by tying the daily life of Bedford Falls into the greater drama of the nation, it provides us with a moving portrait of our parents’ or grandparents’ experience; by not being afraid to situate itself in a particular moment in history, the movie shows us the universal in the particular. Besides, It’s a Wonderful Life has never been timelier, maybe not even when it was released, amidst a postwar era waving goodbye (and good riddance – no wonder the film struggled at the box office) to the years depicted onscreen.

Indeed, while it represents a generally darker, grittier strain than was apparent in most thirties films, It’s a Wonderful Life functions more as a culmination of one Hollywood epoch than the introduction to a new one. Its ensemble cast, its determinedly studio-created world, its dreamy, diffused black-and-white glow, all hearken back to the golden age of Hollywood which was starting to come to an end. Within a few years, techniques like location shooting, stylistic developments associated with noir and naturalism,  looser acting styles imported from New York, and outside circumstances like the HUAC hearings and the breakup of the studio monopoly would all contribute to a noticeable shift in American movie style and content. These trends would escalate with the increasing use of color and the introduction of widescreen, facilitating an increase in lavish epics to compete with television (ironically, the medium that would eventually make It’s a Wonderful Life the classic it remains today). Before long, the kind of film It’s a Wonderful Life represented – focused in scope, indulgent of character, romantic in its emotional content yet realistic in its sensitive observations of social dynamics – would be more or less extinct.

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by Sam Juliano

As we approach Christmas Day 2012, many of us with faith and optimism can look ahead to a much better year than the past one has yielded.  While we at WitD feel the right candidate won the presidential election and the movies were generally better this year than they were in 2011, the past twelve months brought us far more tragedy than any any year since the 9-11 attacks over a decade ago.  Hurricane Sandy inflicted massive damage and human loss, the movie theatre killings in Aurora, Colorado, shocked and traumatized a nation, and just a little over a week ago an unspeakable act of depravity at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has darkened the holiday season, broke so many hearts, and left many of us feeling guilty for going on with our lives.  We must go on of course, and we need to stress the positive and think of all the lovely people we know and interact with, and the knowledge that the vast majority of people are good, loving and supportive.  The week’s wrenching funerals in Connecticut have affected so many of us, and while we move forward with our plans, hobbies and interests we do it with the heaviest hearts, knowing that others not so fortunate will be grieving for the rest of their lives, with their babies taken from them.  As I stated on last week’s MMD, everything we do is meaningless in the wake of this most horrifying of deeds.  I want to again thank the site’s own angel, Dee Dee, for posting the sidebar link on a way to show support for those who survived this unconscionable terror.

The site’s long-running comedy countdown concluded this past week in triumphant form, with some of the finest essays of the 20 week venture appearing appropriately enough right before the final bell.  For the second year in a row Wonders in the Dark hosted a highly-successful community project that attracted some of the best film writers out there, and some of those scribe’s finest work.  First of all I want to thank Maurizio Roca for his painstaking efforts in compiling and posting the weekly voter placement scrolls that appeared at the end of each individual review.  This was a massive undertaking, and was sustained for well over four months.  Richard R.D. Finch, one of the net’s finest writers, was incredibly supportive, and typically posted some of the most insightful comments day after day, usually in the very first spot after the review appeared.  Jon Warner didn’t miss a single post, and as always his contributions were astute, informative and enthusiastic.  Several others were there nearly every day and each have been invaluable at this site from Day One: Judy Geater, Pierre de Plume, Pat Perry, Dennis Polifroni, Frank Gallo, Sachin Gandhi, Peter M. and Shubhajit Lahiri.  The writers of course gave this countdown some of the most exceptional writing an analysis the site has ever hosted and posted, and each one should be applauded: Jon Warner, Pat Perry, Judy Geater, Richard R.D. Finch, Ed Howard, John Greco, Tony d’Ambra, Brandie Ashe, Allan Fish, Mark Smith, Marilyn Ferdinand, Sachin Gandhi, Roderick Heath, Joel Bocko, Allan Fish, Shubhajit Lahiri, Maurizio Roca, Jamie Uhler, Pedro Silva, J.D. LaFrance, Dean Treadway, Jaimie Grijalba, David Schleicher, Jim Clark, Samuel Wilson and Bob Clark.  I also want to offer my deepest gratitude to my dear friends Laurie Buchanan, David Noack and Frederick for their impassioned support for my own writings on the countdown.  Needless to say Dee Dee was there a number of times as well to offer insights, support and vital technical assistance. (more…)

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