Christmas, at its base, is the celebration of an act of higher creative spiritual power that seeks to unite us all in a miraculously beneficial possibility. It’s a classic of the medieval past that we look upon with nostalgia, here in the twentieth century
The classics of the more recent past – black and white movies – for me, are represented by an 80s Saskatchewan TV station. On Sunday afternoons, it aired great black and white classics like The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms or It Came from Outer Space or The Day the Earth Stood Still.
In conjunction with this were the stars of these movies. I was particularly fond of James Stewart. A principle point of Jimmy’s work is his movies with Frank Capra as director: You Can’t Take it With You, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Christmas is the most common association with It’s a Wonderful Life, since the story happens during Christmas, and it runs on TV during the Christmas season like the Grinch, or Charlie Brown and Linus. Jimmy Stewart fighting for Bedford Falls is as essential as the ballad for the dignity of a mutant reindeer.
It’s a Wonderful Life was released post-WWII in the later 1940s, just prior to the Red Scare when America turned dark and inward. Black and white film came up with noir, a way of seeing in film a darker world that was always there. Capra gives us a story of a decent, hard-working guy finally driven far enough to think about ending it all.
What does heaven see fit to send to the aid of poor, desperate George Bailey? A glorious, young Charlton Heston who will part the Red Sea straight to the bank and dump old man Potter out of his wheelchair? Hell no. George gets some poor doddering old fart ordering 17th century drinks. Why? George needs to hold the hand of someone else to keep his head above water. As much as he’s begged God to free him to roam the world, people look up to him and need him in Bedford Falls, regardless if he has not a clue as to why that may be.
It’s a Wonderful Life was stuck without copyright control in the mists of television history so everyone had easy, free holiday programming and generational audiences beyond whatever could have been dreamt of by Mr. Capra. God ended up liking that movie. There’s a universal benefit to making sure George Bailey gets back to his family and that angels get their wings.
Reinhardt lives in Boyle Street with his wife Keri Breckenridge and will be a guest columnist for a few issues.