Wednesday, December 07, 2005
it's a wonderful film
Is there anyone out there that’s not familiar with George Bailey? You , in the back there with your hand up. Have you been living in a cave? Well, pass the remote to Osama and come out of the underground so I can fill you in. One of the greatest films that surrounds the Christmas season is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” staring (one of my favorites) Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. A wonderfully unique story, it was originally sent out in Christmas cards under the title “The Greatest Gift” to the friends of Philip Van Doren Stern who wrote the short story the film is based on. Eventually “The Christmas Gift” made it’s way to somebody who knew someone else who worked in films and thought it would make a great screenplay. Well, it didn’t work out for that someone but it did manage to somehow float into the hands of Frank Capra who immediately loved the idea and formed it into what we now know today as “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The story begins with a conversation in the heavens between angelic entities (one is voiced by Moroni Olsen who was an extra in most all the movies of that era) about a severely troubled George Bailey on the verge of leaping from a bridge for, as of yet, an unknown reason. Clarence the angel is called upon to take on the task of rendering aid to Mr. Bailey and is given a recap of George’s life from youth to the very dark present moment. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that he is the All-American boy. He’s a fun loving character who doesn’t fear romance or doing what’s right. To top it off, he’s got a heart of pure gold and would endure almost any hardship to grant someone else just a little more happiness in their life. We watch George as a youth dreaming of far away places and great adventures and as a young adult falling in love with Mary played by the beautiful Donna Reed. Throughout this instant replay of his existence, we see Mr. Bailey time and time again sacrifice his dreams and comfort for the benefit of others. He experiences several hardships and eventually gets to the point where he is ready to end his life for the benefit (so he thinks) of his family and townsfolk. This is where Clarence (played by Henry Travers) steps in. While explaining to George that he is his Guardian Angel, an idea pops into his head. Mr. Bailey off-handedly says ,” I wish I’d never been born.” Clarence then proceeds to take George Bailey on a “Christmas Carol-esque” adventure showing him what things would be like if he were to get his wish. Needless to say there is a happy ending and a Christmas classic is born. Capra does an outstanding job of directing his cast who all do wonderful jobs themselves. Stewart puts on a stellar performance and Donna Reed establishes a career with what some would consider her breakout role. I’ll tell ya’ Shelfers, I remember this being on T.V. every year over and over again much the way “A Christmas Story” is done today. The film was synonymous with the season and many a joke was made of it’s frequent showing on network television to the point of redundancy. As a youth, I was more interested in Rankin/Bass Christmas fare and preferred Whoville to Bedford Falls (George Bailey’s home town for those not in the know). Once I reached young adult age and into adulthood, the airtime this classic received was scaled back drastically making way for made-for-T.V. movies staring pop singers and Mickey Mouse Club alumnus. (Excuse me a moment whilst I dry-heave.) Recently though, as I’ve grown older and more nostalgic, it has become a personal favorite. Just a week ago, I popped it into the DVD player and watched it with my wife who had never seen it and had barely heard of it. For some odd reason Shelfers, the film struck me more than it ever has. I don’t know what it was, but I was drawn to the story more fervently and found some deeply emotional connection to the character of George Bailey. At risk of sounding a little egotistical, I consider myself to be the George Bailey type. I enjoy helping my friends, sometimes to my own detriment. I tend to express my care for them by putting myself on the line leaving myself open to misfortune and derision so that they experience no discomfort. I’ve got my own dreams of “sky’s the limit” adventure and world greatness. They’re mostly daydreams, but some could’ve been reality. Yet in the similitude of Mr. Bailey, I gave them up for things like responsibility and family. Don’t get me wrong now. I did it by choice. I have the respect of my co-workers and relatives and things seem to be fine in general, but just like ole’ George Bailey I’ve put myself on the line for others one too many times, or so it seems. Thoughts of regret for chances past have crept in and passing feelings of “will it ever get easier” whisk through my brain bucket once in a while. Like George I’ve had breaking moments (all too often, honestly) where I’ve allowed the stress of life and work cause me to be unfairly gruff to those closest to me. I’ve had private, tearful moments of self-disappointment and self-discovery. It doesn’t quite appear thus at first, but I am most certainly George Bailey. Shelfers, WE are George Bailey. If you watch the movie half-heartedly, you see George Bailey the wonderful man who has a rare moment of weakness and depression causing his guardian angel to show him what he could be missing. It’s not that way at all. You see, George Bailey is the average Joe. He has dreams, he has love, he has ideals, a heart, and most importantly he has trials. We’ve all been daydreamers at some point with spurts of naïve idealism (some more than others). If you truly think about it, I’m sure you can recall a moment or two when you cared to a fault or listened to your heart when you should’ve heard your mind. This is also George Bailey. Looking at the movie a little deeper you see George start off great, but as the years go by the more he puts others before self and his philanthropy and trust backfire. This all mounts up to create a cynical George Bailey who regrets his kindness and feels like a dope which brings him to a key moment in his life. He must decide to get back up and keep swinging or lie on his back and wait for the ref to call the fight. This is where we the people and the great Mr. Bailey part ways. Too many of us choose to lie on our backs when hit with reality’s upper-cut. With a little help from his guardian angel, George got up. I know it’s hard to continue to get up when you’re knocked down so much. But resilience is the key. All too often we let the world and general negativity kill our kindness and hopeful spirits. When that happens too much and we don’t fight back, we go from Mr. Bailey to Mr. Grinch. There are things we can do though. As in boxing, you’re going to take hits. It’s inevitable. When you care for people, you’re going to make unwise decisions and you’re going to get hurt. But just as you can duck a punch, you can avoid making silly mistakes and still care. I’ve learned that in order to remain hopeful and idealistic, I have to draw the line sometimes because though the cause may be worthy, you can’t put yourself in a harmful position. Another way to resuscitate our inner Bailey was taught to me by a friend and one-time mentor who told me that the key to sanity and steadiness is a regular self-inventory. I regret that I have not really put his advice into action ‘cause he’s right. If we remember to give ourselves a regular self check-up through introspection and quiet personal discovery we stand a better chance at having balance and normalcy. We need to see what George Bailey saw. We need to know that no matter what, it could be worse. Though our world can be tougher than his, if we can be resilient and take a moment for personal reflection in our lives we can make it through. We can once again find that inner George. I’m somewhat of a religious man and believe that if we proceed with caution and the help of our Maker, we can still be a little naïve and a little vulnerable. Life doesn’t have to be cold and depressing and we can be thankful for what we have. As George Bailey found out, it truly is a wonderful life. Life itself is most certainly a great gift. It’s perfectly fine to daydream and want more, but appreciation for the blessings we already have is truly the spirit of George Bailey. How wonderful life truly would be if we would all succeed in this endeavor. Trust me folks. I know negativity. Without exposing myself, I’ll say I’m surrounded by the worst life has to offer every day with my job. I absorb as much and probably more negativity than most. I know it’s hard to stay positive and innocent about life, but at the same time I am also faced with my mortality every day at work as well. This causes me to ponder my blessings more than I might otherwise. Even in the pool of negativity I am saved from drowning just by the glimmer of hope I get from recognizing what blessings I do have which keep me afloat. My desire this season is for all of us to find our glimmer and join George Bailey in his happy world. After all, I think Bedford Falls would be the perfect place to raise a family. Don’t you agree?
Please feel free to comment if the need strikes you.
Say, that's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary