It’s a Wonderful Life. It Really Is

Here’s something I wrote for The Culture Vulture about It’s a Wonderful Life

I just found out that the Hyde Park Picture House is screening It’s a Wonderful Life just ahead of Christmas again. I assume it’s an annual thing but, as with so many things in Leeds, I’ve only really discovered it recently. In fact I had never seen the film until last year when I was dragged along to the Picture House just before Christmas simply because I had nothing better to do. I’m so glad I did because the next 3 hours were one of my highlights of the entire year. And this is why I think YOU should spend 130 minutes of your valuable time sitting in the dark with hundreds of strangers watching a 66-year old film…

When I sat down last December I didn’t know anything about the film, I had a vague feeling it was about Christmas, possibly in black and white and that was about it. I had no idea who Jimmy Stewart or Frank Capra were and mainly I was slightly annoyed I was at the cinema watching some old film when I could be at the pub.

Maybe my complete lack of any sort of expectations or knowledge contributed to huge amount of enjoyment that followed.

This might sound like utterly sentimental hyperbole but it may be that it was almost a perfect cinema experience, a packed but respectful audience, beautiful venue and just a completely brilliant, warm, inspirational, life-affirming story, perfectly acted. James Stewart was one of the most charming screen presences I had ever seen. And to top it all off there was a spontaneous round of applause at the end.

I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who is as clueless as I was (I really think that all films are better if you’ve got very little idea about what’s going to happen), but I think this brief synopsis is a good introduction without giving too much away (thanks Wikipedia):

Released in 1946, the film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others, and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community would be had he never been born.

Since last December I have gone out and tracked down a load of other Stewart/Capra work, Mr Smith Goes to Washington is equally as brilliant and you can see pre-echoes of some of the themes of It’s a Wonderful Life in You Can’t Take it With You. I don’t think you could get away with that kind of film-making any more, its naivety is its brilliance, they are so utterly charming.

So, go along, whether you’ve seen it hundreds of times or have never even heard of it, there is something special about seeing a film in the way it was intended to be seen, i.e. in a cinema, properly projected, with an audience. And this is a special film. Where better to see it than at one of the best cinemas in the country?

I’ll be there, I think it may become a Christmas tradition.

Oh and you’ll probably cry. In a good way. I did.

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