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.

Hand-made Christmas

I don’t know whether it’s the fact that everyone thinks they’ve got no money, or a strange longing for a bygone age (that never existed) when everything was handmade and lovely but there seems to have been a bit of an explosion in people pushing the virtues of making things yourself. Of course this could be an age-old phenomenon that I’ve just managed to miss until now – which is the most likely explanation.

As anyone who has followed this blog for a little while now may have guessed, I like doing stuff myself, I like making things. I like the process probably as much as the accomplishment of the end product. My aborted attempts at an indoor garden earlier in the year were thwarted only by a poor choice in soil (which resulted in a swarm of fungus gnats) rather than a change of heart or the onset of boredom. I am a firm, and I have been told maddening, believer in ‘I can probably do that’. And for the most part, I probably can.

However I did get slightly annoyed/bemused by something I saw on TV last week, ‘Kirsty’s Homemade Christmas’. The premise being that Kirsty (of ‘Location, Location, Location’ fame) makes handmade gifts and Christmas things and generally sticks it to the man (albeit in a very middle class way) and saves some money along the way. However it seemed to me that the resulting programme was either the most hilariously naive or cringe-worthyly-targeted thing possible. One episode saw Kirsty making her own baubles – lovely – however, here’s the catch, she was making them from blown glass. I don’t know how many people have the aparatus to do this at home, I know I don’t. We were helpfully informed that there were ‘courses available’ that would allow you to do this…but I can’t imagine that they’re cheap. The other episode that I caught had a similarly extravagant approach to crackers, with yards of expensive fabric and ribbons being employed. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem at all with the idea of making your own gifts etc, in fact I think it’s a great idea that should be applauded and promoted wherever possible, however it seemed to me that there were far more straight-forward ways of accomplishing some of the tasks addressed by the programme. Or maybe I’m just being curmudgeonly and it was, in fact, lovely festive fun.

On the opposite end of the scale, for me, was River Cottage Christmas. Now I must admit, I bloody love Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I admire his approach to food and am frankly envious of the life that, tv leads me to believe, he leads. This programme, again extolling the virtues of making your own gifts, seemed to take a slightly more basic and realistic tone, no courses were pushed and you didn’t need to buy any particularly ridiculous ingredients. Much better. I then spent the rest of the weekend baking and cooking (which I had forgotten, is incredibly theraputic).

To cap off this weekend of festive diy I popped along to a craft fair at the Brudenell Social Club to see a stall being hosted by the lovely Cam, twoducksdisco and his fair lady friend, Sarah, Many Nice Things. You can read a bit about their stall on Cam’s blog, here; Again this just summed up my view that handmade is best made with love, care and attention. You don’t need your own glass-blowing furnace, hilariously expensive chocolate and enough velvet to coat your house.

Talking of handmade with love, care and attention.
Bon Iver-Flume