It’s A Wonderful Life

Annie Jung discusses her first viewing of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Bonus! Colleen Fiore, aka Fussy Film, relays how the 1946 movie played to her classroom full of high school students.

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Talking Heads:

host: James David Patrick (@007hertzrumble)
guest: Annie Jung (@WalkerPinkLabel)
guest: Colleen Fiore (@FussyFilm)

angel: Eric Jones (@deacon05oc)

Music Contained in this Podcast:

Preacher Boy – “Shamedown” <– Support our house musician

Ólafur Arnalds – “Memory”

Recorded in December 2020. Copyrights are owned by the artists and their labels. Negative dollars are made from this podcast.


So…. 2014, Shame in Review

I watched some movies in 2014. No really, I did. Quite a few actually. My profile on Letterboxd suggests I watched 154 movies, not counting the ones I forgot to tag. Of course there were some rewatches and Bond movies that factored into that total. Some of those 154 were downright SHAMEFUL. For the inaugural year of Cinema Shame, I didn’t hit the dirty dozen exactly, though I did watch The Dirty Dozen for the first time.

Here’s my initial list, posted at the end of January:

January: Ben Hur (1959)

February: BURT! Deliverance (1972) and The Longest Yard (1974)

March: Rashomon (1950)

April: Ride the High Country (1962) (swapped out for The Birds (1963))

May: Godzilla (1954)

June: The Dirty Dozen (1967)

July: City Lights (1931)

August: Barry Lyndon (1975)

September: Deer Hunter (1978)

October: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (swapped out for 30 days of Halloween Shame that somehow didn’t include the Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

November: Cabaret (1972)

…and last and perhaps the most shameful of all…

December: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Shame: I didn’t watch The Deer Hunter. Penitence: I will watch The Deer Hunter in 2015.

Shame: I didn’t watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Penitence: I will watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2015.

Shame: I didn’t write up full blog posts for It’s A Wonderful Life, Cabaret, Barry Lyndon or The Dirty Dozen. Penitence: Now!

So Barry Lyndon is slow… really…. really slow.

barry lyndon candlelight

Holy shit is this movie a slog. Like Molasses in January… in Alaska… if Elsa got f’ing pissed.

Due to my schedule I had to break up this Kubrick classic into four different sittings. Despite the pace, I didn’t dislike Barry Lyndon. I’m intrigued/mortified/confused/bewildered/fascinated by Barry Lyndon. I also have no desire to rewatch Barry Lyndon anytime soon, though I’m also curiously drawn back to it. Watching the film is akin to sitting before a painter’s canvas perpetually in motion. I had to do a quick search to reveal why Lyndon appeared so extraordinary beyond the face value of the sunning composition from cinematographer John Alcott. From Wikipedia:

Most notably, interior scenes were shot with a specially adapted high-speed f/0.7 Zeiss camera lens originally developed for NASA to be used in satellite photography. The lenses allowed many scenes to be lit only with candlelight, creating two-dimensional, diffused-light images reminiscent of 18th-century paintings.[76] Cinematographer Allen Daviau says that it gives the audience a way of seeing the characters and scenes as they would have been seen by people at the time.

But beyond the cinematography and innovative lighting/camerawork how or what makes Lyndon a classic? Aye. This is the real challenge.

It occurs to me that maybe that’s just it — Barry Lyndon is Kubrick’s challenge to viewers that resist weighing form, composition, color, light, music, mood, feel and other intangibles when considering the value of these “moving pictures.” Film is a visual medium, enhanced by music and sound and dialogue. The origin of all cinema is the silent image. What if Barry Lyndon is the talkie that aspires to render talk and complex narrative irrelevant? Kubrick wanted to turn back the clock to a time before the silent The Great Train Robbery perhaps? What do we gain from the dialogue? I can think of nothing important conveyed throughout the entire 3-hour run-time that originated from the lips of any character, Ryan O’Neal or otherwise.

There’s also strikingly little character development, melodrama or emotional engagement. The character of Barry Lyndon is a bit of a cad, but not egregiously so. He’s at worst a foolish stumblebum, making bad decisions and falling into unfortunate circumstances. This suggests, at the very least, a reading that leans on Nietzsche’s philosophy on “Slave and Master Morality” that suggests that the Will to Power is the exploitation of the sentimental weaknesses of equality among people. I’d go boldly down this path if A) I had time to rewatch Barry Lyndon all in one sitting and B) had studied Nietzsche for more than a collegiate millisecond. Since this is a blog of offhand thoughts, I feel this superficial connection is completely justified. I will now move on and you can call shenanigans all you like.

So It’s A Wonderful Life is truly wonderful, but castrated by popular culture


Of all the films I watched for this Cinema Shame project, I proclaimed It’s A Wonderful Life to be the most egregious oversight. True. But I hadn’t watched it to date despite my affection for Jimmy Stewart because I felt that it was impossible to approach the film fairly. Our culture has mindlessly regurgitated the morals and mantras of IAWL through satire, earnest homage and gross sentimentality. What’s left for the first time viewer to discover? I’m happy to finally have enjoyed a firsthand viewing of Frank Capra’s Christmas staple, but I’ll need at least another viewing to fully dissipate preconception. My cockles were duly warmed, however. Maybe I’ll reserve a spot for it among The Ref, The Shop Around the Corner and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in my 2015 Christmas viewing rituals.

So Cabaret features a lot of Germans

cabaret liza

It’s the Liza! and Joel Gray show! Starring Liza! and Joel Gray! CABARET was far more than just “Fosse.” CABARET was a heap of extraordinary character and music and garters and m’f’ing Nazis. The best Nazi-musical since Springtime for Hitler. If I’m being completely honest, I had no idea that Cabaret had anything to do with World War II. Funny, right? Anyway, I loved Cabaret and hope to revisit the film soon.

So The Dirty Dozen is like Ocean’s Eleven + 1 with bigger guns

the dirty dozen

…or more precisely: Ocean’s Eleven + 1 x Lee Marvin – happy-time ending.

Born in the “Golden Fleece” tradition of the 60’s and 70’s, The Dirty Dozen falls under the specific category of “Epic” Fleece along with, say, Seven Samurai and even Star Wars. Succinctly the “Golden Fleece” sub-genre requires a team gathered to acquire or fight for a common goal/item. Enter a dozen condemned misfits under the command of a misfit commander (Marvin) heading into German territory on a suicide assassination mission.

The rote assortment of cliched/immobile archetypes feature some very familiar faces — Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland and Clint Walker. Though little attention is given to each individual, Savalas and Cassavetes garner the most juicy screentime as the respective lunatic and red herring. The most entertaining scene belongs to Donald Sutherland, who manages a bit of good-spirited lunacy.

The knock on many of these “Golden Fleece” films is that the characters rarely have the space to develop or change. Obviously, the audience doesn’t require a dozen meaningful character arcs, but they do require some change, some obstacle. And while the obstacle always looms somewhere off in the distance — we know that they will eventually come to meet the damn Germans — the film lacked a precise presence of villainy. At first it’s the damn bureaucrats (Ernest Borgnine)… and then it’s each other… and then it’s some other damn bureaucrats (Rex Ryan)… and then it’s the Germans… and then based on the pattern, presumably some more damn bureaucrats.

I believe that the shifting focus could have been overlooked had Character with a capital “C” been honored in order to pay  greater dividends upon the film’s finale. I enjoyed The Dirty Dozen greatly, but the enjoyment remained superficial. I just expected something else, something to pay it all off before the credits rolled… something more akin to The Wild Bunch.

A few random notes:

1. Was anymore more badass than Charles Bronson? He lays out John Cassavetes with little more than a steely gaze and a flick of his will. Lee Marvin’s the star here, clearly, but Charles Bronson owns every scene in which he appears.

2. I had no idea of the breadth of Robert Aldrich’s filmography. He’s a director that seems obscured the films he directed. The Longest Yard. The Dirty Dozen. Kiss Me Deadly. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. Hell, he even directed The Frisco Kid and 4 For Texas. Of all of those titles I only ever associated him with Kiss Me Deadly. 

3. On to 2015, Shamers.

Christmas in July – Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”


A white boy named Clarence? Drexl from True Romance would have words to say about that.

Saying “Merry Christmas!” to buildings? A state-appointed psychiatrist would have words to say about that.

Ah, humbug!


Just kidding. I loved It’s a Wonderful Life.

There’s a stigma around holiday films, and as traditions build and the years go on, it’s easy to rag on usually the most saccharin of them all: the Christmas Movie. I admit, I’ve never been a fan. Unless you consider Die Hard a Christmas movie; I do, and it’s become almost overexposed how many people throw that around these days. (I was here before The Office‘s Michael Scott referenced it! I was saying it before Die Hard for the National Film Registry‘s twitter! I’m so cool.) It’s funny, one of my favorite movies of all time has become a holiday film also – Steven Spielberg’s Jaws – a mainstay of any Independence Day celebration for me. So, not all holiday films are bad, just because they evoke a time of year. It’s just Christmas movies, often with their message of family values and helping the poor and all the humane things we should strive for as denizens of this planet…that just makes people sick to their goddamn stomaches.

I admit, this is why I’ve avoided It’s a Wonderful Life for 31 years. The most I’ve ever seen was Jimmy Stewart running through snowy streets, yelling “Merry Christmas!” at buildings, and maybe winking up at his ceiling, holding his family close. Seemed like some old-time, kumbaya shit to me. Sometime when I was a teen, I heard the movie was actually about suicide. What a crock. Was that a way to get teenagers to watch it? To get them to turn off the Sabbath records for 2 hours and give it a try? What Christian town did I grow up in?

It’s a Wonderful Life was on television all the time, when I was a kid; certainly around Christmas, but at least 4 or 5 other times during the year too. It’s always been that experience I knew I should have but always ran away from. It’s my sister’s favorite movie; that could’ve helped scare me away too. What I’m driving at is, I was a stupid, stupid, anti-establishment punk, poser kid.

itsPartly because it’s July and partly because the film doesn’t tip its hand too far about Christmas in the first 2 acts, I didn’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life as a Christmas movie. And, I think that was an excellent mindset going in. It didn’t have baggage and aesthetic cues I was searching for. It wasn’t until the day the money went missing, in fact, and seeing the snow on the streets and the Christmas tree in George Bailey’s house that the holiday time period registered. Watching it as a film alone, a lot hit home for me. A boy trying to do good by his neighbors, boss and community. A man trying to strike out on his own, away from the family business, and do what makes him happy. The desire to continue the family name in hard times. Making sacrifices to keep a community and his family strong. These are all the ideas that swamped me as a young man: fierce independence, wanting to travel, wanting to not be locked down by career or family. Even as an adult, I admire George Bailey as an early 20-something, an open future completely sprawled ahead of him.

The film’s message of sacrifice and hope aren’t lost on me. It’s a romantic, pleasant film with great performances from Stewart, Reed and all supporting players. It fits perfectly as a Christmas movie too. Help the community and the community will help you. It has a lot of good things to say about small town folk, and quite a few bad things to say about the rich moneymen. (Maybe another Eastern bank allegory like The Wizard of Oz?) It’s so apparent how many films take an anti-capitalist stance in the wake of the Great Depression; it’s partly to thank for how I was educated on the topic growing up. The Christmas Carol sequence with Clarence, the soon-to-be angel, showing Bailey what life could be like without him was the only aspect I really knew about the film before I saw it. In the end, as fiercely independent as Bailey is, regretting the course his life has taken, his nightmare “sobers” him to another reality: conformity. The message works fine for the time, 1946, and great for the holiday, Christmas, but it has a mixed result on me decades later.

Rather, I like to see It’s a Wonderful Life as a historical item; the result of depression and war, and a glimpse at the beckoning baby-boomers and materialism of the 1950s. The film is All-American, about fitting in, down to its core. There’s a lot to love, but The Parallax View is nowhere to be seen here.

Also, this is the one and only Frank Capra film I’ve ever seen. Might have to consider that for Auteur Cinema Shame next year…

1. Some Like It Hot (1959)
2. Persona (1966)
3. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
4. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
5. The Searchers (1956)
6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
7. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
8. Breathless (1960)
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) / Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
10. It Happened One Night (1934) / His Girl Friday (1940)
11. Sabrina (1954)
12. Hell in the Pacific (1968)