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This was the latest Cottage Road Classic, which I went to see on Wednesday with ms_siobhan, planet_andy and big_daz. The cinema had really gone to town on creating an appropriately festive atmosphere: not only was the film itself a Christmas classic, but they had also put on mulled wine, mince pies and Christmas cake, as well as making sure that the usual prelude of vintage adverts, public information films and cinematic announcements included clips wishing all patrons a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. We weren't wished a Gay 1964 this time, as happened at the December showing last year, but we were apprised of the benefits of smoking Grandee cigars, and of making sure that we took food with us on a day out.

We also enjoyed a ten-minute silent 1920s comedy short about police cars rushing to the aid of a child who had wandered out on a beam balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff. It involved a lot of slap-stick stunts along the lines of cars getting stuck on train tracks, people being repeatedly run over, people trying to clamber onto moving cars, cars falling to bits while people were driving them, and so forth. As far as I could tell, most of this must have been done by using old cars which nobody minded damaging, practising all the timing very, very carefully, and (in the case of running people over) taking advantage of the fact that 1920s cars had quite a high ground clearance, so that you could actually run someone over quite safely as long as you made sure that the wheels went either side of them. It was also obviously filmed at less than 25 frames per second, so that it looked like it was all happening incredibly quickly, which made it all look a lot more alarming than it probably was in real life.

The main feature is obviously a great classic, but I had never seen a single second of it before, so it was all new to me. I enjoyed it, and thought that it did what it was setting out to do very nicely. But I think it can probably only really enchant those who believe quite genuinely and wholeheartedly in the values of small-town American life, complete with the designated roles for women and ethnic minorities which that demands. It reminded me rather of Pleasantville, except without anyone ever turning into colour - which is no surprise, really, given that it idealises the very values which Pleasantville sets up and then deconstructs.

Funnily enough, after having had that thought I was rather surprised today to see on TV a clip from the film in colour, which was not how we saw it on Wednesday. In fact, according to Wikipedia no less than three colourised versions have been produced. It's almost as though people were retrospectively trying to help poor old George Bailey (the hero) finally realise his dreams and escape from drab old Bedford Falls into a better, brighter world after all.

As for me, I was obviously watching it all with too cynical a head on. In particular, I found it next to impossible to swallow the scenes in which George manages to talk his customers out of a bank run, magically acquires a dream house by moving into a run-down wreck in imminent danger of collapse, and is finally saved from financial disaster by everyone from the town coming round and 'chipping in' to cover his partner's absent-minded loss of $8000. I know that the whole point of the film is meant to be about how setting out to help other people rather than exploit them for personal gain brings its own rewards, and that it isn't trying to set out a realistic alternative model for ethical economic prosperity. But I'm afraid I just found myself sitting through those scenes and thinking "Oh, please!"

Still, the clothes were nice, the scene at the dance where everyone ends up jumping into the swimming pool was fun, the crow which randomly lived in the Bailey family's bank was cool, Henry Travers as the angel was lovely (and reminded me quite a lot of Derek Jacobi), and at least I will properly know who people mean when they talk of James (or 'Jimmy') Stewart now, instead of having to just nod and smile vaguely. So I'm glad I went, but I don't think I'm going to be joining the fan-club for this film any time soon.

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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
segh
Dec. 19th, 2010 07:42 am (UTC)
So pleased to read this - I began to think I was the only person who wasn't crazy about it!
strange_complex
Dec. 19th, 2010 11:47 am (UTC)
Heh, this is the good thing about the internet, isn't it? Bringing people who thought they were the only one together since 1993. :-)
(Deleted comment)
gair
Dec. 19th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
Ha, I start crying in the first seconds of It's A Wonderful Life and continue for the entire hundred-and-whatever minutes: for some reason the capitalist sexist racist warmongering doesn't bother me in the slightest. I am very in love with Jimmy Stewart, which probably has something to do with it.

(Having said that, some friends of mine used to have a Christmas party game that consisted of writing one-line summaries of movies for the others to guess what movie they were, and the IaWL summary 'GET OUT OF YOUR HOME TOWN WHILE YOU STILL CAN' stumped them for a long time.)
strange_complex
Dec. 19th, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
Well, that probably makes you a better, and certainly a more Christmassy, person than me! I liked Jimmy Stewart's profile, and thought he looked very fine in a double-breasted suit (as most slim men do), but found myself annoyed by the way he continually spoke as though he had a mouthful of hot chestnuts.

You're right about the warmongering, though, which I forgot to mention. I was particularly horrified by the way that in the alternate universe where George Bailey had never been born, we were meant to be all sad that a transport full of good all-American soldiers had been killed for the lack of Harry Bailey, but not to notice (or care) that fifteen German pilots had been SAVED at the same time!
gair
Dec. 19th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
Hee, and I never even noticed the fifteen German pilots! Dear oh dear. Somehow I do love Christmas in films - I am also a big fan of Unlikely Angel, in which Dolly Parton has died and is only allowed into Heaven if she manages to reunite a family by Christmas. But I don't actually do Christmas in real life - we hang some mistletoe over our Harry/Snape cut-outs and have a fry-up on the morning of the 25th, then head to our studies for gair and gerald's Special Secret Writing Week.

(Enjoying your icon greatly, btw, esp. the ROMA/AMOR... um, what's the word? Anagram! I could only think of 'acronym'!)
strange_complex
Dec. 19th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes - I have heard you tell of your Special Secret Writing Week before. I hope it is as delightful as ever this year.

And thanks about the Rory icon. I suspect that you are the best-placed person to appreciate it on my entire friendlist. :-) I am so stoked that Rory will be wearing his Roman army outfit again in the Christmas special, too!
gair
Dec. 20th, 2010 09:51 am (UTC)
I suspect that you are the best-placed person to appreciate it on my entire friendlist.

I suspect I am probably the person who is most thinking about it in terms of a terribly complicated rewriting of the Aeneid, certainly!
the_meanest_cat
Dec. 19th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
I once watched a documentary about early cinema, where it was mentioned that there was a really high mortality rate amongst stuntmen in the 20s. (So many of those old films involved filming real people doing genuinely death-defying stunts)
strange_complex
Dec. 19th, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
Oh dear! That's made me feel all guilty for watching it and laughing uproariously now, in case any of the people in it were actually killed. :-( Makes you feel grateful for Elf'n'Safety, really...
secretshadowss
Dec. 20th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
I love pleasantville, no one else seems to have heard of it!
I've never heard of this film you mention though
hollyione
Dec. 20th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
This is Mum's favourite film so I've seen it lots... it's OK... Jimmy Stewart better in the Hitchcocks IMO. One weird premise that as an adult I think is a bit off is that he'd just wish his own children out of existence!
strange_complex
Dec. 20th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
Good point! I suppose he is meant to feel that he's done such a bad job of being a father to them, that they would have been better off not being born. But I'm pretty sure they would feel otherwise if asked!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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