Wednesday 24 December 2008

Full of Christmas time

Switched on one of my favourite Christmas films on a cold night last week, ready to snuggle down on the sofa and disappear into escapism.
The film and the fire were crackling, candles lit, big glass of wine in my hand, all good so far. And then it all started to feel a bit less escapist, and a little bit more relevant than normal.
There was poor Jimmy Stewart, he had wanted to go to college, he had wanted to travel, but he never got to go, he had to hang in there and run the good old savings and loan, the family business that helped ordinary people get a home and a better life, when the big, bad bank run by the big bad banking nasty wouldn't have anything to do with them.
Through the general wonderfulness of the Bailey family (that's Jimmy Stewart to you), the world was shaping up to be a better place.
But then there was a run on the savings and loan; people were queueing up to take out their savings – and if they did it would all be over for the savings and loan – and the bank (read financial giants of all kinds) would have won, and society would be lost.
Jimmy Stewart went on to persuade the queue that if they all pulled together they could all be OK. They had all invested in each other's homes; they were all invested in a better society where everyone not just the rich got to improve their lives, and have important things like homes. So if they could just hang in there, help out a friend, and not get all selfish, things would be a lot better for them all.
And do you know what, and I guess you probably do, people listened to Jimmy (George Bailey), and the world continued to edge towards being a better place, at least for a little while.
Here in this little moral movie tale was the whole co-operative movement summed up: if we all combine our resources and help each other then we could do better than if we all struggled individually.
A great, or at least better, society is based on all these interconnections is the not-very-hidden message here, and if you help everyone else, they'll look after you when times get hard, and if not, and everyone sits behind a locked door, counting their coppers, and acting selfishly nothing ever gets better for the mass of society.
And in a schmaltszy kind of way, It's A Wonderful Life feels like a more important film this year. This was a film made just after a recession, and a war, about creating a better society when times were tough. It has a strong – all pull together message. Packed with homilies, but that's fine at Christmas.
Enjoy your favourite Christmas films. For more Christmas nostaglia, see this great BBC collection.


Sunder Katwala said...

I agree about Its a Wonderful Life, although I see that Joe Queenan launched a fierce attack in The Guardian on Christmas Eve

"Christmas movies come in four basic varieties: the cuddly, the cloying, the cretinous and the cute. It's a Wonderful Life, a putatively heartwarming story about a small-time banker with a heart of gold, manages to combine all four elements, as it inexplicably lionises a lunkheaded ninny who risks the financial health of his community by making a series of bad loans to people who are in no position to repay them. Particularly unsuitable for holiday viewing this year, the 1947 Frank Capra classic should really be called It's a Wonderful Subprime Life".

But can I just mention that the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart connection also gave us both the worst political film of all time - the absurdly over-rated, simplistic and anti-political 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington'

Rachael Jolley said...

Sunder, I take your point about Mr Smith - except isn't just a reflection of the US system as it stood and stands that when an elected senator stands down in mid term or even two days after election, the US system gives the electorate an unelected official for the rest of that term. A particularly bizarre system, especially when as we are seeing now with Hillary Clinton's seat - this happens just at the beginning of a session. If I was one of her electorate I would not be happy. Much better to have some kind of by-election, I would have thought.

Meanwhile, votes for best anti-political film might also go to Dave, where Kevin Kline stands in as a look-alike president and turns out to be better than the original.