December 28th, 2008

Vizard

True Stories

Beware the Holiday Sentimentalist, For She is A Grumpy Sentimentalist.

This has been percolating in my head since December 18th, when I read Wendell Jamieson's New York Times opinion piece on "It's a Wonderful Life."  You might want to read it before you read further here.

I didn't know from Frank Capra's initially under-appreciated masterpiece before I moved to Chicago and met my Best Beloved. He introduced me to it, among the many reasons that his hat brim sparkles with supernovae.

I'm not even going to attempt to delineate the many reasons, or the ways in which I find this movie personally, critically, culturally and spiritually magnificent. Simply put, the movie is now extraordinarily important to me.

Now, if you've read this far, and read Jamieson's article, you can be pardoned for thinking to yourself, "Aha! She's going to inveigh at length about his snarky and oh-so-fashionably revisionist interpretation of the movie.

She's leaping to Capra's defense, and taking upon herself the mantle of neo-traditionalist lately abandoned by Christopher Buckley, to drip holiday-punch venom on the blasphemer."

Nope. No sir. Not in the slightest.

Well, perhaps in the slightest, because I am nothing if not marginally honest. When I first read through the column, I wanted to tear my hair, or his eyes, out.

You see, in this year of our lord 2008, I am tired unto death of cynics, or would-be cynics, or young snarks, or what-have-you's, telling me that not only has the emperor no clothes, but that he sold them to finance the meth habit of his pregnant junior high school-aged afternoon delight. It's a bone-deep weariness, because it's had a long time to seep into my bones. It's not merely the wizened and hard-eyed opening decade of the 21st century, nor the staggering and slightly panicky buffoonery of the 20th century's final decade.

Quite honestly, what Jamieson said initially threw me back to the early 1980s. I was forcibly reminded of David Stockman (look him up, youngsters) and the rising of his smooth-haired ilk in the slouching dawn of the Reagan era - you know, the type of grey-suited prat who'd comment in interviews about the economy, or pieces in the National Review, that Bob Cratchit was actually well-paid for those days, and that he was the architect of his own hard times for allowing his wife to have that many children. That sort of dribbly-nosed swot, secure in the mistaken knowledge that all before him is dross, unless he himself pays for it.

Of course, in addition to being marginally honest, I am enthusiastically careless during first readings. I went back later and read Jamieson's words a second time. And I realized that he was, most probably, nearly as in love with the movie as I am. His last sentence was what I'd missed, along with what appeared, on second reading, to be ample evidence throughout the rest of the column that he was simply protesting too much.

By the time I read him through a second time, I had reason to thank him. Because, frankly, his observations were nothing new to me. Nor were they, or at least softer-hued versions of them, anything that I hadn't, heretically, thought myself.

After I read him, though, I started thinking about what George Bailey did with the rage he had, and whether its reality negated anything else in the story. No, it didn't, I finally realized. It made the story that much more real.

I had a whole bunch of thoughts like that slowly show up in my head after I read Jamieson. And I know there's an essay in there, being nurtured by those thoughts, and I may even write it someday, when I'm more intellectually disciplined that I am now.

What grew up first, however, was an exploration of what might have happened in Bedford Falls after we left.

No, not a story. I'm not that stupid. Just three vignettes.

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Merry Christmas, everybody. Happy New Year.