Moms love Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s as if there is a biological encoding accompanying motherhood that puts mothers under a holiday spell when watching the film. Or it’s just that Frank Capra is more of a cinematic genus than we give him credit for.
This year provided what will surely become one of my favorite holiday movie moments. While thousands already cherish “It’s a Wonderful Life” around the family fire place (television), seeing it on the big screen is something completely different. The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver held a free screening at the posh Denver Film Center, new digs of the Denver Film Society .
My own mother is no exception to the spell of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We watch the film every Christmas, either as intentional tradition or by circumstance of its holiday broadcast. The film is very much a part of our ingrained sensibility in capturing the meaning of Christmas beyond the mall.
This is why it was such a treat to share this big screen experience with my parents. It was akin to seeing your favorite family slideshow projected at the cinema. In a sense, many who celebrate Christmas are all part of Frank Capra’s family. Every year he gives us the gift of remembering that family, gratitude, and sticking it to the bank are essential values. Needless to say, seeing George Bailey take on Mr. Potter held a special relevance this year.
To see every cinematic inch of Jimmy Stewart’s performance as George Bailey gave completely new life to the film for me. It was something my parents and I discussed enthusiastically after the screening. We reveled in what truly is the soul of “It’s a Wonderful Life”: Jimmy Stewart.
There was also the benefit of having the sagacious Howie Movshovitz discuss the film and Stewart’s brilliant performance. Movshovitz somewhat dimmed the light that glows from the film, expressing that it is a dark story, albeit one with a happy ending. Although this didn’t detract from the film’s gravitas, it only increased the volume of its presence. All great Christmas stories journey into dark places, thus making the light of the holiday that much brighter. Movshovitz proved to me that the film is worth a deeper look than I had casually given it all these years. It deserves an equally critical viewing as much as it merits praise as an American Classic.
The screening was on cold December night; we stood eagerly in line with hundreds more wanting to revisit the film or perhaps see it for the first time. Surely it seemed odd that hundreds would turn out for a film seen annually. Yet, this was just testament to the power of cinema at the theater and wanting to experience stories larger than life on a screen that fits. My parents have given me a wonderful life and it seemed fitting to embrace that in the larger than life lesson of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”