On December 18, in an item that appeared on Page C1 of its December 19 print edition (the graphic at the right is a scaled-down version of what appears at the top of the online version), the New York Times's Wendell Jamieson provided us his perspective on what has became a Christmas staple, Frank Capra Jr.'s "It's a Wonderful Life." I would suggest that the piece reveals a lot more about the author and Old Media's mindset than it tells us about the film.
Jamieson's title gives a preview of the awful attack that is on the way: "Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life."
It turns out that Jamieson is the Times's city editor. I find it telling that the Times chose not to inform of this "little" fact at the end of the piece.
There is really no substitute for reading, or I should say enduring, the whole thing. But here are some samples of what the person who decides on a daily basis what Times readers and probably a large percentage of the country will learn about news and events in the nation's largest city thinks of Capra's classic, and of James Stewart's town:
Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life
..... Lots of people love this movie of course. But I’m convinced it’s for the wrong reasons. Because to me “It’s a Wonderful Life” is anything but a cheery holiday tale. Sitting in that dark public high school classroom, I shuddered as the projector whirred and George Bailey’s life unspooled.
Was this what adulthood promised?
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife.
..... When he returns to the “real” Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by George’s idiot uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell).
But isn’t George still liable for the missing funds, even if he has made restitution? I mean, if someone robs a bank, and then gives the money back, that person still robbed the bank, right?
..... Now as for that famous alternate-reality sequence: This is supposedly what the town would turn out to be if not for George. I interpret it instead as showing the true characters of these individuals, their venal internal selves stripped bare. The flirty Violet (played by a supersexy Gloria Grahame, who would soon become a timeless film noir femme fatale) is a dime dancer and maybe a prostitute; Ernie the cabbie’s blank face speaks true misery as George enters his taxi; Bert the cop is a trigger-happy madman, violating every rule in the patrol guide when he opens fire on the fleeing, yet unarmed, George, forcing revelers to cower on the pavement.
Gary Kamiya, in a funny story on Salon.com in 2001, rightly pointed out how much fun Pottersville appears to be, and how awful and dull Bedford Falls is. He even noticed that the only entertainment in the real town, glimpsed on the marquee of the movie theater after George emerges from the alternate universe, is “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”
Now that’s scary.
I’ll do Mr. Kamiya one better, though. Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future.
Jamieson's final paragraph, where he reveals that he still choked up at the film's ending, is hardly redemptive.
It's hard to believe that Jamieson's bad-is-good, good-is-bad worldview revealed so starkly in his critique doesn't affect how he does his job as city editor, and his decisions about what Times readers and much of the rest of the nation need to know about Gotham.
One suspects that Jamieson's mindset is not atypical in many other news departments at the Times, and perhaps in many other newsrooms across the nation. If so, it would go a long way towards explaining the politically correct, insufferably biased product so many of them produce on a daily basis.
I could say so much more, but commenters can take it from here.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.