Librarians and Ringing Bells-#7

While I wasn’t initially going to include this film, I was watching TCM the other night, and learned some new information about it that made it a whole new film to me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the film, but there are other films that I think deserve a little more attention. See, this film is  everyone’s favorite film and, to a certain extent, this little piece of information that I learned on TCM is the reason why!

7) It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)

Inspired by an unsuccessful short story called “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren in 1939, Frank Capra’s film was released with a great less of a successful response than originally anticipated. While some attribute that to its dark themes or non-linear narrative, it also was going against super patriotic films like Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) , which definitely gave it a run for its money.

So how did this film make the jump to becoming one of the most loved films in all Christmas-film-history?

Simply put, the answer to that question is copyright issues and television.

The film, released in 1946, was guaranteed protection under standard U.S. Copyright Protection laws for 28 years. So when 1974 came around, the film came up for copyright renewal. Within that time period, the film was only allowed to be played with proper permission and through proper dispensations, lest the individuals who wanted to show the film get in trouble for copyright infringement.

However, when 1974 rolled around, Republic Pictures, the original copyright holder, dropped the ball and didn’t renew the copyright. This started a media chain reaction that caused the film to become as fundamental to the Christmas world as Apple Pie is to the US image.

Long story short, It’s a Wonderful Life became public domain and shown on just about every channel on television during Christmas time for many years. You couldn’t switch a channel without seeing Donna Reed’s face. If it wasn’t for this little “accident” of Republic’s (which was “fixed” a few years later, thus why it doesn’t get played as such a multi-channel orgy as it had previously), this film would not be anywhere near as popular.

A little bit of history and copyrights go a long way…

Bright Light! Bright Light! or How I Learned to Love Microwaves–#5

Joe Dante is one of the nicest and most knowledgeable guys you’ll ever meet in your life. From the first time he ever programmed a festival at the New Beverly in 2008 (discussed here by the inimitable Dennis at Sergio Leone & the Infield Fly Rule), I knew he was one of the “good ‘uns.”  Realistically, I had known this since I was a kid, but I reserve judgement on someone’s person until I get a chance to meet them (if I get that good fortune- which is rare- but in LA…it happens). However, Joe is absolutely golden. But I really should’ve known that since this was the man who gave us Matinee (Joe Dante, 1993), a film that has a lightly-disguised William Castle-like character (and I’m a huge Castle fan) and is dedicated to the undying love of cinema. I also should’ve known this since I remember seeing Innerspace (Joe Dante, 1987) with my mom in the theater as a kid and thinking it was one of the coolest movies ever, adoring the Sam Cooke song, and thinking that is this was what movies were about, I wanted to see ALL OF THEM all of the time. And yes, I’m a huge fan of The ‘burbs (Joe Dante, 1989) as well. I was so very pleased to get to see that at the New Beverly a little while ago as well.

But, as we are all aware, the erudite Dante made a Christmas film. And it is not just any Christmas film, it is the Christmas film.

5) Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)

One of my friends is probably the ultimate anti-Christmas-film person. He’s down with the food, but the “happy happy joy joy” stuff and any kind of religiousness? Keep that the hell away from him. It’s just not his style. But he loves Gremlins. He really, truly adores this film like it was going out of style. And considering some of his other favorite directors are Tod Solendz, John Woo and Werner Herzog and he believes that Salo by Pasolini is a staple…this is saying quite a bit.

He’s not alone, however. Gremlins  is widely considered a classic. And I think it’s generally because not everyone likes Christmas in its Joyful Portrayal. See, every bright room has some dark time, and to many people (myself included) the dark time is, in many ways, a great deal more interesting. In fact, if you were to take a look at the other “classic” Christmas films, they are all a bit dark, which leads me to question why we have so much trouble recognizing that. I mean, to be completely honest, It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946) is a film about a guy who wants to commit suicide. How cheerful a theme is that around holiday time?

Polish Gremlins poster. I love Polish posters.

A man I wrote about a few entries earlier, Bob Clark, has dipped into the “dark time” of the Christmas room twice, with Black Christmas and with A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983). While the latter film is more comedic, it has more edge than a straight-up, feel-good comedy. Most of the film centers on the gun that the child-protagonist wants, and how his parents think that it will “shoot his eye out,” not to mention the rest of the dark things that happen to the young members of the cast. Are we supposed to injure children in Christmas films? Heh. Well, maybe in my kinds of Christmas movies. As long as they’re accompanied by the right balance that Clark gives us (which he definitely does, in Christmas Story– if you haven’t seen that one, see it).

Gremlins has monsters in it. And lord help me, I’m a sucker for a monster movie. I don’t care what season it is. And, more importantly, it has the significant interplay between human, monster, and sympathy. The things that will always get me. You put those things in a film, and more often than not, I’m YOURS. Then you add humor and a dark view of the holidays??? SOLD!! Gremlins has been on my list for these reasons and always will be. People can try to knock it, but they will always fail. In my mind, it is an essential. It wouldn’t be the holidays without it!