Daily Archives: December 5, 2011

Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): It’s a Wonderful Lives…

Recurring Feature (at least until Dec. 26): It’s a Wonderful Lives…

When “It Happened One Christmas,” a gender-bending take on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” debuted on ABC in 1977, the 1947 Frank Capra original with was rarely seen on TV. This soon changed in the 1980s when it became almost impossible to turn on your set in December and not stumble upon some portion of the film. As a result, I think it’s likely that those under 30 have never seen the remake.

That’s a shame because if you’re inclined to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” multiple times, there’s no harm in seeing this version at least once. It stars Marlo Thomas (“That Girl”) as Mary Bailey Hatch and Wayne Rogers (“M*A*S*H”) as George Hatch. Although she has the same name as Donna Reed’s character from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she’s basically playing the Jimmy Stewart character with Rogers serving as dutiful husband George.

Cloris Leachman plays Clara, Mary’s guardian angel, and Orson Welles (yes, Orson Welles) is the evil Mr. Potter. Welles is particularly fun to watch as one of the great screen villains.

The update remains set in the 1940s — requiring a bit of suspension of belief regarding Mary’s choices in life but whatever, this is a movie with an angel. The clip I’ve included is the part everyone knows — arguably even the few who’ve never seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”: Mary is delighted to discover that she’s returned to the reality she knows instead of the Wal-Mart at every stoplight nightmare she’d just witnessed. Reinforcing the Christ allusion is the fact that she has no reason to believe there’s a happy ending waiting for her. She’s even pleased when the police greet her with a warrant for her arrest. So what if she spends Christmas in the slammer, her mission has been accomplished… I guess. I mean, if she winds up in jail and her business fails, there’s nothing to stop Mr. Potter from moving on with his plans to turn Bedford Falls into a tacky Las Vegas or, simply, Las Vegas.

Fortunately, Mary’s friends and family bail her out — she’s too nice to fail. Wendell Jamieson pointed out in The New York Times that George (and his female doppelganger) would still have been liable for the colossal incompetence that led to the funds going missing in the first place. Shows you what Jamieson knew: He wrote this piece in 2008 around the time of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (i.e. “bank bailouts”). If you’ve read Andrew Sorkin’s “Too Big To Fail,” you’d know that there were apparently countless senile Uncle Billys handing avaricious Mr. Potters newspapers filled with money (or more specifically mortgages that were worth about as much as a newspaper). These guys are still in business somehow, which makes the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “It Happened One Christmas” sadly realistic.

“It Happened One Christmas” is not available on DVD and despite The Hallmark Channel finding time for “Lucky Christmas” on its holiday roster, there are no upcoming airings scheduled this year. You can see it at the Paley Center for Media in New York, which used to be the Museum of Television and Radio, where I practically lived during the late 1990s. It was renamed in 2007 to reflect its inclusion of Internet, mobile video, and podcasting and to also make me feel like a fossil.

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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in Pop Life, Social Commentary


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Occupy Gotham…

Occupy Gotham…

Frank Miller, author of “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Sin City,” last month expressed his views about the Occupy Wall Street Movement. They were no more cogent than what your conservative uncle might have said after his fifth glass of wine at Thanksgiving dinner. Miller, however, is (relatively) famous, so the media ran with it.

‘” ‘Occupy’’ is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.”

I haven’t read about any stealing and raping occurring at Occupy protests or even raping and pillaging at an “Occupy Treasure Island” demonstration. I also think few people under 40 even remember Woodstock — including the second one. It’s sort of a knee-jerk reaction conservatives over 50 have to anything that reminds them of the summer of love. It’s as if the odor of hippies is imprinted in their senses and results in the occasional patchouli-tinged flashback.

Miller labeled the protestors “iPhone, iPad-wielding spoiled brats” and suggested they “stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.” The Wall Street Journal stated that the “vast majority of demonstrators are actually employed, and the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%).” Most of the demonstrators are under 30 but 28 percent are over 40.

I suppose it’s the media coverage of the encampments that lead people to think the protestors are unemployed vagabonds. That’s the only major difference I see between Occupy and the Tea Party, and the latter was never described this way.

Of course, if there were that many desperate, unemployed people, it would be a serious issue beyond the economic inconvenience of rising police overtime (at least some of the 99 percent are making money out of this) or the aesthetic unpleasantness of large groups camping out in public places. By the way, the point of a protest is to be inconvenient and unpleasant. If it’s easily ignored, you’ll pay as much attention to it as the flashing light on your car dashboard that indicates something you should deal with but not right now.

Don't you miss these peaceful, constructive rallies by non-hippies that didn't cost the country a dime because we weren't afraid of them?

I had mostly ignored Miller’s comments until Alan Moore, author of “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta,” responded to them this weekend:

“Frank Miller is someone whose work I’ve barely looked at for the past twenty years… I thought the ‘Sin City’ stuff was unreconstructed misogyny, ‘300’ appeared to be wildly ahistoric, homophobic and just completely misguided. I think that there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller’s work for quite a long time.”

Moore’s statement interested me. It’s easy to assume that the combination of age and wealth caused Miller to go off his rocker. He wouldn’t be the first. However, it is interesting to go back and examine the work he published in the 1980s, specifically “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One.”

The future that Miller depicts in 1986’s “Dark Knight” satirizes both the media and the government’s fecklessness with almost chilling prescience. The TV anchors are vapid and muzzled by the FCC. Superman is a tool of the federal government, and the local police are useless, primarily because Commissioner Gordon has retired and his (female) replacement just doesn’t understand that you need a masked vigilante on the streets to maintain law and order. The Feminine mystique has even infected the penal system — Arkham Asylum is now the Arkham “Home.” Two Face is about to be released —  ostensibly but not really cured. Bruce Wayne, long since retired as Batman and now reduced to an emasculated, drunken shell of himself, enables the rehabilitation, which of course fails (you can’t save these people) and requires the return of Batman and the more masculine approach to justice.

The concept of the masked hero is interesting. Zorro, Batman… these are all men of privilege who hide their identities so they can continue to exist in that world. They have something to lose. Some have made the connection to the Klan, who professed to “maintain” the “rightful” order of things while dressed to terrify their victims and remain anonymous.

Miller’s Batman is obsessed with the nameless thug who killed his parents. He has dedicated his life to fighting a symptom (crime) rather than seeking a cure (poverty). There was a period prior to the release of “Dark Knight” when Bruce Wayne opened the “Wayne Foundation,” a charitable organization that sought to clean up the streets during the day rather than just at night. A connection had been made between extreme poverty, the resulting desperation, and crime. That is not evident in “Dark Knight.” The notable victims of rising crime rates are the affluent like Bruce Wayne’s parents. Their territory — the area they are free to wander unmolested — has been infringed, and that’s enough to drive an otherwise sane rich white man to his cape and cowl.

Batman’s model inspires some mindless thugs to call themselves the “Sons of Batman” and purge the streets through violent means. It’s their own Occupy Gotham. The poor and disenfranchised are now fighting each other rather than bothering people who are important because they own things. Moore references this in his final zinger to Miller:

“I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favor of it. We would definitely have to agree to differ on that one.”

“Batman: Year One,” released in 1987, is a low-key, noirish counterpoint to the more operatic “Dark Knight.” However, many of the themes remain: The cops are either corrupt or useless, and it takes a rich kid to straighten things up. One scene I thought was cool when I was 13 I find repugnant today: Batman breaks into the hotel room of a potential witness against a corrupt cop and convinces him to testify through methods that would please Dick Cheney. This is not really heroic. It just uses a mob technique for the “good” of society, but what was it Nietzsche said about fighting monsters? I recall pre-Miller Batman stories when our hero would have protected the witness from harm rather than just threatening to harm him more than the bad guys would. These were truly the Reagan years with more emphasis on “Dark” and less on “Knight.”

It’s dangerous to believe that “laws” and “rights” are just things criminals use to hide from justice, and that a masked man (or worse, his army of unstable loons) violating them is the only answer. I find it fascinating that the guy who wrote these stories is so irked by a generally peaceful demonstration against society’s excesses. Perhaps he’s afraid of what could happen if the protestors suddenly begin taking orders from someone who views the world as he does.

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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in Political Theatre, Pop Life


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