We curl up with our children, our friends or our lovers, and our books and DVDs and life is actually different, and for a little while at least, meaningful and significant. Increasingly, one of the tools we use to capture that sense of worth is by watching poignant films, movies with a tell-tell message.
Screenings of old black and white movies, like Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, are sold out in cinemas and in a unified emotional slumber we engage in an uplifting, inspirational experience that teaches us (with more than a little finger wagging!) that to be good is to be right and clever and kind.
But what of the broader meaning of these old films, especially in the period of their actual place in time?
In 1930 America, of a population of 120 million, 100 million made a weekly visit to the movies (60 million went to Church on a weekly basis...). Some of the most popular films were those of the man mentioned, Italian immigrant Frank Capra whose movies frequently represented the sub-text of his own life, the achievement and consequence of realising and living ‘The American Dream’.
Capra’s journey from poor immigrant to national figure, through sheer determination and hard work, overcoming significant hardship along the way was text book material, symbolic of the ethos of American society, and as such fuelled an interest in his character and his films. Capra and his language represented the aspired ‘real’ world, which for most had only ever been imagined. The vocabulary of Capra’s movies demonstrated an overwhelming command of film and common language that depicted America as its people held it to be. For the American population his films resolutely asserted a number of familiar elements that were representative of the American way of life whether by actuality or perhaps more tellingly, by aspiration.
In Mr Deeds Goes to Town, in the language and character of Deeds, Capra engages his audience in his attempt to reflect American society by creating a dramatic social circumstance that forces his character to speak symbolically, not just for himself, but for all Americans afflicted by the power of the institution over the weak.