Thursday, December 24, 2009

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (Frank Capra, 1946, USA) George Bailey’s life of adventure and education, a grandiose design like a steel skyscraper challenging the cosmic fabric of Einstein’s physics, is soon relegated to a prison of familial duties, regrets and a broken down home hunched in the cloistered darkness like a timid Quasimodo…but full of a love that cannot quench his desperate thirst. Director Frank Capra’s inspiring classic relies on the Christian fable of angels and afterlife but can be generally appreciated because this religious fantasy isn’t the true heart of the story. Jimmy Stewart imbues the protagonist with gut-wrenching anxiety and sacrifice, a complex man who acts morally but becomes tired of a life lived for others, a man who finally reaches a dead end and wishes for an aborted existence. George is a young man who takes over his father’s barely successful (if measured monetarily) Building And Loan business and is pitted against the antagonist in Mr. Potter, a banker who owns everything else in the town: a fat caricature who measures success by the dollar. Though Capra creates Bedford Falls as wish fulfillment, an almost perfect small town full of good people enslaved by this immoral Capitalist, it is in George Bailey that we examine the complexities of human nature, his foibles and selfishness, the son who unwittingly derides his father’s business and wants to escape this tiny dungeon and move onto “bigger things”, and even when he puts duty first it eats away at his dreams of what should have been but now can never be: George is the past tense that struggles with the future imperfect. As his life spiral beyond his control he becomes abusive and emotionally explosive, and the scenes where he screams at his wife and children is ripe with realistic suicidal tension. Through a selfless act he realizes that his meager life has touched many people and fortune is weighed in the human spirit and heart, not in the ethereal but in the love of others and how they perceive you. George Bailey’s rage against the dying of the light upon an icy bridge is one of cinema’s greatest moments, and his epiphany needs no divine intervention: Zuzu’s petals are reason enough. Film Grade: (A)

PRESENTATION: Paramount Blu-ray, Original B&W, Aspect Ratio 1:37:1. The quality of this high-definition disc is amazing. The deep focus cinematography is captured on disc for the very first time with very good contrast and black levels. There are hundreds of details that remained mired in the murk of oblivion in the despicable DVD releases but pop from the screen: we see through the gently falling snowflakes and into the converging streets of Bedford Falls, reading every sign and advertisement, and facial expressions (important to Capra’s emotional vérité) are defined in pure celluloid detail. There seems to be no DNR (Digital Noise Reduction: pox on you!) applied or, if it is, is used judiciously because a fine film grain beautifully haunts the screen. The mono soundtrack is clear and concise without any snap, crackle, or pop. This presentation gets a slightly lower grade, not due to image quality, but because the audio fails to include a lossless mono soundtrack! BD Grade (B+)

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