Two movies I always watch at Christmas time are A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim (1951) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
A Christmas Carol is a novella by Charles Dickens. It was first published in London by Chapman & Hall on 19 December 1843. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim. Carol tells the story of a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation into a gentler, kindlier man after visitations by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come.
The book was written at a time when the British were examining and exploring Christmas traditions from the past as well as new customs such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees. Carol singing took a new lease on life during this time. Dickens’ sources for the tale appear to be many and varied, but are, principally, the humiliating experiences of his childhood, his sympathy for the poor, and various Christmas stories and fairy tales.
Dickens’ Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth and life, it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness, and death. Scrooge himself is the embodiment of winter, and, just as winter is followed by spring and the renewal of life, so too is Scrooge’s cold, pinched heart restored to the innocent goodwill he had known in his childhood and youth.A Christmas Carol remains popular—having never been out of print—and has been adapted many times to film, stage, opera, and other media.
Dickens was not the first author to celebrate the Christmas season in literature, but it was he who superimposed his humanitarian vision of the holiday upon the public, an idea that has been termed as Dickens’ “Carol Philosophy”. Dickens believed the best way to reach the broadest segment of the population regarding his concerns about poverty and social injustice was to write a deeply-felt Christmas story rather than polemical pamphlets and essays. Dickens’ career as a bestselling author was on the wane, and the writer felt he needed to produce a tale that would prove both profitable and popular. Dickens’ visit to the work-worn industrial city of Manchester was the “spark” that fired the author to produce a story about the poor, a repentant miser, and redemption that would become A Christmas Carol.
The forces that inspired Dickens to create a powerful, impressive and enduring tale were the profoundly humiliating experiences of his childhood, the plight of the poor and their children during the boom decades of the 1830s and 1840s, Washington Irving’s essays on Christmas published in his Sketch Book (1820) describing the traditional old English Christmas, fairy tales and nursery stories, as well as satirical essays and religious tracts.
While Dickens’ humiliating childhood experiences are not directly described in A Christmas Carol, his conflicting feelings for his father as a result of those experiences are principally responsible for the dual personality of the tale’s protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge. In 1824, Dickens’ father, John, was imprisoned in the Marshalsea whilst 12-year-old Charles was forced to take lodgings nearby, pawn his collection of books, leave school and accept employment in a blacking factory.
The boy had a deep sense of class and intellectual superiority and was entirely uncomfortable in the presence of factory workers who referred to him as “the young gentleman”; as a result of this, he developed nervous fits. When his father was released at the end of a three-month stint, young Dickens was forced to continue working in the factory, which only grieved and humiliated him further. He despaired of ever recovering his former happy life.
The devastating impact of the period wounded him psychologically, coloured his work, and haunted his entire life with disturbing memories. Dickens both loved and demonized his father, and it was this psychological conflict that was responsible for the two radically different Scrooges in the tale—one Scrooge, a cold, stingy and greedy semi-recluse, and the other Scrooge, a benevolent, sociable man, whose generosity and goodwill toward all men earn for him a near-saintly reputation. It was during this terrible period in Dickens’ childhood that he observed the lives of the men, women, and children in the most impoverished areas of London and witnessed the social injustices they suffered.
Charles Dickens was one of the original Social Justice Warriors. Like most SJW’s he sees the world in black and white, which may be why the 1951 version of his story is so powerful. It’s filmed in such a primitive style compared to modern films that it’s almost like watching a low-budget live-action play.
The first Scrooge is bad, but rich. Then he repents and becomes the good Scrooge who throws money around like crazy. But would he have become rich if he had been good all along? Is there a third way, where thrift and hard work are balanced by family and charity?
For years I assumed that Frank Capra must have been a New Deal Liberal. NDL’s are old school, blue collar liberals, and have little i common with today’s version. Or at least so I always thought.
George Bailey is the good guy protagonist in It’s a Wonderful Life. The bad guy is Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore. Potter is a rich, greedy, evil capitalist. Potter is the modern caricature of a Republican, so therefore George must be a Democrat, right?
Frank Russell Capra (May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an Italian-born American film director, producer and writer who became the creative force behind some of the major award-winning films of the 1930s and 1940s. His rags-to-riches story has led film historians such as Ian Freer to consider him the “American dream personified.”
Capra became one of America’s most influential directors during the 1930s, winning three Oscars as Best Director. Among his leading films was It Happened One Night (1934), which became the first film to win all five top Oscars, including Best Picture. Other leading films in his prime included You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). During World War II, Capra served in the US Army Signal Corps and produced propaganda films, such as the Why We Fight series.
After World War II, however, Capra’s career declined as his later films like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) were critically derided as being “simplistic” or “overly idealistic”. However, his films have since been favorably reassessed in succeeding decades.
Outside directing, Capra was active within the film industry, engaging in various political and social issues. He served as President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, worked alongside the Screenwriters Guild, and was head of the Directors Guild of America.
Capra’s political beliefs coalesced in his films, which promoted and celebrated the spirit of American individualism. A conservative Republican, he had railed against Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his tenure as governor of New York State, and opposed his presidency during the years of the Depression. Capra stood against government intervention and assistance during the national economic crisis. A man that had come up the hard way, overcoming the disadvantages of an immigrant background, Capra saw no reason why others could not accomplish success through hard work and perseverance.
Wait . . . what? A conservative Republican? I’m shocked.
Seriously – I just learned that tidbit last night. I double-checked to make sure. Then there is this:
Capra, however, blames his early retirement from films on the rising power of stars, which forced him to continually compromise his artistic vision. He also claims that increasing budgetary and scheduling demands were constraining his creative abilities. Film historian Michael Medved agrees with and understands Capra’s impressions, noting that he walked away from the movie business because “he refused to adjust to the cynicism of the new order.” In his autobiography written in 1971, Capra expressed his feelings about the shifting film industry:
The winds of change blew through the dream factories of make-believe, tore at its crinoline tatters…. The hedonists, the homosexuals, the hemophiliac bleeding hearts, the God-haters, the quick-buck artists who substituted shock for talent, all cried: “Shake ’em! Rattle ’em! God is dead. Long live pleasure! Nudity? Yea! Wife-swapping? Yea! Liberate the world from prudery. Emancipate our films from morality!”…. Kill for thrill – shock! Shock! To hell with the good in man, Dredge up his evil – shock! Shock!
Capra added that in his opinion, “practically all the Hollywood film-making of today is stooping to cheap salacious pornography in a crazy bastardization of a great art to compete for the ‘patronage’ of deviates and masturbators.”[N 1]
Now that sounds like a Republican.