How many times would you re-watch a film? How about a Christmas film?
It would be almost impossible to watch all the films ever made. Films which have been nurtured and crafted through years of work by screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, actors, gaffers, editors, etc etc etc.
So much good work which we have yet to enjoy. So how can we possibly have time to watch films more than once?
Christmas seems to be a unique time when we watch a series of films on repeat every year, simply because they are Christmas films? Surely we know the scripts off by heart, cannot be moved in the same way, but time and time again we return to relive the experience these films give us.
Why? Partly because we are always seeking that sense of innocent and unadulterated joy which we remember from childhood. But is sentimentality enough of a drive to watch bad films? Sometimes, otherwise the Christmas Moves 24 channel wouldn’t exist.
But are Christmas films good, or are they just popular because they are Christmas films?
When you look at it, they are actually very good.
Old is Gold
Yes, the Muppets Christmas Carol is brilliant but there are actually three films which I never miss watching every year. And they are all old, black and white films.;
To this I could also add;
Scrooge (1951) – though this is more because it is the best adaptation of the book, which I may either read, or listen to instead.
So why are three films, released within the space of two years, so defining for us 73 years later.
Films for Grown Ups
Most films targeting the Christmas market these days are aimed at kids. They may be valuable, morale tales, but they generally still have children as the protagonists e.g. Christmas Chronicles, Arthur Christmas, etc, even Home Alone.
These three films were aimed at adults. They had adult protagonists and dealt with serious issues. Let’s look at the one line synopsis of these films;
IAWL – Man foregoes his own happiness for others, failing in his ambitions and ultimately is driven to commit suicide. Is given a second chance at life and sees everything with fresh perspective and love of life.
TBW – Insecure workaholic abandons all those people and causes which are important to him, in order to pursue something which is contrary to his values but which he thinks will constitute success, at the expense of his own marriage.
MO34S – Successful, hard working single mother, left hurt and jaded by a marriage which failed when her daughter was very young, risks causing emotional issues for her daughter by refusing to let her experience normal childhood fantasies. Lawyer proves that it is possible to believe in the principles of something without proof of it.
Essentially, the character arcs in these films are all profound, but in many cases they don’t take a character who was Thing A and made them into a better Thing B, they actually have structures which sees them return from a damaged version of themselves where they had become suicidal, withdrawn and cynical respectively, back to their better, authentic self.
And perhaps they all draw their inspiration for this from the greatest Christmas story ever told (sorry Bible), nay perhaps one of the finest stories ever told; A Christmas Carol. Scrooge wasn’t always bad, he became that way. The spirits help him find that good side of himself. So many of us can lose sight of our true selves and values without noticing, and these stories act as a check to remind us to remember what is important to us.
Timing is everything
These films came straight after the end of the Second World War. You cannot help but think this had a profound influence on the values expressed within the films. While everyone was probably affected by the war to some degree, many of the participants within these films had first hand, life changing experience. Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart both served in the war, with Stewart finishing the war as a Colonel in the Army Air Corp. David Niven of The Bishop’s Wife was an officer in the British Army and saw front line combat in Europe, finishing the war as a Lt Colonel. He vowed never to speak of his wartime experiences in public. John Payne of Miracle on 34th Street was also in the Army Air Corps.
Films we watch now, tend to focus on toys, or the experience of Christmas, and that is fine, but these films all speak to who we are as people. They remind us that to be good, to treat others well, to have integrity, is the thing to covet above all.
Good good, not just Christmas good.
Using the Oscars as a yardstick, they did OK (winners underlined);
It’s a Wonderful Life
Nominated in 1946 for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound & Best Technical Effects.
The Bishop’s Wife
Nominated in 1947 for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound & Best Music
Miracle on 34th Street
Nominated in 1948 for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay & Best Original Story.
Watch annually for many reasons
So, don’t feel guilty for watching these annually, feel worthy. They will make you a better filmmaker, writer or actor, among other things. They will make you happy and feel festive. And, they might just make you a better person. Not bad for some old black and white films.
A wee bonus nugget
The eagle eyed amongst you might have noticed these two characters in both It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Bishops Wife.
|Young George in It’s a Wonderful Life
|Snowball Fight Leader in The Bishops Wife
|Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life
|Debby in The Bishops Wife