On the cover of [SSex
There are two films which strike utter horror into me when view them in one neat sitting. Mind you, I think they are also great films with competent acting, strong direction, catchy phrases, and an ability to get inside your head for extended and often unwanted periods of time. I will watch individual scenes of them entirely captivated but I always depart before the ending and the ugly gnawing feeling they give me when viewed in one complete dose.
These films are: The Wizard Of Oz (1939) and It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
I watch slasher flicks with glee and cheesy horror with rapt attention and extensive note taking. My favorite film genres are horror, comedy, and pornography. When I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to watch the scary movies but I always ran straight into the horror section and studied the covers and synopsis on the back. I actually fare well in horror trivia for these reasons even though there are large gaps in my viewing record. Very little on the screen actually scares or terrifies me. I find the traditionally frightening quite exciting and entertaining. Nothing brings a smile to my face like a gory and bloody on-camera evisceration. I am delighted by the fact that it is not real. I love watching artists communicate their imaginations to me in a skillful way.
When I watch those above films from start to finish, however, I feel no delight in the human condition. I can be no longer at ease at the end of these films because of the way that they ultimately laud mediocrity and the status quo. Allow me to explain.
The story of Dorthy in Oz is amazing. It’s a neat and tidy hero’s journey with delightful imagery that has captivated audiences for years. I remember the first time I watched The Wizard Of Oz. I loved it all; the songs, the costumes, the characters, the sets, and even the flying monkeys. I loved it all. Even at that first childhood viewing, something unsettled me about that ending. It made the entire thing implausible in my mind I mentally deleted it from the record as a grievous error on the part of the editor, clearly.
Oz, you see, is a place of non-stop delight. On the heels of a string of major political victories resulting in the liberation of two large populations of people and finding out the bitter truth that all wizards are really humans behind curtains, Dorthy is offered a leadership role. Everything is in color, the city is a glamorous art deco, she has three gay best friends, her dog is at her side and yet the moral of the story is, for some unknown fucking reason, for her to return to a life in black and white in the midwest during the great depression. Dream big, but happiness can only be truly found in your own black and white, depression era back yard.
Even at a single digit age I had to ask what the fuck was wrong with Dorothy? “The Great Depression” or Oz is a “cake or death” question if you ask me. As I got older, the ending bothered me more and more. Then I stumbled into the great American classic that so many people can’t get enough of, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.
Legend has it that the character “George Bailey” was named after a canyon in the city where I spent my childhood and adolescence. Everyone knows lines from this movie at least because television stations will play it for 24 hours straight during the holiday season. Jimmy Stewart delivers his heartwarming performance and everyone knows that every time a bell rings, an angel gets it wings.
Now aside from the sentimental schlock that makes me run in terror the basic premise of the film is: some people are just destined for a life of total mediocrity. George Bailey has dreams. He longs to get out of his town and see the world, have a few adventures, get to really experience life. He watches other people go off and do great things. His brother is a war hero and he stays at home. He has a wife and children that he loves very much but he’s unfulfilled. Well guess what, George: no matter how big you dream, you no matter how strong you yearn, you will fuck up the world order with your own personal happiness. The status quo is the wonderful life.
I have no problems with claustrophobia in literally tight and closed off spaces. When I watch It’s A Wonderful Life I feel like I can’t breathe. I have to open a window and go for a walk. It hangs over me like a sense of dread. What is the fucking meaning of this movie and why is it the perennial classic? I always pretend that the people in the town took up a collection to send poor George Bailey, keeper of unrealized dreams, on a vacation somewhere on the other side of the world alone for a couple of a months. Give the poor guy something.
Langston Hughes wrote the antithesis of It’s A Wonderful Life with impeccable word craft in “Dream Deferred”:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?