“Welcome to Pottersville”
Spring’s a time of rejuvenation and I must say it’s my favorite time of year. But winter isn’t quite over yet and I may just watch one of those old, black & white films on DVD before the last snowflakes fly.
My wife and I have an affinity for the holiday classics. My favorite is “A Christmas Story” and hers is “A Charlie Brown Christmas” yet who could forget “It’s A Wonderful Life?”
I have a painting on my office wall, I can’t recall the artist though, which depicts a town split in half. It’s much like that of “Bedford Falls” and “Pottersville” that’s portrayed in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
On the “Bedford Falls” side of town a few people are stirring. It seems peaceful enough, but the interstate came through a few years back and pretty much made the Berg a ghost town. On the “Pottersville” side of town, closer to the freeway, is the glitz and glamour of neon lights, cocktail bars, casinos, brothels, and even an abortion clinic or two.
In the painting, people are rushing to the Pottersville side of town, practically elbow to elbow, but the town is built near a cliff. At the bottom of the cliff is a burning ruminant that no one seems to pay attention to until it’s too late.
It’s a powerful work of art that I often study.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” was filmed in 1946. It took 90 days to make. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, but won just one. The win was in the Technical Achievement category and was for developing a new method of creating artificial snow. Before that, fake movie snow was mostly made from cornflakes painted white.
The film recorded a loss of $525,000 at the box office though.
In a 1946 interview, Frank Capra, the director, described the film’s theme as “the individual’s belief in himself” and that he made it “to combat a modern trend toward atheism.”
A number of alternative endings were considered for the film, with Capra’s first script having George Bailey falling to his knees reciting “The Lord’s Prayer.” The first script also called for an opening scene with the townspeople in prayer. Feeling that an overtly religious tone did not have the emotional impact of family and friends rushing to rescue George, the closing scenes were rewritten.
In 1990, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was deemed culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress.
The main character in the film is George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. It takes the influence of his guardian angel, Clarence, for George to realize one can truly make a difference.
We always have adversaries in life and George’s is Henry F. Potter, a greedy banker who’s the richest man in town and it’s Potter’s desire to control the entire town.
Richard Cohen wrote a piece in 2010 for Salon.com that subscribed “It’s a Wonderful Life” as “the most terrifying Hollywood film ever made.” In the “Pottersville” sequence, he wrote, George is not “seeing the world that would exist had he never been born,” but rather “the world as it does exist, in his time and in ours.”
One could figuratively say Henry F. Potter, a very wealthy man, a real estate mogul who owns casinos and overpriced apartments is now running for the highest office in the land. He’s a distant relative of P.T. Barnum who’s commonly attributed to have claimed: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
As depicted in that oil painting hanging on my office wall, the glitz and glamour of it all is hypnotizing to the point that the Uncle Billy’s of the world can’t fully comprehend what’s going on. Potter could say: “I could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote” yet few would care.
I don’t know about you, but even if Mr. Potter claims to be a Republican I don’t think I can bring myself to give him my vote of confidence. The sullied life on the Pottersville side of town isn’t appealing to this voter. I think I prefer the conservative bliss of the Bedford Falls side.
Greg Allen’s column, Thinkin’ Out Loud, has been published bi-monthly since 2009. He’s an author, nationally syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit in Jamestown, Indiana, a non-profit organization aiding the poor. He can be reached at www.builderofthespirit.org or follow him on Twitter @GregAllencolumn.