Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - B is for People, Places and Things

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Buffalo Gals:
Every couple needs a love song. Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" seems to be pretty popular. For George and Mary in It's a Wonderful Life, their song was "Buffalo Gals," which became their song while walking home from a particularly aquatic school dance.

It's interesting to note that at some point I read that the song is about....well, shall we say, ladies from the red light district with questionable reputations? I don't have the time or space to explore that idea here, but check out the song lyrics and some of the song's history here, or listen to Dimitri Tiomkin's musical intro to the film here:

While George was wandering (or drunkenly stumbling) down the street, he came across the bridge. It becomes a symbolic location in many ways. First he contemplates suicide on the bridge. Later, he prays to God to return to his life in Bedford Falls, complete with all of its challenges, risk and fear. It is at the bridge that George crosses from life to death, and from death to life.

The bridge also is symbolic in that it is a starting-over point for the film. The first time we meet George is when he is sledding as a child with is brother and his friends. When his brother falls through the ice, George selflessly jumps in the river to save him. When Clarence jumps off of the bridge later in the film, an adult George follows him into the river to save him. In that way, it resets the film and prepares us for the events in Pottersville.

Ben Franklin:
Benjamin Franklin is the large constellation on top,
shaped like a stomach.
Yes, THAT Ben Franklin. Glasses, kite, Old Farmer's Almanac. That Ben Franklin. He is a character in the film. Really. And he has lines.

No, really. I mean it.

When we travel to Heaven, we meet three stellar bodies. One is Clarence. One is Joseph. The other is never named in the film. Most of us naturally assume it is God, since this constellation makes decisions and gives directions. All scripts, however, indicate that the stellar body is named Franklin. Initial consideration could lead anyone with a knowledge of the film’s time period to believe this might be a reference to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As the 32nd President of the United States, Roosevelt served from 1933 until his untimely death in 1945, just before World War II ended.

Capra worked for the government, filming the Why We Fight propaganda films during the war. Although Capra served his patriotic duty to his country, he did not support Roosevelt’s New Deal program, so consequently this reference is unlikely.

Benjamin Franklin
Early script for It’s a Wonderful Life, reveal even more about this character’s identity than the final script. Originally, an early script called for Joseph and Franklin to be physical beings instead of constellations. In that script, we learn that “Joseph comes to Ben Franklin’s workshop and office” (Basinger 325).

Benjamin Franklin is an American icon who represented the American Dream. He was an inventor and capitalist. He owned his own publishing business and published Poor Richard’s Almanac. He was a self-made, self-educated man who wrote an autobiography and was instrumental in forming America’s identity as a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In Capra’s notes, which include questions and minor details to work out about It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra wrote, “Franklin. Still flies kites in Heaven. Still reads Sat. Eve Post” (Basinger 21). This is a reference to Franklin flying the kite with the key tied to it during an electricity experiment. The reference to the Saturday Evening Post is a reference to an American magazine that was popular in the early 20th Century, and that was descended from Ben Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette.

Basinger, Jeanine (in Collaboration with the trustees of the Frank Capra Archives), Interviews by
                Leonard Maltin. The It’s a Wonderful Life Book. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1996.

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