Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Antidotes to Gloom: Capra and Carney

Ray Carney is that rare thing, an inspiring critic, and he really does the man justice:

In the months and years since [Capra's] death, numerous eulogistic tributes and references to his work have appeared on radio and television and in newspapers and magazines. They have displayed a remarkable degree of consensus about his films. Yet I must say that, to my mind, almost every single one of them has completely missed the point of his life and work. Their Capra is a cinematic Norman Rockwell—sentimental and nougatty, defending family values, celebrating small-town life, and championing (as the commentators never tire of repeating) "the common man"—whoever in the world that might be.

Their Capra was someone out of a mythical American golden age, a man who never existed in a past that never was, someone quaint and antiquated and infinitely distant from the present moment, like Santa Claus someone adults love but know that only children or Walt Disney really believe in. Still worse, some of the appreciations of Capra's work sketched a man only Jerry Falwell or a Fellow of the Hoover Institute could endorse—a Capra of the Pledge of Allegiance, a man who looked out across America and congratulated himself that, at least in These United States, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world. (If you don't like it, you can leave.) Their version of "The Frank Capra Story" clearly would cast a B-movie actor named Ronald Reagan in the title role.

I wondered if we had seen the same films.

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