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Posts Tagged ‘Frank Capra’

“Now that all the decay is over, things are going to get better.”
Adam (Brendan Frazier) in Blast from the Past
Written by Billy Kelly and Hugh Wilson

Who knows how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far, so fast
The End of the Innocence
Bruce Hornsby/Don Henley

Watching It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wolf of Wall Street back to back made me think of the 1999 film Blast from the PastKind of what would happen if George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) of the 1940s showed up in Martin Scorsese’s modern version of Pottersville? (Pottersville is the Girls-Girls-Girls flip side nightmare world to the Norman Rockwell—like Bedford Falls in the Frank Capra classic.)

But Pottersville in Scorsese’s hands comes across like a perpetual party paradise.  An echo of Gary Kamiya’s All hail Pottersville! article— “Pottersville rocks!” Boring vs. Fun.

Perhaps the Wolf of Wall Street himself had a clearer view of the world he created at the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont:

“It should have been Sodom and Gomorrah. After all, it wasn’t every firm that sported hookers in the basement, drug dealers in the parking lot, exotic animals in the boardroom, and midget-tossing competitions on Fridays.”
Jordan Belfort

Earlier this month, a former worker at Stratton Oakmont who once idolized Belfort gave his perspective:

“But eventually, the blindness from the drugs, the girls and the cars, the clothes and the money, wore off. These people were some of the worst people that I have ever met in my life — they would sell their own grandmother in a second….I’m still going to see the [The Wolf of Wall Street]. My parents want to go with me. I would hope people would try to keep some morality while still trying to achieve success — but I’m not sure the movie is going to show that. Just the wild ride.”
Josh Shapiro
My life working for the real life ‘Wolf of Wall Street’

The movie is a three-hour fantasy wild ride that—well, I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it—but it’s an upside down world. One that Scorsese celebrates more than he condemns. Actress Hope Holiday was quoted in The Wrap saying a screen writer at an Academy screening for The Wolf of Wall Street screamed at Scorsese “Shame on you.” But if you’ve seen Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or GoodFellas you know the director has a fondness for depravity over redemption.

The Wolf of Wall Street is not Billy Wilder’s classic The Apartment (1960) on steroids…or cocaine, quaaludes or even viagra. The stated theme seems to want to be “When the chickens come home to roost,” but comes across more like “Crime pays, and it pays well.” Maybe Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter (Boradwalk Empire, The Sopranos) were just being faithful to Belfort’s book that the movie was based on.

It’s hard to say the 3 hour movie (okay, technically 2 hours and 59 minutes) is missing anything but constraints, but I think TIME’s Richard Corliss says it best—”What’s missing is the broker’s acknowledgement of a wasted life — if not his, then his victims.”

Scorsese said he knows the The Wolf of Wall Street is not for “everyone’s taste” and added, “It’s not made for 14 year olds.”

But I believe that 14-year-olds are going to see this film. And for some The Wolf of Wall Street will be their ideal—their goal. Just as young Jordan Belfort said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street became his ideal, his goal after watching Wall Street. (And Wall Street was not the upside down, amoral world of The Wolf of Wall Street.)

Gordon (“Greed… is good”) Gekko is the #24 Villain on AFI’s 100 Year…100 Heroes & Villains. Ranked just ahead of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining (Here’s Johnny!). But the Gekko character may rank as the #1 villain that most people want to be like. Actor Michael Douglas said he was surprised at how many people over the years have told him they became stock brokers because of his Oscar-winning performance of what he called “the bad guy.” (And how many of those Gekko followers became players in the banking collapse of 2008? Movies reflect the culture they help produce.)

“As the years have gone by, it’s heartening to see how popular the film has remained. But what I find strange and oddly disturbing is that Gordon Gekko has been mythologized and elevated from the role of villain to that of hero.”
Wall Street co-screenwriter Stanley Weiser
Repeat After Me: Greed Is Not Good, 2008 LA Times

“I’d just say anyone who took away that greed is good has missed the point. The movie speaks for itself. People who walk out of the movie and think ‘[Gekko's] such a great guy,’ they need to think and ask themselves on what terms am I willing to do that?”
Oliver Stone, Wall Street director and co-screenwriter
Oliver Stone: Life after Wall Street by Telos Demos/ CNNMoney

Wall Street was closer in ideals to It’s a Wonderful Life than The Wolf of Wall Street. More Bedford Falls than Pottersville. More the ’80s Miami of Scarface than the ancient Roman orgies of Caligula.

Perhaps the ongoing battle is the way the world is versus the way we want it to be. But what do I know? Well, I do know one thing—that Jordan Belfort’s speaking fee just went up.

P.S. A movie that’s said to have influenced Stone’s Wall Street was Executive Suite (1954) directed by Robert Wise from a script by Ernest Lehman from a novel by Cameron Hawley.

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Raging Bull vs. Martin Scorsese
“Study the Old Master.”—Martin  Scorsese
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 1)
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 2)
Hugo & The Artist
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I’m stuck here in this mudhole for life, doing the same dull work day after day…I never did anything really useful or interesting, and it looks as if I never will. I might just as well be dead. 
George Pratt in The Greatest Gift

“Even the smallest voice can be heard by millions.”
Jay Z

Before It’s a Wonderful Life became the much loved film It’s a Wonderful Life it was a humble short story that couldn’t find a publisher. Since Philip Van Doren Stern couldn’t get his 4,000 word story titled The Greatest Gift published by traditional means he printed 200 copies on his own and sent them as Christmas cards in 1943. Good Housekeeping magazine published the story in 1944 under the title The Man Who Was Never Born.

Frank Capra somehow got a copy of the story and allegedly said something in line with having waited all his life to find The Greatest Gift. It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946 with Capra directing James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore in the lead roles. The film received five Oscar-nominations a eventually became a Christmas standard. It’s number 20 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies.

The opening hook of the short story of a man contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve fits well one of my favorite writing quotes:

“I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.”
Stanley Elkin

Stern was born in 1900 in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania which even today has less than a 1,000 residents. According to Wikipedia he was raised in Brooklyn, New York and New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University. When he died in 1984 the NY Times wrote, “During his career as an editor, he worked for Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf.” He also wrote more than 40 historical books including ”The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln” and  ”Robert E. Lee: The Man and the Soldier.”

Though today Stern’s books are not widely remember—and perhaps even his name obscured by time—his little story that came to him in a dream has found quite a world wide audience. (According to an article by Daven Hiskey, in 1992 It’s a Wonderful Life was the first American program ever shown on Russian television. It was broadcast to 200 million viewers.)

“It is a story about depression and disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. And yet for all that, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has just been voted the most inspirational film ever made.”
2006 article in The Guardian

Stern’s daughter Dr. Marguerite Stern Robinson said one of the themes of the story is “the awesome power of apparent insignificance.” In one limited edition of the book Robinson wrote in the forward, “The business about the insignificance is very important. George wished he had never been born. It was only after he learned for himself what the world would have been like without him that he begs to be returned to his life.”

P.S. It should be pointed that Donna Reed, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, showed Lionel Barrymore how to milk a cow on the set of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Here’s a PDF of The Greatest Gift.

Related article: The Real Bedford Falls

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Legacy Filmmaking (& Your Bank Account)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…(Part 9)
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Screenwriting Quote #182 (Richard Krevolin) “All characters are wounded souls…”
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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“My favorite Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life and I think Capra did a great job of balancing the light and the dark, the comedic and the dramatic—but George Bailey from the mid-point on he’s got to go through some really tough, dark stuff. And I think the reason that that film lives on today, and the reason every time you watch it is you get choked up at the end is because—I don’t care how tough you are—it’s because it’s earned. He had to go to the tough place and when he gets that reconciliation, his redemption— and not only the reunion with his family, but all those folks from the town come—you bought it and it’s okay to get sappy, mushy, dusty, whatever because I felt Capra and Jimmy Stewart earned that.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns (Brother’s McMullen, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. Capra always gets a lot of credit for It’s a Wonderful Life for obvious reasons, but if you look at the IMDB credits for that film here’s what you’ll see in the writing credits:
Francis Goodrich (screenplay) and
Albert Hackett (screenplay) and
Frank Capra (screenplay)
Jo Swerling (additional scenes)
Philip Van Doren Stern (story)
Michael Wilson (contributor to screenplay (uncredited)

Goodrich and Hackett won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their play The Diary of Anne Frank. They both also received 4 Oscar nominations including their script for The Father of the Bride (1950). Swerling, who was born in Ukraine, was a Tony-Award winning writer and lyricist and received an Oscar nomination for co-writing The Pride of the Yankees. Stern was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania and was an accomplished historian who wrote over 40 books. So there was a lot of talent behind the story/script of It’s a Wonderful Life. How many people mention Stern as the original source of It’s a Wonderful Life?  Tomorrow I’ll write about how Stern couldn’t get his short story that became It’s a Wonderful Life published so— in the true independent spirit—he published it himself.

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Insanely Great Endings
Insanely Great Endings (Part 2)
It’s a Wonderful Prison (“Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Frank Darabont)
Filmmaking Quote #28 (Frank Capra)
Emotional Screenwriting (Tip #53)
Writing Quote #22 (Dara Marks)
Hope & Redemption
Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns

Scott W. Smith

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I wrote in my last post (Screenwriting from Japan) that many Japanese films are about respect and honor. Akira Kurosawa, who was the youngest of eight children, was born in Toyko in 1910 and would go on as a film director and screenwriter to gain the respect and honor of some of the greatest filmmakers in history including Fellini, Bergman, Spielberg, Lucas, and Coppola.

Martin Scorsese said of Kurosawa, “His influence on filmmakers throughout the entire world is so profound as to be almost incomparable.”

But one of the things that may make his films so accessible and enduring to those outside Japan is that Kurosawa was influenced by Frank Capra, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, John Ford and  William Shakespere.

And if you want to follow a nice exercise of how creativity is passed around read Shakespere’s King Lear and watch Kurosawa’s Ran. Watch Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and then watch The Magnificent Seven (1960). Read Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan IIyich and then watch Kurosawa’s Ikiru.

As original as we think we are, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” But it doesn’t hurt to expose yourself to the wisdom and creativity of great artists from the past.

”With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this.”
Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa died in 1998, but look for some celebrations coming as the 100th anniversary of his birth arrives March 23. And for a list of Kurosawa’s films check out The Criterion Collection.

And, for good measure, I’ll toss in this quote by Tom Cruise;

“I was 18 when I saw Akira Kurosawa’s Shinchinin no samurai (Seven Samurai). After about 30 seconds, I realized that this was not just a cultural thing, it was universal. Years later, I read Bushido. It talked about many things that I strive for in my own life: loyalty, compassion, responsibility, the idea of looking back on your life and taking responsibility for everything you’ve ever done. I’m fascinated by the samurai and the samurai code – it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to make The Last Samurai.”

Scott W. Smith

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