pecial to the Times
by Matthew Terry
number of years ago, I stood in the lobby of the Egyptian Theatre
after watching a film at the Seattle International Film Festival.
The director of the film was there and a moviegoer stood next to
the director praising one scene in particular.
loved in that one shot," the moviegoer said, "as the elevator descended,
it was as if she was going into the abyss. Like her life was descending
too." And as the moviegoer went on and on about the particular shot,
I thought about the director who, more than likely, showed up on
the set that morning, saw that he had access to the elevator shaft,
asked the building owner if he could take a shot of the elevator
descending, took the shot, edited it into his film because it looked
"cool" and finished editing his film.
special meaning. No hidden depth. Just a shot of an elevator descending.
I watched "It's A Wonderful Life," and it changed all that.
OK, two seconds of the film changed all that. Frank Capra's film
has been shown for years around the holidays and, due to it being
in the public domain it was shown over and over and over again.
Only within the last few years has someone been able to re-claim
the rights to the film and NBC shows it two times during the holiday
season. You all know the film; I don't need to describe it. It's
been out on video and you can get it on DVD with a few bells and
whistles. It is still, and will always be, a classic film of redemption
and honor. A film about self worth and the impact each one of us
has on the people in our lives. It is, undeniably, a very powerful
the two seconds. Which two seconds am I talking about? No, it's
not the realization that he's back in the land of Bedford Falls.
It's not Zuzu's petals. It's not when the bell rings or when he
helps Mr. Gower or even when he kisses Mary. No it is just
one, very powerful, two-second moment. During the scene when he
returns home from the bank and, realizing he has no money and the
town is ripe for a scandal, and the dominoes are about to fall and
he's going to be on the bottom of the heap he faces his family
in despair. In his anger and frustration, he turns and with one
swift kick he destroys a large toy suspension bridge that he had
been building. It, along with various plans and blueprints, goes
crashing to the floor.
of those two seconds, you ask? Why so significant, you ask? Isn't
one fell swoop, Capra showed that this man, getting along in years,
with four children, a bad ear and living in a drafty old house in
little ol' Bedford Falls, had not given up on his dreams.
those two seconds, you see a man finally, fatally, destroy whatever
hope he had in his goals. Within those two seconds, you see a man
finally, fatally destroy his dreams and wishes.
another look on video or DVD or on network television. Look for
that moment. If you think about the time and energy it took to make
that bridge, you must think about the dreams that held that bridge
film runs over two hours long and Capra couldn't take the time to
show George Bailey buying the supplies, drawing up the graphs and
delicately placing the glue. Rallying his children around his project.
Explaining dimensions and suspensions and the art of architecture.
couldn't show George Bailey fantasizing about the cars that would
travel this bridge. He didn't have the time to show George Bailey
cutting the ribbon and seeing his name on a plaque. He didn't have
the money to film a scene next to a wonderful suspension bridge
with a proud and proper George Bailey standing in front, hands in
his lapels surrounded by other architects wondering how he did it.
He couldn't, and we'd be lesser if he did. When George kicks over
that bridge and all the plans and pieces hit the floor you
really do see a man giving up on the goals, dreams and passions
that had always fueled his fire.
think, in some ways, it asks us about our dreams. Our passions.
What have we kicked down and out of our lives in a moment of anger
or frustration? What have we given up on? What have we let crush
our desires? I don't know what happens to George Bailey the morning
after. Maybe Mr. Potter has a change of heart. Maybe his toady manservant
who knew about the money came clean. But I have to think that, after
everyone left, and the money was counted and the gifts were opened
and house cleaned up George Bailey found his broken model
and didn't fix what obviously was broken, but started over again.
From scratch. To build it better than it was before.
what George Bailey would have done.
screenwriter Matthew Terry has taught a screenwriting class at Seattle
Central Community College for the past six years.