Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Double Dip of Inspiration

A friend of mine and I were talking recently, and I told him that, if somebody asked me to name the greatest movie of all time, I would pick "Citizen Kane."

That's the truth.

I know, it's nearly 70 years old (which is irrelevant, really) and it was filmed in black and white (also irrelevant) and it didn't have splashy special effects by modern standards (once again — irrelevant), but it was well written and the acting was extraordinary.

That does not mean, however, that I think it was the most inspirational film I ever saw. In fact, I don't think it even made the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 inspirational films of all time.

It was a great movie, groundbreaking in many ways, but it wasn't an inspiring story. Charles Foster Kane wasn't an inspirational character — and he seemed to know it. Following the famed 1929 Stock Market Crash, Kane observed to his guardian, Mr. Thatcher, "If I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man."

"Don't you think you are?" Thatcher asked.

Kane looked at him and smiled that Orson Welles smile, the one that suggested he was thinking of an inside joke or an ironic twist, and said, "I think I did pretty well under the circumstances."

Influential, yes. But inspirational? I don't think the story of Charles Foster Kane qualified as inspirational.

But two of the films from the Top 5 on that list can be seen on Turner Classic Movies tonight. And, even if you have seen one or both before, they are worth seeing again.
  • At 7 p.m. (Central), you can see Frank Captra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" from 1939 starring James Stewart, Claude Rains and Jean Arthur.

    Capra, of course, was no stranger to a list of inspirational movies, not with flicks like "It's a Wonderful Life," "You Can't Take It With You," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," "Meet John Doe" and "Pocketful of Miracles" to his credit.

    In fact, he shares the distinction of directing the most films on AFI's list with Steven Spielberg.

    Certainly, there are times when Capra's stories are hopelessly naive and impossibly optimistic. But he was making his films during the Great Depression and World War Ii. Wasn't it practically a requirement that you had to be at least a little hopelessly naive and impossibly optimistic in those days?

  • Then, at 9:15, you can see "To Kill a Mockingbird" from 1962 starring Gregory Peck.

    A few months ago, I observed the 50th anniversary of the publication of that book. It is appropriate that we should watch the film it inspired.

    It is a nice counter–balance to the Capra movie. It isn't as relentlessly optimistic, but it is inspiring, in its own understated kind of way.