Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dreaming of Pottersville

Last week Jenny, Vienna, Mike, and I saw It's a Wonderful Life on the big screen in Scotts Valley. Naturally the theater projected the unadulterated black-and-white version, but I must admit a fondness for the colorized version - at least for the scenes in which George Bailey stumbles through the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is Pottersville. To be clear, I'm not referring to eighties-era Night of the Living Dead colorization that transformed human beings into ghoulish pastel mutations; I mean the much more subtle revision engineered by Legend Films in 2007.

OK, I get it: Colorization adds nothing substantial to It's a Wonderful Life. You hardly need techno-fakery to identify with young George's wanderlust ("You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? … Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles"). And you certainly don't need a software solution to celebrate Bailey's appreciation for the fortune he finds in boring old Bedford Falls. When considering the larger themes of Frank Capra's masterpiece, the addition of chromaticity offers nothing more than a clever cheat. But for that gloriously nightmarish sequence in Pottersvillecolor makes a compelling point.

I am reminded of Gary Kamiya's outstanding Salon piece, "All hail Pottersville," which makes a convincing case that monochromatic Bedford Falls, despite its Norman Rockwell charm, is actually a pretty miserable place ("like Bentham’s Panopticon with picket fences"). In colorful contrast, Pottersville, with its hepcat jive music, garish neon, and shoot-first-ask-questions-later cops, could actually be a lot of fun: "Alas, we will never know what delights are hidden behind the door of the Indian Club or the Bamboo Room, the Midnight Club or the Blue Moon." Kamiya is (mostly) kidding, but his point stands. It may be a guilty pleasure, but give me Pottersville in color!

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