Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Whimsical History of The Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life

I have embarked on a crash course in film history, which entails a stack of 8 textbooks from the library and making the most of my housemates Netflix.

One of the most surprising revelations involves It's a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz.

If you would have asked me a week ago when these movies were made I would have botched my best attempt at an educated guess.

Wrong Decades.

Wrong Order.

For the record, The Wizard of Oz was originally released in 1939, followed by It's a Wonderful Life in 1946.

I also would have assumed the release of these films were landmark events, unanimously adored by moviegoers and critics alike.

Wrong again.

Both of these movies faced harsh criticism and bombed at the box office. In the case of The Wizard of Oz, MGM was an extremely profitable studio and could shrug off a ~$1 million loss. However, the failure of It's a Wonderful Life drove the production company Frank Capra had started, only a year prior, into bankruptcy.

Based on the lasting legacy of these films in my lifetime I never would have guessed they were so poorly received. That's Common Denominator 1.

Common Denominator 2: Both of these were "discovered" when they were re-released on television in the 1970's.

It's a Wonderful Life found its way to television first in 1973 (when the networks found the copyright had lapsed) followed by The Wizard of Oz in 1976. It was this 1970's audience, three decades after their initial release, that so favorably received and passed down these films as enduring classics.

While the dynamics of the industry, audience, and technological innovation have changed since these events, it still makes one wonder what contemporary films are passing under the radar only to possibly be adored as a classic three decades from now.

I nominate Gattaca. What's your nomination?

My source for this post was A History of American Movies: A Film-by-Film Look at the Art, Craft, and Business of Cinema. Wizard of Oz Pg 63-65; It's a Wonderful Life Pg 101-103.

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