Last night my partner Jane and I attended our local Paramount Cinema to watch a seasonal screening of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. Many filmmakers, when interviewed, cite this film as being one of the best ever made. And now that I myself have joined the ranks of Spielberg, Kubrick and Scorsese (by dint of having made a handful of music videos) I am now watching movies with a whole new appreciation of what goes into making them.
The joy of what is already a wonderfully crafted piece of entertainment was last night compounded by the fact that our local cinema is one of the only movie theatres in the country that stops for intermission halfway through the feature allowing people to head both to the bar and to the loo (oh so civilised!) but the greatest joy came from this being the first day that Jane has been able to fully hear again.
Her hearing has slowly deteriorated over the years due to a hereditary arthritic condition affecting the bones of her inner ear which results in ever-increasing deafness. She did try some hearing-aids years ago but they hurt her ears and amplified the tinnitus. Her disappointment was such that she opted for lip-reading as a preferable alternative; which, you can imagine, has been highly challenging in these days of compulsory mask wearing. (One belligerent and barely audible receptionist, who refused to raise her voice, told Jane to go get herself a see-through facemask so that she’d be able to lip-read. How do you respond to that level of stupidity?)
Her doctor at the time suggested that Jane wait a few years until hearing-aid technology would undoubtedly have improved. So that’s what she did. Meanwhile her hearing worsened to the point when, two weeks ago following a hearing test, she learned that she is now officially among the hearing-disabled. Which, believe it or not, entitles her to free hearing aids (including batteries) plus, somewhat oddly, a third off all UK rail travel for herself and a friend.
Yesterday morning, after being fitted with the new devices, her understandable concerns about what miseries this technology might inflict quickly disappeared. In fact, she has now decided she is the “bionic woman”.
And I have to say, these hearing aids are incredible. Perfectly attuned to her particular hearing loss they boost certain frequencies to a degree needed to give her something very close to normal hearing. Additionally, by making adjustments on her phone app., she can change the volume of the sound in each individual ear enabling her, for example, to shut down traffic noise on her left while listening to conversation on the right. Truly amazing. This is like having a stereo system for your ears. In the same way that I use electronics to change the sound of my voice and instruments she can now tweak the sound coming in from the world around her. I begged her to let me have a go but she wouldn’t.
Nevertheless, I’m vicariously having huge fun just watching Jane rediscover all that she’s been missing. It delights me to see the smile on her face as she walks along saying, “The birds are so loud today, I wonder what kind they are? I can hear a machine somewhere far away …look out, I hear a car coming!”
After years of needing movie subtitles, she is now mentally visualising custom-made captions for all the new sounds in her audio world:
Sound of voices in another room
Sound of water running
Sound of footsteps on gravel
Sound of laundry being folded
On the day that you regain your hearing there can surely be no better movie to watch than Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. For one thing it has many delightful musical moments. In fact, George and Mary’s courtship depends on music with dance, barbershop harmonies and swing tunes so present throughout the picture my biggest wonder is that we never see George playing a ukulele.
Unbelievably the movie flopped when it came out and remained a dud for so long that in the 1970’s it finally fell out of copyright and so became one of the most frequently repeated movies on TV. That this film should have gone from being an abject failure to one of the most critically admired films ever made is ironic when you consider that a central theme is the push-pull between humanist George Bailey and the money loving Mr Potter. Whereas, George Bailey’s endless belief in people motivates him to support everyone to be the best they can be, selflessly giving up college and his honeymoon in order to help others in their time of need, Mr Potter, in contrast, sees people simply as engines to use for his own personal gain and cares not about the ruin he brings to other people’s lives along the way.
In other words, just because the film did not make money at the box-office does not make it a failure, or something to be rejected or despised. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, it has become the much-loved family favourite that it is because of its nearly three decade-long failure to achieve.
Her Royal Highness the Queen of England doesn’t allow the board-game Monopoly to be played in the palace because, “It gets too vicious.”
And she is right. It truly is a miserable game. The inevitable result of Monopoly is that once a player, usually the banker, starts to win they continue to buy properties and charge endless rent to the poor schmucks who go round and round the board ever hopeful that good luck will help them overcome their poverty-stricken status. But they almost never do – because the impossibility of coming out of poverty once you’re in the cycle of the rental game, is the whole point of it.
Monopoly, originally known as The Landlord’s Game, was invented by Elizabeth Magie as a teaching tool to demonstrate how the rent system, and by extension, the laws of capitalism, only benefit a minority while the majority become more and more impoverished. No wonder the queen hates it. Hah!
It sometimes gets said that, “Capitalism is the worst system on earth – except for all the others.” But I often wonder if the people who say that are the same ones who have everything to gain from keeping the rest of us involved in playing along so we don’t shout, “Enough already!” before tipping the board over.
Two days ago, Jane could barely hear. Today, thanks to her publicly funded hearing aids, she is a greatly enriched person. And as a society we are all better off because she is better off.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with the world right now, but if we can all be more like George and Mary Bailey by giving people a helping hand and a chance in life and less like Mr Potter, whose peace and comfort is derived from numbers on a balance sheet, then there’s also a chance that we may yet create a heaven on earth instead of waiting and hoping for the day that a bell might ring to announce that we finally got a pair of wings for all our trouble. Because who needs wings when you’ve got a third off all UK rail travel – right?
Warmest greetings to you and yours in this season of good will.
Keep Strumming and Smiling,