It’s A Wonderful Life

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become so ingrained on our holiday culture that it is difficult to believe this delightful movie saw little success at the box office when it was first released in 1946. In fact in its initial release the film didn’t come even close to grossing its production cost of $6.3 million.

Despite its poor monetary performance “It’s a Wonderful Life” was nominated for five Academy Awards (Best Director Frank Capra, Best Picture, Best Actor James Stewart, Best Editing William Hornbeck and Best Sound Recording John Aalberg).

‘Not Long Ago Joy Abounded at Christmas’ by Jack Kerouac

A Christmas Eve memory in this excerpt from the 1957 essay “Not Long Ago Joy Abounded at Christmas” by Jack Kerouac:

“. . . Christmas was observed all-out in my Catholic French-Canadian environment in the 1930s much as it is today in Mexico. . . .When we were old enough it was thrilling to be allowed to stay up late on Christmas Eve and put on best suits and dresses and overshoes and earmuffs and walk with adults through crunching dried snow to the bell-ringing church. Parties of people laughing down the street, bright throbbing stars of New England winter bending over rooftops sometimes causing long rows of icicles to shimmer as we passed Near the church you could hear the opening choruses of Bach being sung by child choirs mingled with the grownup choirs usually led by a tenor who inspired laughter ore than anything else. But from the wide-open door of the church poured golden light, and inside the little girls were lined up for their trumpet choruses caroling Handel.  . . .

“After mass the open house was on. Gangs would troop back home or to other houses. Collectors for a Christmas organization of Medieval origin and preserved by the French of Quebec and New England called ‘La Guignolee,’ and now sponsored by the Society of the Poor, St. Vincent de Paul, would appear at these open house parties and collect old clothes and food for the poor and never turn down a glass of sweet red wind with a crossignolle (cruller) and even join in singing in the kitchen. They always sangs an old canticle of their own before leaving. The Christmas trees were always huge in those days, the presents were all laid out and opened at a given consensus. What glee I’d feel to see the clean white shirts of my adults, their flushed faces, the laughter, the bawdy joking around. Meanwhile the avid women were in the kitchen with aprons over best dresses getting out the tortierres (pork pies) from the icebox. Days of preparation had gone into these sumptuous and delicious pies, which are better cold than hot. Also, my mother would make immense ragouts de boulettes (pork meatball stew with carrots and potatoes) and serve that piping hot to crowds of sometimes 12 to 15 friends and relatives: her aluminum drip grind coffee pot made 12 large cups. Also from the icebox came bowls of freshly made cooled cortons (French-Canadian for pate’ de maison), a spread to go on good fresh crusty bread liberally baked around town at several French bakeries.

“In the general uproar of gifts and unwinding of wrappers it was always a delight to me to step out on the porch or even go up the street a ways at 1:00 in the morning and listen to the silent hum of heaven diamond stars, watch the red and green windows of homes, consider the trees that seemed frozen in sudden devotion, and think over the events of another year passed. Before my mind’s eye was the St. Joseph of my imagination clasping the darling little Child.

“Perhaps too many battles have been fought on Christmas Eve since then—or maybe I’m wrong and little children of 1957 secretly dig Christmas in their little devotional hearts.”

—Jack Kerouac,  first published in the World Telegram and Sun, Dec. 5, 1957

Early New Year’s Resolution: More videos for 2013

Any time a video that shows Lowell in a negative light appears online, the reaction is to find ways to suppress it. But that only gives it more attention. The best antidote to bad publicity is good publicity and, with so much good stuff – or at least “not bad” stuff – going on in Lowell, it should be easy to flood the market with videos showing good things about the city.

Thus far, that really hasn’t happened. It can’t be due to a steep technological threshold: pretty much every cell phone in use today can record pretty good video and audio and uploading it to YouTube, especially, is easy and free. I suspect many people still see video as the professionally produced, 30 or 60 minute block that we see on commercial television. But that’s not the future; that’s the past. The future is short-form video, clips that are less than 5 minutes long, that don’t have high production values but that have interesting content. And when I say “interesting”, I don’t mean “Super Bowl commercial” interesting. One of the marvels of the internet is that your audience is almost infinite so no matter what the subject of your video, someone out there will be interested in it. So make an early New Year’s resolution: Create your own YouTube account and post at least one video by January 1, 2013. Can’t think of anything to record? Why not use the city’s “15 second promotional video” contest for motivation. Even if you don’t submit a video, do your own, unofficial submission and post it online. Use 2013 to flood Lowell online with videos.

My “Visit from St. Nicholas” video mashup was an early attempt. I found the poem online, printed it, and carried that “script” around in my coat pocket along with my old reliable Flip video camera. As I went about my day – coming and going from work, roaming around downtown on weekend days, attending events like the LTC annual meeting – I’d pull a person aside and ask if they’d be willing to read a line of the poem on camera. More than once someone pulled out a schedule and asked “when do you want to do it?” to which I would reply “right now.” Following that approach, I accumulated 56 clips from 56 individuals. Once all were obtained, stitching them together on the computer was easy. Since this recipe worked pretty well, I’m already planning encores: “Paul Revere’s Ride” for Patriot’s Day; “Casey at the Bat” for mid-summer. I’m looking for other suggestions. For now, though, here’s the “St Nick” video. Merry Christmas and get those cameras recording.