Serious Film’s Michael C here. With the Fourth of July around the corner it’s a perfect time to examine a classic piece of Americana that has recently re-entered the national conversation.
Last week the movie on the front pages of America's newspapers wasn’t Man of Steel or World War Z. It was a 1939 Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart. There wasn’t, alas, a nationwide burst of interest in cinema history. Rather, it was the story of Texas state senator Wendy Davis holding the floor in a dramatic 13-hour filibuster in opposition to a bill proposing draconian restrictions on abortion rights. Journalists had to reach back nearly three quarters of a century to the thrilling filibuster climax of Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to capture the drama of the incident. Just as Capra's It’s a Wonderful Life is synonymous with sob-inducing Holiday sentiment, so too is Jimmy Stewart’s wide-eyed senator intertwined with courageous political underdogs.
Of course, Capra isn’t such a high pedestal in critical circles as he is in the popular culture. Despite three Oscars for directing, he is often considered corny and clunky, his films hampered by starry-eyed idealism. So with the subject fresh in the news, it seems appropriate to ask if we should update our cultural touchstones.
Is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington still relevant? Was it ever? [more after the jump]