In honor of Grand Illusion Cinema’s 47th year of bringing us “It’s a Wonderful Life,” here are five things you might not have known about the film.
Perhaps the Seattle film community’s sweetest holiday tradition gets underway this weekend, as the 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” begins its annual run at the Grand Illusion Cinema on Friday, Dec. 8. In honor of the little cinema’s 47th year of bringing us all this Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart goodness, here are five things you might not have known about “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Dec. 8-11 and 15-28 (screening at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 is free), Grand Illusion, 1403 N.E. 50th St., Seattle (206-523-3935 or grandillusioncinema.org).
• The story on which “It’s a Wonderful Life” was based almost didn’t get told. It was based on the 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. Unable to find a publisher for his work, Stern self-published it as a booklet and sent it out as a Christmas gift to friends; somehow, one of those booklets made its way to Hollywood.
• The film was nominated for five Academy Awards — best picture, actor, director, editing and sound — but lost to “The Best Years of Our Lives” in every category but sound (won by “The Jolson Story”).
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• That silently falling snow in the film was a new innovation. Before “It’s a Wonderful Life,” movies generally used cornflakes painted white for falling snow. Because Capra wanted to record the dialogue live — cornflakes were noisy — the studio effects crew created a new form of snow, using a firefighting chemical mixed with soap and water, which was then pumped through a wind machine. Its creators received a special Academy Award for technical achievement in 1949.
• The reason many of us are so familiar with this movie is partly due to a massive administrative error. The original copyright for “It’s a Wonderful Life” expired in 1974, and for some reason its copyright owner neglected to renew it — which meant that the film entered the public domain. For the next two decades, it was shown on television nonstop during the holidays, and dozens of distributors sold tapes of the film. In 1993, its original owner regained control and its television screenings became strictly limited. Now, of course, you can readily stream it — but wouldn’t you rather see it in a cozy movie theater? “Merry Christmas, moviehouse!”