COMMEMORATING 30 YEARS OF TFF

11/11/2020

A few days ago, as the election results were becoming clearer, movie lovers started to circulate relevant scenes and images—for instance, the dueling Inquirer headlines in Citizen Kane, “KANE ELECTED” and “FRAUD AT POLLS!” A few days earlier, when we saw the footage of the Biden campaign bus almost run off the road in Texas, some of us were reminded of another film reference: the carload of young Jeff Smith supporters sideswiped by the Taylor machine truck that brings the furious “David and Goliath” montage in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to a stirring close.

Today, I’m thinking of a different moment from another Frank Capra movie. It Happened One Night, which The Film Foundation helped MoMA to restore, is one of Capra’s most popular and successful films and also one of his greatest. It’s a poem of the open road. It’s a romantic comedy of enlightenment in which the man and the woman learn from each other and come together on a level playing field. And it’s a film of unparalleled warmth. The interlude on the night bus, from the singing of “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” through the moment when Colbert and Gable give all their money to the starving boy and his mother, is one of the most moving passages in American cinema.

“Something that kind of disappoints me is that most of the new technology from the ’80s onwards has been about the atomization of society,” said Brian Eno in a recent Times interview. “It’s been about you being able to be more and more separate from everybody else…To be alive now is to see the possibilities of ever-increasing separateness.” The last four years have embodied some kind of culminating point in this commerce-fueled and social media-facilitated drift away from the frequently maddening but potentially creative messiness and intimacy of common life. Right now, it feels like the helium is leaking from the balloon—after all, there’s a limit to the number of ways and times you can declare your own difference. This sequence from It Happened One Night embodies a spirit directly opposed to ever-increasing separateness: human solidarity.

- Kent Jones

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