Free Film Friday – Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life
For the past two weeks I have been creating a blog which is hopefully not only of great interest to film geeks, but also of great service. To that end I have been focusing on films which would appeal to fans of trivia, important cinematic milestones from long ago whose influence still resonates today. As yet, though, I feel as though I have not quite lived up to what Geek Pride is all about. Sure, the films I have discussed so far have geeky significance , but now that Free Film Friday is truly up and running I think we should look at a picture that can incite a real geek-out. Something containing enough fascinating factors to blow my previous reviews right out of the water, and I believe I have found just the film…
It’s all down to this man.
As you are no doubt aware, The Thick of It star Peter Capaldi has recently been announced as the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor in the iconic BBC science fiction series Doctor Who. Since the news broke, all manner of interesting information has come out about the veteran actor, perhaps the most surprising of which is that he is in fact an Academy Award winner. That’s right, the Doctor has an Oscar.
In 1995, when Forrest Gump was winning Best Picture, two films tied for the Best Live Action short film Academy Award. Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life was made by Capaldi and starred Richard E. Grant, who not only played the villainous Great Intelligence in Doctor Who recently, but also took on the role of the eponymous Time Lord in the 2003 audio drama Scream of the Shalka. To round off the list of connections, this short film also features Crispin Letts, son of the late Doctor Who producer Barry Letts.
For the sheer awe that all of this geeky trivia must surely inspire, this short must be checked out. But leaving aside all of that, and looking at it from a purely cinematic perspective, what is the film like?
The plot follows Kafka (Grant) as he attempts to write his great work The Metamorphosis. The atmosphere is eerie but very much tongue-in-cheek as he sits in his Gothic home atop a set reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. For his part Grant, his wide eyes sunken on a gaunt and troubled face, reminds me somewhat of Max Schreck in Nosferatu. Plagued by writers block, Kafka repeatedly attempts to start writing but is constantly interrupted by increasingly bizarre people and circumstances.
Humour comes from Kafka’s various attempts to turn his distractions into inspiration, as well as an unexpected reference to a Disney classic. But the real hilarity comes in the absurd and completely twisted way that this film parodies its namesake, Frank Capra’s classic Christmas tale It’s a Wonderful Life. It is perhaps the most outlandish spoof I’ve ever seen, but also one of the cleverest. The way that all the plot points are able to combine into one gloriously silly send up makes this an infectiously entertaining piece of work.
In the end this is a surprisingly fun movie combining all manner of literary and cinematic references with outright silliness in a tremendous blend of dark comedy. All of the Doctor Who trivia that accompanies this film is a happy bonus, and when you sit down to watch Peter Capaldi take on the role this Christmas it will be worth remembering just how talented the man truly is.