After a few days of staying indoors, away from the cold, we finally came up for air on Sunday night, bundled up in our warmest jackets and scarves. It was one of the most beautiful nights I have seen. Well, maybe not the most. I do recall some spectacular moonlit nights in Lake Tahoe a whole lifetime ago.
But this Georgia scene was special indeed. It was 7 p.m. and the sky was a deep midnight blue, clear, not a single cloud. And there was the moon, in full splendor, so bright it almost warmed us. I stood in the cold, looking in shivering awe at that magnificent sight, grateful to be alive.
We went to One41, our favorite Italian restaurant in Johns Creek. It is a cozy place just off Highway 141, hence the name. It is so popular you need to make reservations even on a weeknight.
As soon as they seat you, they bring a basket of straight-from-the-oven, to-die-for crusty bread and a warm tomato and burrata dip. It was a fun night of incessant chatter, laughter and delicious food.
When we got home, the temperature had dipped considerably and I rushed into the house for a hot shower. There’s no better way to warm up.
It is winter. And I can’t take the cold like I used to. I remember living in New York and loving it. I walked a lot then. It didn’t matter if it snowed or rained, I was out there keeping pace with the rest of the New Yorkers, or like them, hanging from a sidewalk to hail a taxi. That is an art form in the Big Apple. And I had mastered it. Those were the days.
The other night, waiting for our favorite Spanish soap to come on, we chanced upon the last few minutes of a 1939 Frank Capra masterpiece, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” starring James Stewart.
We caught the final scene when Mr. Smith, a newly appointed senator and a political nobody, is standing on the Senate floor on a 25-hour filibuster. The gallery is full of excited spectators. His nonstop rant exposes corruption and other crimes committed by people in power, government officials and the press. He uncovers cases that reveal how the rich and powerful control the media.
The senators in the audience look bored, annoyed or have fallen asleep. But Smith is not deterred. He trudges on. Even when his opponents attempt to thwart his damaging exposé, he refuses to shut up or cede his time of privilege. And to keep his filibuster going, Smith reads the Constitution of the United States.
It is a riveting scene. Emotional.
Except that the movie was in black and white, and that James Stewart was then just a young up-and-coming actor. I could have sworn it was a motion picture about politics today.
Current and spot-on
It sounded current, spot-on like the millennials like to say, bravely revealing the lack of morals in high places, exposing the audacity of the powerful and the shameful absence of integrity in those who would call themselves leaders of the land.
It gave me goosebumps to hear Smith’s inexpert oratory and my thoughts drifted off to the here and now.
What kind of hell would explode if this took place today in our Houses of Congress? What would happen if one gutsy senator or congressman stood up and denounced the shameless wheeling and dealing that goes on?
What if someone stood up for an all-day filibuster, stopping at nothing to drive out the apathy of the well-fed and the well-to-do napping in their overstuffed chairs, and stayed on his feet to the point of exhaustion, against all odds, despite threats and catcalls, all for the love of what is right, and decent and respectable?
Do you know anyone who would?
In the movie, the principal suspect of corruption suddenly experiences a change of heart, and now repentant comes forward to admit his guilt. That’s the only way movies could end in those days. There had to be a moral lesson in the story. Something good had to be learned. There had to be a redeeming factor. Endings were predictable then.
When “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was first shown, there was quick reaction from the lawmakers of that time. It is written that Alben Barkley, a Democrat and the Senate majority leader, called the film “silly and stupid.” He said that “it makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks”; that the film was “a grotesque distortion” of the Senate, “as grotesque as anything ever seen!” Barkley also thought the film “showed the Senate as the biggest aggregation of nincompoops on record!”
His words, not mine.
A review after the movie premiered in Hollywood said, “‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ has been called one of the quintessential whistleblower films in American history.”
Other writers commented that “the movie, the filibuster and the tacit encouragement of the Senate president who smiles throughout the spectacle, represent the director’s belief in the difference that one individual can make.”
I can’t think of any one of today’s public officials, here or abroad (except perhaps Mayor Isko?) who even cares about making a difference. Can you?