Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Viewing

(News-Herald, December 23) Christmas is almost here, which means that homes throughout Venangoland are filled with the sound of joy and cookies and tradition and impending nervous breakdowns. At some point it may be time to sit in front of the tube and do your yuletide viewing. What to watch? I’m glad you asked.
You’ll have to watch somebody’s version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. While there are many fine knock-offs and interpretations, most miss the point of this holiday horror story. The George C. Scott version does pretty well, but believe it or not, one of the most faithful versions is the Muppet Christmas Carol. And an earlier production starring Mr Magoo has become available again; it has some great songs in it. The book itself is short enough to be read in one sitting, and worth your while.
The indispensable How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Charlie Brown Christmas are both reminders of why you need to watch your own copy of these classics—both are so brutally trimmed when broadcast that they are barely recognizable.
Both manage to avoid the worst trap of Christmas programming, which is to create something so sickly sweetly treacly that A) nobody believes a word of it and B) anybody who does slips into diabetic shock.
These two classics also have the virtue of being undeniably about Christmas (what production these days would actually quote scripture a la Charlie Brown?). So much so-called Christmas entertainment is simply regular old entertainment with a fuzzy red hat plunked on its head. “Well, this whole bunch of stuff happened, and then this other guy did some stuff,” says the story-teller. “Oh, and by the way, it happened AT CHRISTMAS!”
Yes, beloved Frosty the Snowman, I’m looking at you. Yes, several hundred schmaltzy Lifetime-ish weepers with “Christmas” jammed into your titles, you, too. And how did It’s a Wonderful Life ever become classified as a Christmas-only treat?
The anchor of the Rankin-Bass animated Christmas empire, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, barely makes the cut. It’s really a kid’s adventure story that trots Christmas out for the grand finale, but, hey, there are elves. And immortal lines like “Let’s be independent together” and “That’s a mighty humble ‘bumble” are so awesomely and repeatedly linked with Christmastime that they provoke a Pavlovian drooling for candy canes.
Besides, there are works solidly grounded in Christmas turf that can be safely skipped. The Year Without a Santa is an open invitation to laugh at Mr. Kringle and his clan, and not in a jolly way. Real Christmas content is no guarantee of entertainment quality.
Many works tack Christmas trim onto ordinary material, but some modern classics make solid Christmas elements the foundation of stories that hold up year round. If you have avoided Elf because you usually find Will Ferrell obnoxious and annoying, now is a good time to rent or buy this flick which dares to pit sweet Christmas spirit against a recognizably mundane and harsh world (Miracle on 34th Street without the cheesiness). Likewise, you may have skipped Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas because it appears to be creepy animation. It is, but the sweetest, gentlest, hummably tuneful creepy animation you’ll ever see. Both are great reminders of Christmas at any time of year.
Any look at Christmas viewing must consider the age-old question—White Christmas or Holiday Inn? Fred Astaire makes a better partner for Bing Crosby than Danny Kaye—I love Kaye, but his hyperactive terrier clashes with Crosby’s laid-back hound dog. White Christmas, however, provides a more potent emotional punch at the finish. Inn has some culturally insensitive moments (blackface!!??) and Christmas can feel like it’s about twelve hours long. Both only use Christmas as a peg on which to hang Crosby’s classic rendition. Watch Holiday Inn, then switch to White Christmas for the last twenty minutes.
There are other lesser-known Christmas viewing treats. In particular, Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, a Muppet special the Jim Henson created for HBO before he started making movies, is touching in a quiet muppety way. We haven’t even scratched the surface of variety programming (find Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special). And in the interests of full fake journalist disclosure, I must admit that I have never actually watched A Christmas Story all the way through.
There are plenty of riches available for a home video Christmas. Pass the razzleberry jelly, and if you end up watching Ernest Saves Christmas or Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

2 comments:

Matt and Steph Bell said...

I appreciated your last comment that if one watches Ernest or Kinkade (gag me with a spoon to even consider) has no one to blame but themselves.

Your getting quite punchy with those last liners there Mr. Green.

Its been great to keep up with your column all the way from Australia.

Hope you had a good Christmas no matter what you watched on the screen.

Bless you,

Steph (Deloe) Bell

Danny said...

i don't got a tv in my place. i'm to damn poor. all i got is my stolen computer.

From my Flickr