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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Christmas Viewing

One surefire way to get ready for Christmas: watch Christmas films or television programs. Unfortunately, considering some of the material, that’s also a surefire way to kill the Christmas spirit. Then again, so is Christmas shopping in crowds of mean spirited jackasses. Perhaps too much and too soon, especially in the wrong tone, should be a warning sign.

As a film and television fan, I love a night’s worth of entertainment with friends or family. Nothing beats cozying up on the couch with a sweet TV special or a fun movie… which is probably why so many specials and films come out with a Christmas theme or story. However, it’s easy to find something that merely uses Christmas as a setting or a backdrop and not as an element of the story, or the reason for the story.

British television seems to have a tradition of big deal productions on Christmas, but Christmas is only the vehicle. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself… Only Fools and Horses is funny and enjoyable, Doctor Who is exciting and thrilling (especially Voyage of the Damned), but sometimes you want something with a stronger meaning. Something that does more than entertain.

As a kid I often resented the obligatory Christmas message in television programs. To be sure, I wasn’t ready for it, but also some of those shows probably could have used a bit more care in getting the message across.

You might group these shows and movies into three types:
• Real Christmas stories that relate to Jesus, God, and the religious message
• Family stories that involve people during Christmastime
• Peripheral stories like Santa, Rudolph, elves, the giving of presents, and so on

The real Christmas stories include The Nativity Story and probably A Christmas Carol or Scrooge, depending on the production.

For the second type, you can’t get much better than “A Christmas Story”. Say what you will about how often the movie gets played, but I’m very fond of this movie. The message was right there out in the open, winding its way to the end, but it used an endearing series of vignettes to get from the beginning to the end.

The peripheral stories, while a number of them are rather nostalgic, usually don’t amount to much. Folks who are not fans of Blackadder probably won’t find themselves watching Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. The classic Frosty the Snowman cartoon while cute, especially if you have children, doesn’t do much heavy lifting.

Speaking of that Frosty cartoon… Mitchell from Our Word comments on the idea that it might have a poor man’s version of Christ in the story. The next time you watch it, consider various story elements. While it conveniently leaves out, to my memory, any reference to Jesus and God, there are thematic similarities. Whether or not they are intended as references to Christ is for the writers and producers to tell you… but remember that Frosty sacrifices himself to prevent the little girl from freezing to death and Frosty also comes back after he melts. Read the Mitchell’s post… he even comments on an Old Testament connection in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, which features the same writer as the Frosty cartoon. It seems there is at least an argument to be made that the similarities are intentional.



All this makes me want to go over a number of films and shows I own or can get my hands on. “Elf” recently became a new Christmas favorite, in spite of the fact that it is merely a charming story that simply wears the trappings of Christmas… the Rankin-Bass parodies, Ed Asner’s Santa, and Bob Newhart really made it a pleasant surprise.

I’ll gladly take recommendations on what to watch, and chastisement on what I haven’t seen. I'm partial to George C. Scott in "A Christmas Carol" from 1984, Alastair Simm's "Scrooge" from 1951, and as a Saturday Night Live fan from the 70s I'm fond of Bill Murray in "Scrooged". The Christmas episodes and specials from Bless Me Father, Good Neighbors (The Good Life for those of you from the UK), Mr. Bean, To the Manor Born, and The Twilight Zone (an epsidoe featuring the brilliant Art Carney) likewise warm my heart.

I don't recall the episodes, but I found two Christmas episodes listed for The X-Files... and since I really enjoy the series I'm going to need to remind myself. I remember some kind of X-Files episode with Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin, but I don't know if it was one of those Christmas episodes.

The family watched a couple of scenes from the Doctor Who Christmas specials this past week... a great scene with a bride kidnapped in a London taxi cab (and the Doctor's fly-by rescue in his TARDIS), and an even better scene where a space-cruiseliner nearly crashes into Earth (specifically Buckinham Palace).


What's for this week? Your guess is as good as mine... but rest assured it won't be the Star Wars Holiday Special. ;)
Although, to be fair, Art Carney does quite well in that... he was a genius.

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