Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Working on the Damn Tree *and* Grading, So Here's a Christmas Classic from Last Year

My favorite Xmas movies, plus a comment from Bob Wieder.


And a Particular Christmas Blessing for Mrs. Santa's Sister

Three favorite Christmas movies now:

1) The Alistair Sim "A Christmas Carol" because Sim's face squirms with greed, then it squirms with fear, then it squirms with self-loathing, then it squirms with self-knowledge and then it squirms with pleasure and post-redemption shame. Grim Scrooges fail to convince post-redemption because they still seem too grim. Think George C. Scott. These stone Scrooges seem to have recovered from a case of indigestion. They don't have that sense of fluttery joy appropriate when one is saved from moral dessication. Sim is positively antic in his joy, a little bipolar even, the way we get when we forget our meds.

2) Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story," with the rasp of Darrin McGavin as the Old Man and the slightlier fruitier rasp of Jean Shepherd in the extensive voiceover. I love voiceover because I am not a person whose visual cortex is easily stimulated, and I would rather worry about what the words mean than what the pictures mean. "A Christmas Story" is word-work, a parable of probabilities. I mean when you get down to it Jesus probably isn't the Christ, and if you get a BB gun you probably won't shoot your eye out. Hmmm. That wasn't in the voiceover, so maybe my visual cortex is capable of stimulation after all.

3) But now a third favorite: "Bad Santa." What I like about Billy Bob Thornton in any role is that his physiognomy limits him to characters who are morally degenerate. Maybe they act on that degeneracy, maybe they fight ineffectually against it, maybe they have surpressed it for the moment. But they are bad people, and we better get used to it and figure out how that it figures in the plot. (The only exception to this is maybe "The Man Who Wasn't There," in which Thornton appears lobotomized, the only acting choice he had because when he does anything more than that, whatever he does expresses some form of degeneracy, either active or about to pop. And if that's not in the screenplay: too bad.)

Anyway, Thornton is just wonderful as a criminal department store Santa, filthy in word and deed. (Wounded past? Sure. But who believes it and who needs it? I mean, this is Billy Bob Thornton.)

Yes, he is redeemed at the very last minute because of Fat Blond Tiny Tim, who looks like an outtake from a Renaissance painting. But Thornton's redemption is expressed only in voiceover. That's rye-ut. We do not SEE the wiser and better man. We only hear him talk it up.

Because if we saw his face -- I mean, Thornton's mouth just hangs on the front of his face, as if his body is about to reject it -- we would know he was still a degenerate and Mrs. Santa's sister and Fat Blond Tiny Tim are in for it as soon as Thornton gets out of the hospital. (Shot down by the cops with a pink elephant in his outstretched hand because... But anyone who reads this blog has certainly seen the movie.)

Seeing Billy Bob Thornton's face struggling to express redemption would be a little heavy, even for a holiday movie. There's fantasy and there's fantasy.


"Scrooged": Bill Murray at his very most obnoxious, which is going some.
"The President's Analyst": because it is my favorite 60's flick and the final scene is at Christmas.
"Another Thin Man": Or maybe it was "After The Thin Man," but in any case it featured Jimmy Stewart as the twisted, vicious killer, and is thus the perfect cinematic antidote to the unbearably treacly "Wonderful Life."

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