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The reason I watch Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) every year is simple. It puts me in the correct perspective amid the commercialization and hype of the holiday season. With the Far Right proclaiming that the Left has declared war on Christmas, it is especially bad this year. Conniosseurs of Dickens will carry on a bit of a religious battle themselves over which version of this movie is the best. I watch the Alistair Sim (1951) version for one simple reason. It scares the piss out of me.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as a ghost story. This is no cuddly little warm hearted children’s classic. This was intended to wake people up to the fact that the world had been overrun by greed, especially at a timof year when men’s hearts should be filled with love for their fellow man. Dickens has a way of portraying the dregs of society with awesome clarity. Director Brian Desmond Hurst brings this out in haunting camera angles and a sinister soundtrack. I especially love the stairway in Scrooge/Marley’s house, and the play of light and shadow as Scrooge goes to pay his final respects to his partner. The rag picker’s quarter’s are horror-filled; the consumptive children, the fat pox-laden Rag Man in his beaten-up stove-pipe hat, absently scratching at fleas. Patrick McNee (of Avengers* fame) even plays a bit part as a young Jacob Marley.

Then there’s Alistair Sim. He just looks mean and nasty. He delivers each line with precision. No nuance is wasted. He is an amazing actor. Watch the transformation in his whole body. His performance is stunning.

The thing I like best about this version is its faithfullness to the original. Dickens words haunt us today. Scrooge, when asked to donate money to the poor, replies, “Are there no prisons?… and the Union workhouses, are they still in operation?… and the Treadmill and the Poor Law are still in full vigor?” This is a strangely familiar attitude given the welfare to work laws of today. The incidence of welfare abuse is conflated by those with similar motives to Scrooge and his cohorts. The most disturbing image to me is point at which the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, opens his robe to reveal the two children inside. “…this boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all beware this boy…”

We cannot afford to remain ignorant of the condition of the nation or of the world. If we learned nothing else from Katrina, let us learn that people of few means do not have cars in which to evacuate themselves from natural disasters, and political appointees are more likely to stuff their faces at restaurants than do their jobs at a time of crisis. The spectre of the boy haunts even G.W. Bush, who today hid behind the veil of faulty intelligence in explaining starting a war that has cost over 2000 American lives and 30,000 innocent Iraqi lives. Dickens original words? “Beware this boy, for on his forehead I see that written which is Doom!”
*thanks, merle
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Mention It’s a Wonderful Life and you can bank on the fact that half onf the room will start making puking noises. Unlike the previous movie, most people not only have seen this movie, but have a strong opinion about it. Though I have no stats to throw in here, like the remaining movie on my list, it ranks among the most widely lampooned movies around.

This version is my favorite, but I must confess I’d really like someone to make a better one. As much as I like James Stewart, he really overplays the angst. It may have been Capra’s direction in this case, though, as well as the style of acting at the time. I do, however enjoy it as a period piece, and return to it every year.

What the modern versions of this movie don’t do is include the Depression era part of the story, which I think is essential to the telling. There are some nice scenes, like the one where Reed is stuck in a bush without her robe after the dance, and the serenade scene in the broken down house.

This is ultimate “what if” story. What If I hadn’t been born? Who hasn’t asked that question in a moment of depression and despair? Here we get to find out how much one man’s life touches so many others.

I was troubled this week by rather the opposite query – what if not. It seems that there are still idiots out there who persist in believing that the most documented case of genocide in history did not occur. Let’s face it, folks. The Nazis were nothing if not good record keepers, and they were proud of their accomplishment. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly said the holocaust didn’t happen at a news conference in Mecca. Protest all you want to. Condemn Israel for what they are doing now. But don’t deny what we all know is true. That makes you look like a fool.
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The Bishop’s Wife is a smart little film with one of my favorite features: Cary Grant. In it, He plays an Angel sent to grant David Niven’s (The Bishop’s) fondest desire. But the problem is that the Bishop doesn’t know what he really wants, and Cary delivers that, along with a fine performance, in style. Loretta Young, however, delivers a quite forgettable performance in the title role as the Bishop’s forgotten wife. This film was remade a few years ago as The Preacher's Wife. It's okay, but not the same.

What I adore about this film is its gentle coziness. It’s like sitting beside a warm fireplace. Everything about it is genuine and heartfelt. It’s just something nice to put it in the DVD player and know you’re not going to be assaulted by loud raucous images or noise for a little while, but you are going to be touched by a good story.

I know we’ve all been in this position; wishing we had just that much more money. What if we won the Lottery? What big plans to save the world would we execute?
I read a really sad story about a man and his estranged wife who won it all. Those two could have used an Angel to help them figure out what was important after all.
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White Christmas is the Technicolor extravaganza Holiday Inn could not be. The war was over, but it it still figures heavily in the plot. Everyone wanted this to be a reunion of Bing and Fred. But Fred couldn’t do it, so enter legendary funnyman Danny Kaye. Danny can’t dance as well as Fred, but his partner, Vera-Ellen almost can. She’s the one whose name no one can recall, but whose legs go all the way up, so they used to say.

Then, there’s Rosemary Clooney. *sigh* That black velvet gown she wears while singing, “Love, You Didn’t do Right” has the most gorgeous neckline Edith Head ever devised. The gown itself looks spray-painted on her goddess figure. That’s costuming par excellance.

You’ll recognize some of the music from Holiday Inn. Much of it is in new arragements, jazzed up. There are new comedy bits to make up for Danny’s lack of tap skills. I love his lampoon on 50’s modern dance.

By far and away the best scene – Bing and Danny doing the fan dance. Watch Danny crack Bing up at the end. Even a seasoned performer like Crosby could not withstand the comedy of Danny Kaye.

The thing I like best is that the lessons in this movie are very simple. You stick your neck out to help out friends in need. That’s what friends do for each other. You have to reach out and go for what you want – make your own opportunities, too, though. Friends can have fights, misunderstand, but they can work things out. It isn’t necessary to put people on a pedestal to love them. If you’re worried, count your blessings. And one of my favorites: gossip will come back and bite you in the ass.

But the focus of the movie hidden cleverly under all that holiday cheer and hollywood glamour is a message as relevant today as 50 years ago: veterans served their country when we asked them, and they deserve more than to be forgotten about back home. It seems the one who really needs to see this film is Rep. Steve Buyers, Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee. He has cancelled a traditional joint hearing of the House and Senate at which representatives of veterans groups usually testify. Buyer is also advocating unprecedented restrictions on veterans benefits. The role of the chair of Veterans Affairs has, in the past, been that of an advocate. Unfortunately, in this age of political appointments, tradition no longer has meaning.
lurkitty: (Default)
The holiday season is here and it's time to pull out the DVDs. There are standard holiday movies I must watch every year. I thought I'd let you in on my list and spend some time on a post on each one telling you why I find it essential to watch it.

To start, here's the list in must watch order. I've linked to IMDb so you know which version I'm referring to:
1. Scrooge
2.Holiday Inn
3.White Christmas
4.The Bishop's Wife
5.It's a Wonderful Life
It would be best to start at the top with number 1, so I'll start with #2 instead.

Holiday Inn is Bing and Fred at their best. It's all about the singing and the dancing and the rivalry over a girl (never mind what she thinks). This is the movie where Irving Berlin introduced White Christmas. One of my favorite Astaire dances is his solo with firecrackers (I know, you can see the placed lines of charges going off, but the timing....)
The blackface number...well...yes. It is appalling by today's standards.

But underscoring it all, and making it timely, is the war. This is a wartime, feel-good musical. It even has a war bond plea stuck smack in the middle. Bing singing it loudly to remind us those troops are out there winning our freedom.

I wonder if it made more sense to audiences back then than it does now. Our boys were in Europe fighting Nazi's for our freedom. Just like our soldiers are in Iraq right now fighting for our...huh? I'd have a better chance of buying that if we were still as free now as we were in 1942.

Consider the fact that although we were very much at war with a very powerful enemy, we didn't feel the need at that time to curtail our own civil rights (well, okay, except for that really awful thing we did rounding up Japanese-American citizens). The case of Deborah Davis comes up this week for arraignment in Colorado. What was her crime? She refused to show ID on demand while riding a public bus as it passed through a Federal Building complex. The day before her case is heard, oral arguments will begin in the case of Gilmore vs. Gonzales, a challenge to the secret directives that require us to show ID at airports when flying within (or without) the US.

But, one may argue, the Nazis didn't attack us on our own soil. Neither did the Iraqis.


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August 2011

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