Monthly Archives: December 2015

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The I̶n̶ defensibles: A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Gabby: This time round our gang of lovable misfit superheroes take a detour and talk about one of Jeremy’s favourite Christmas movies. And that movie is…

Jeremy: A Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s a Christmas Carol. With Muppets. Look, people, not all of these opening blurbs can be winners.

Brett, did you see this in theaters back in the day? I wish I had.

Brett: I didn’t. I wasn’t able to see it until the VHS tape came out the next year. Which means I thought “When Love Is Gone” was always in the movie.the-muppet-christmas-carol-50th-anniversary-edition-20051220045449129-000-1

Since the first DVD only had the home video version, it’s kind of a shock when I watched the theatrical cut. Belle is telling Scrooge to suck it and then she turns and leaves and Rizzo is crying.

Jeremy: That came as a surprise to me, too. I popped my DVD in for the first time, choose the theatrical version, got to Scrooge and Belle’s breakup, and went, “What? Oh, thank God…”

I dig the songs in this movie, but not that one…

Gabby: I owned this movie on VHS. I was only 3 when that video was released so I am guessing I might have come to it a few years later. I never upgraded to a DVD and I think it might be time I did as I no longer own a TV. I do have a video player though. Go figure.

I haven’t seen this movie in quite a long time so I like having a reason to come back to it. Even though it being the Christmas season is a reason in itself.

Brett: I should say now, A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas story of all time. I only know of two versions I don’t have. I don’t have the Kelsey Grammar version and I don’t have the Jim Carrey version.

Jeremy: Wait… a Kelsey Grammer version? Really?

Brett: Made in about 2002, I think. My favorite version is the Alistair Sim version. It fleshes the character of Scrooge out more than any other. It spends considerably more time in the past than any other version I can think of.1189381061_1

Jeremy: I’ve avoided the Jim Carrey version like the plague. Where does the Muppet version stand in your personal rankings?

Brett: I would put George C. Scott as #2 and Muppets at #3. The American Christmas Carol which has Fonzie as scrooge is tied with Albert Finney’s Scrooge.

I also have at least four different audiobooks of it. I may have a problem.

Jeremy: It’s my number one for sure.  If it counts, the Doctor Who version is my second. Then, it’s pretty much everything else after that. I certainly love this story in most of its forms, though.

Brett: I don’t think I’ve seen the Doctor Who version. We probably own it.

Jeremy: You should watch it. It’s on Hulu and Netflix. Michael Gambon is Scrooge and there’s an absolutely astonishing riff on the ghosts. The whole thing really is just a riff, but a brilliant one. And romantic and bittersweet in a way I love.

Anyway, we should really get to THIS version of A Christmas Carol.

Gabby: I am with Brett, A Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas story. It really is magical and never ages. It will remain timeless. You are right to avoid the Carey version. This year I watched that for the first time, I was not too pleased with it. I did also watch the 1984 version which was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t afraid to go really dark. Unlike the 1938 candy cane version, also new to me. What can I say I was on a Christmas Carol kick?

I am also with Brett on the Brian Desmond Hurst film being my favourite. I will add that I am a massive musicals fan. Which probably is a surprise to no one. I would actually like to see you Jeremy sing a number from this film.

Jeremy: That’s never going to happen. I’m a Scrooge before Christmas Morning, heart-two-sizes-too-small kind of guy.

Gabby: I am also a fan of the Muppets. So with all three things combined, I think I am pretty much going to be on board with this movie. The film has a large fan base here. It is somewhat a cult classic. It has a number of screenings every year at the GwylcPrince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. They have it as a sing-a-long. I think I definitely want to go to one of these next year. It is also one of the best cinemas ever, which is also independent, so as a lifetime member I say everyone go support this cinema.

Brett: Michael Caine has kind of a thankless task here. If he’s a good Scrooge, people don’t notice because of all the Muppets. If he’s bad, people just say he can’t even be a good Scrooge even with all the Muppets.

As it is, he actually gives a really good performance here. There are moments where I think he may even outdo George C. Scott.

Jeremy: I never thought of the role as thanklessMichael Caine is a fantastic Scrooge. If you’ve watched this movie as many times as I have, you notice how many strong, deliberate choices he makes that aren’t too showy. He always takes the role seriously and delivers every line honestly, while simultaneously knowing he’s setting up a gag for a bunch of rats in Hawaiian shirts. maxresdefault (1)That’s a balancing act if there’s ever been one.

This movie never forgets that it’s Scrooge’s story, and the actual tale is told well around the jokes and songs. I’m amazed how well all the elements fit together, especially since this was Brian Henson’s first film, made in the shadow of his father’s death.

Gabby: There a moments that really give a balance to all the fun, silly business with rats in Hawaiian shirts. When Scrooge hears himself being insulted by his family members, Caine’s crestfallen face is so touching. He has reactions like that throughout the whole film, that are so earnest and easy to connect to. We want Scrooge to be won over.

Jeremy: Yeah, his Scrooge has a sense of mirth from the start, which you don’t always see but makes perfect sense. I really like how
Caine’s Scrooge instantly warms to the life he could have had, and how quickly he realizes his mistakes.

Brett: How do we feel about casting Muppets as members of the story?muppets-1992 Kermit as Bob Cratchit, rather than making a new Bob Muppet. I think if they hadn’t cast the known characters, the movie doesn’t sell with audiences. I think everyone is cast well. Kermit makes a good Bob, Fozzy makes a good Fezziwig and so on. It works the way they cast everyone.

Gabby: As Brett kicked off the casting of the Muppets, what do you think of Gonzo as Dickens? Dickens used to love performing by reading out his works to the public. Often standing in London town center. A lot of the time as a call to the rich to take action and give to the poor but also as to connect with his readers. So keeping the narrator as Dickens I think is a lovely element I find. I personally find Kermit to be a perfect Cratchit. He is that (frog) to which we aspire. The one with the heart of gold, hard working and somehow always able to see the rainbow in the darkest of places. He is the heart and soul of the Muppets, so Kermit in that role makes perfect sense to me.

Jeremy: It’s interesting that you can take just about any property with a large cast of characters and slot them easily into these roles.

I’m biased. The Muppets are among my favorite things.

And I’m even more biased with Gonzo. muppet-4He’s the Muppet I connect with the most. They really pushed him front and center in the 90s after Jim Henson’s passing. I feel guilty for enjoying that so much.

Having Gonzo and Rizzo be the chorus is a really smart move, because it allows a lot of the jokes to play around the story. All the casting choices are spot on, but Kermit as Cratchit and Statler and Waldorf as the Marley Brothers are the two choices that really stick out for me because of their utter brilliance. Once you think about them in those roles, how could you not make this film?

Gabby: Can I also add how dynamic it is to see the set up of a Muppet Victorian England? The film is filled with all this background hustle and bustle behind the main action which is actually some of the best in terms of adaptions of this story. Funnily, you really get placed in a time and place. It carries you into the story. It feels real. So despite the fact as puppets and people are singing, I am in their world very quickly. This may be nostalgia talking as I watched this a lot as a kid.

Brett: I am not, as a rule, overly found of musicals, but for some reason when felt is singing I don’t find it to be a problem.

Jeremy: I love the heightened reality of shooting exterior scenes on sound stages. Banner 1_zpspvr4qtszYou can only do it with certain kinds of stories – even within stories that feature the fantastic – but it creates such a sense of atmosphere, a feeling like anything could happen. The production design and costumes deserve a lot of praise. You can really see the craft that went into them on the Blu-Ray.

And while we have already established the size of my heart, I do enjoy the songs in this movie quite a bit. Paul Williams’ lyrics are both playful and sincere. They don’t feel saccharine at all.

Gabby: Am I the only one who is a bit freaked out by the Ghost of Christmas past? The Ghost of Christmas Present in this version is truly charming.

Brett: I actually really love the puppet work on Christmas Past. Christmas Present bugs me a little in this version because he’s only charming.
Christmas Present has a real darkness to him and he doesn’t veil his teasing like Christmas Past does. Christmas Present comes right out and tells Scrooge he’s a dildo.

Gabby: Oh yes, Christmas Present really has a dark side normally. Terrifying in the 1984 version.

Jeremy: It works for me. He is the Muppet version, after all. It also makes the “decrease the surplus population” bit a real sucker punch in a way I like.7026_4

Gabby: The Ghost of Yet to Come scared the bejesus out of me as a child.

Jeremy: That’s an experience I wish I had. I was already in my early teens when this came out on VHS.

Gabby: On that subject, can we talk about the music in more detail? The score when that spirit shows up is very effective. Or should I say when they are in the graveyard. In addition to that, I was slightly worried that It would be pure nostalgia that filtered my viewing. However, there is a lot that makes this film rich and enjoyable. I will definitely come back to it next year.

Jeremy: It works. And to sum up my closing thoughts, since we’re running a little long, nothing in this movie is phoned in, which it certainly could’ve been. Michael Caine is one heck of a Scrooge. Few actors have ever acted WITH the Muppets so well. The entire film is made with love and care.

A Muppet Christmas Carol is a great telling of this story. The songs and jokes never get in the way. This may not be the definitive versionWhen_love_is_found of A Christmas Carol, but it’s the version I connect with the most, because it has all those wonderful moments that Dickens created… plus blue weirdos and Statler and Waldorf telling Scrooge to leave comedy to the bears. This isn’t just my favorite Christmas movies. It’s one of my favorite movies, period – which I only get to watch at this time of the year.

a-christmas-story

The I̶n̶ defensibles: A Christmas Story (1983)

Gabby: This time round our gang of lovable misfit superheroes are joined by our honourary superhero friend Amanda. Together we take a detour and talk about one of Brett’s favourite Christmas movies. And that movie is…

Brett: A Christmas Story. Guns, coded commercials, fistfights and self inflicted ocular injuries. That’s Christmas in America.

Jeremy: So, we did our live tweet about a week before Christmas. How did A Christmas Story end up playing for everyone?

Amanda: Well, I’m shocked I didn’t fall asleep.

Jeremy: It definitely has a different energy level than, say,509e99d01748344d8de31b2d3fb73ee6 Home Alone or Christmas Vacation – two movies that come to mind because they seem to share the same audience.

Amanda: Agreed. It’s calmer than Christmas vacation. It taps into nostalgia.

Jeremy: It’s very nostalgic, but never sentimental. I love that Christmas is treated as a special time – full of memories – but it’s never magical or life-changing. It’s really a movie celebrating these characters’ foibles and how heightened the world is to a child, especially at Christmastime.

The movie is all about Ralphie’s little defeats and worries. These are the first moments of his childhood ending. The amazing thing is the movie finds a bittersweet joy in that. That’s probably a lot of the movie’s appeal to people, along with all the classic bits. Most the bits don’t do that much for me, but I get why this movie is quoted so often and merchandised to death.

Amanda: Yeah, I agree. It captures that merging from childhood into teen.

Brett: I think parts of the movie are specifically designed to deflate that magic life-changing thing.

Actually, a big part of my problem with the movie being marketed to death is that the marketing often tries to make it one of those movies you mentionedMCDCHST MG004. In many ways the original story is even more cynical than the movie. The book [Jean Shepard’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash] also takes place during the 30s. The depression is often mentioned, while the movie is about 1940 or so. The decoder pin is marked 1940, but some of the songs are as late as 1945.

Jeremy: I was wondering about that. I got a post-war vibe from the film.

Brett: It’s deliberately 194X.

Jeremy: The depression era would definitely make a lot of the moments starker, especially the turkey being eaten by the neighbor’s dogs.

Brett: I do really like that “The True Meaning of Christmas” is never mentioned. That the story is, for want of another term, pure and unsullied by anyone teaching a lesson.

So here’s what I think really bugs me with the movie being marketed to within an inch of its life. There are two kinds of people. People who watch this movie and think it’s a sweetly cynical view of growing up that pierces the sugar coated veil we used to put over childhood before the 1980s; and then there’s the people who just say “Fra-Gee-Lay it must be Italian!” every time the movie gets mentioned. Sort of like The Big Lebowski, there are people who see the surface jokes, and people who see the deeper implications of the tale. Just like some people see The Charlie Brown Christmas and think no further than the story of a little boy buying a tree, while some people view it as a dark journey of the soul.download

Thus ends the douchiest thing I will say this whole year.

Jeremy: We’re not here to judge.

Yeah, this is just life and the people living it. It made me think again of the chaos of Christmas Vacation’s last act, which, viewed as an adult, makes Chevy Chase into a little too much of a dick and then turns on a dime to end on a sappy note that jams the Christmas spirit down your throat.

Brett: The odd thing about A Christmas Story is that is just sort of… ends. I always find it a misstep that the movie ends so abruptly after the diner.

Jeremy: Christmas is over, so the story’s over. I didn’t notice that as much because the movie lost a lot of steam for me in the last third. I hate saying it, but I was ready for it to be over.

Brett: But then each episode in the movie is a separate story that was woven together. The gun is the main narrative, but there is no cohesive story beyond this is a series of things that happened to him one Christmas.

Jeremy: Gabby, what are your thoughts?

Gabby: I wish I could see it again. This was my first experience with this. I hadn’t even heard of it until a few years ago. But the mention of guns here made me realise why it hasn’t had much of an impact on my country. There is a lot of good about it. I can see myself watching it a bunch more times. But there is a real disconnect because of guns.

I love the scenes at school. I really connect to that. But I think the sentiment of the gift is totally lost on me. Because

the type of present he wants is something that I don’t understand the concept of wanting.

I really think it is sweet. There are aA Christmas Story 1 lot of character beats. A lot of ways in, like that terrifying teacher we all had at one point.

Even though I was joking about being a British person having culture shock, I wound up actually feeling culturally disconnected in anything revolving around guns. Maybe that is something that will not stick out so much on repeated viewings. But it was surprising for me. Knowing going in how big and beloved it is I conjured up pretty much the same movie but without that gun problem I had.

Why couldn’t it be a puppy?

Brett: Because no one ever shot their eye out with a puppy, Gabby! C’mon!

Jeremy: And puppies won’t love you unconditionally like an air rifle will.

Amanda: * laughs *

Brett: See? Jeremy gets it!

Jeremy: Heck, I had a BB gun when I was a kid. RRI’m pretty sure Brett and I are part of the last generation where a BB gun would’ve been considered a toy a lot of kids had.

Gabby: I don’t even really know what a BB gun is.

Jeremy: Look it up on Wikipedia.

* ONE WIKIPEDIA SEARCH LATER… *

Gabby: I don’t get it America. I don’t get it.

I guess that gift connects with a large percent of an American audience. But it loses that when you go outside of the country. Especially to Britain. As a nation we are not very pro weapons. I can connect with everything else really. It is Christmas. A family. Growing up.

Brett: I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think [director] Bob Clark was trying for a British audience.

Jeremy: I can’t say BB guns are harmless, but a lot of kids born in the ’70s and ’80s had BB guns like Ralphie’s. Mine looked almost exactly the same. It was so low-powered that you could see the BB’s trajectory in mid-air. I doubt it would’ve broken skin unless you were standing close to it.

Again, that’s not a defense. There’s no way in hell I’d let my kid have one.

Brett: Actually, considering the VERY limited appeal of Jean Shepherd’s books,20141219044358964 it’s kind of amazing the movie works as well as it does. That might also be a function of being older. The BB gun plot means a lot less to me these days.

The thing is, the books are very much a story for people who were kids in the ’30s and ’40s. Maybe the ’50s kids will get parts, but they start to get lost. He was very popular at one time though. The David Sedaris of his day.

Jeremy: What is everyone’s favorite moment in the movie?

Brett: I like when Ralphie first gets the gun. I like the interplay between his father watching and him exploring the gun. All the stuff that’s my favorite is the stuff they don’t put on the posters.

Amanda: Agree with you on that! I love the interaction between the mom and Ralphie after he beats up his bully.

Brett: I do love the honesty of how Ralphie goes from beating the bully to sobbing. The emotions just turn on a dime.

Jeremy: My favorite moment is probably the decoder ring. Is there anything that sounds more awesome than a decoder ring, but in all reality, can’t be anything but a letdown? It sums up the way a kid wants the world to work, versus how the world actually works.

Gabby: I agree with the decoder ring. Overall, with moments like that I can see why so many love it. I really do love any moments in the classroom. Especially when he has a fantasy that his name gets written on the blackboard. It is so sweet and funny.

Jeremy: Final thoughts, everyone?

This is only my second time seeing this film, and the first time was almost fifteen years ago. I’m surprised how little my opinion of it has changed, despite feeling the bittersweet moments more acutely now. It’s charming and nostalgic without ever being cloying. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s a little too low-key or episodic for me – but I’m never completely on this film’s wavelength. It’ll probably be aChristmasStory_158Pyxurz long time before I watch it again, but I was pleased to revisit it. It’s a classic for a reason.

Gabby: I pretty much have said what I think really. The nostalgia angle is lost on me. The way in for the present is also lost on me. So what I have left is the family and friends as well the classroom elements. That for me wasn’t enough to love it, but it was more than enough to enjoy it.

Brett: Obviously I enjoy this movie, but I enjoy it once every few years and I’m not into the cult of the movie. I just want to enjoy it and then get on with my Christmas.

mir

The I̶n̶ defensibles: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Gabby: This time round our gang of lovable misfit superheroes take a detour and talk about one of my favourite Christmas movies. For the first time, the Indefensibles go defensible.

The Original Miracle on 34th Street focuses on a single mother who believes in practical matters and has lost faith in the world around her. That changes when she meets a kind and eccentric old man, Kris Kringle, who insists he is the real Santa Clause. I watch this movie every December. Each time it is like a lovely, homemade, caramel hot chocolate. Making me feel safe, warm and seven years old, waiting for the sound of Santa’s sleigh on the roof.

Brett: Soooooo, I shouldn’t go on about how it’s practically a communist tract then? Don’t get me wrong, Miracle-On-34th-Street-1947-2I love the movie, but I have now seen it so many times that my mind goes to some Room 237 style places. I actually enjoy it a little more thinking “Oh look at that whiley old man, caring about the community and making the Borgusei store owners look foolish.” This movie does something that all three movies manage in some way. There is a lot of cynical prodding while managing to actually make you realize that actually they care more and care harder than the people they’re trolling. Kris, Ralphie and the double team of Gonzo & Rizo never let the side down. They’re all very honest characters. Kris hides nothing, he’s very generous, and he cares deeply about everyone around him.

Jeremy: Was I the only one who thought that this soul-searching Santa spent the previous Christmas season on a Leaving Las Vegas-style bender before waking up one day in that old folks’ home?

Confession: I’ve never seen any version of this movie before. Honestly, Gabby, I feel a little awful right now. I think I’m about to poop on another one of your movies. I’m writing this only a few minutes after my first viewing, so everything’s fresh and a bit of a jumble in my head, but I was both charmed and disgusted by this movie.

Brett: Anytime someone turns against a beloved Christmas classic I really want to examine why. The movie’s main premise is basically “troll the legal process, LOL!” And while I like it, I have problems with parts of it as well.

Jeremy: This movie isn’t just about trolling the legal system, it’s trolling everyone. At one point in this movie, I was willing to suspend “my silly common sense” (oh, how I hate that line and its implications) and believe that Terry Gilliam traveled back in fe9879e704855617d1bd2e8dda3c7e33time to make a straight-faced, acidic parody of faith, bureaucracy, and patriarchy, which was cunningly disguised as a Christmas classic.

Brett: Well that’s one of the reasons I suggest a communist propaganda film. Look how silly capitalism makes people. I have also seen a few Russian propaganda films from the 40s that are similar to this. I don’t know if Kris is the real deal, but I like it better if he isn’t. I enjoy the story better if he’s just a nice old man who is good with people and manages to bring the best out of everyone he meets. I am that cynic that wants to believe it will all be alright, but has had experience with human beings before. So it’s better for me if he’s just a guy and not a supernatural force.

I watched part of the 1954 made for tv version. They used the same script, some of the same film stock, and a lot of the same camera angles. There are lines cut out here and there, but otherwise it’s word for word.

Jeremy: The dialogue’s snappy and fun, and the cast is uniformly excellent at making all the banter sound effortless. It’s a great example of how lively dialogue-driven films from this era can be. If I’m just looking at the surface of this movie, I can see why it’s a classic. However, here comes the rant…

Either Kris is the real deal or not. In a way, though, it doesn’t really matter. Despite all the big speeches to the contrary, this guy is actually aiding and abetting in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less. Let’s be honest, Santa is THE symbol of the commercial side of Christmas. And it’s weird that this movie never really gets that. I mean, he freakin’ decides to become a mall Santa. Miracle on 34th Street 1947 6It ends with a little girl having a tantrum because she lives in a nice high-rise apartment instead of a house in the suburbs.

Again, I like the idea of Santa needing to get his groove back, but this Santa doesn’t just have a problem with letting the true meaning of Christmas get lost in the shuffle, he is the problem. All he’s doing is building a better mousetrap. Sure, he’s well-meaning, but he doesn’t bring out the best in anyone. Most of the characters are just trying to make a buck or hang onto their jobs. I’d be considerably more charmed by this movie if Santa was intentionally getting a little egg on their faces, but everyone comes out richer and looking better thanks to him.

Like I said before, it would feel like this angry parody about why we often believe in fantasies or end up with shitty laws and politicians if it felt like this was intentional. You know what this movie reminded me of? The Star Wars Prequels. Each film in that trilogy was about how Palpatine schemed his way one step closer to creating the Empire. Miracle on 34th Street could easily be part one of a similar trilogy. This is the movie where Kris Kringle is legally declared as Santa. In the second movie, he gets emergency powers due to a price war he secretly engineered. Then, the series ends with Santa using his mall elf army to utterly wipe out Gimbels so Macy’s can become the ultimate economic force in the galaxy.

Gabby: You think Santa is commercial symbol? I think I will go cry into my Frozen blanket for a bit.

Brett: Well… yeah… he kind of is. I mean, just as he was crystallized in the last 120 years or so.

Gabby: Although, we have held on the continent since the 4th Century that celebrates St Nick?

Brett: I mean the festival as it had evolved recently.spearman51 St Nicholas has very little to do with the modern Santa Claus, particularly as represented in America. I mean the name Kris Kringle comes from the Lutheran attempt to co-opt St Nick’s day. Kris Kringle is Christ Child in German and relates to how in an attempt to make St. Nicholas day more holy, they had the Baby Jesus hanging with the fat man. So the movie is actually saying this dude is Jesus. Sort of. A book called Christmas, A Candid History gives an informative discussion around this in greater detail.

Gabby: In Britain, the Victorians basically rejuvenated Christmas and how we saw it. The Christmas cards. The carols. It was cold here. The Thames froze over. London covered in snow. People skated on the Thames. That is the era Dicken’s Christmas Carol obviously. Which is why that is actually one of the best Christmas stories. But we can go into that more. You make an interesting theory about America though. I would like to see a British TV drama or something of Miracle and see how it would differ.

The Victorians really kept a strong impact on the way we still celebrate the holiday. And their way of seeing Santa was kind of like the people who ask for money for the poor from Scrooge, or more accurately, what Scrooge is by the end, similarly speaking. Also it is a less Religious country by nature here now.

I think that is why the Victorian era Christmas translates well here still. There are Christians here of course. But, at this time,20121121_still-from-miracle-on-34th-street_33 for the majority of them, it more is about being like Christ. More accepting and loving. Like Santa too. He isn’t a religious symbol here, so many types of child believe in Santa because of it. As he carries the same message of kindness, generosity and coming together once a year when we are all cold and need a fireplace to sit round. We do have a rather huge case of commercialistic spirit all over the cities. But I think Santa is still special.

Jeremy: Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-Santa. And I know my history. I know there’s so much more to this figure. I also know he’s the guy trying to sell me TVs and toasters and Coca-Cola every year.

And I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of thinking this guy is supposed to represent Jesus. It’s blessed are the poor, not blessed are the shopper who finds a better deal down the street. It’s love thy neighbor, not get with thy neighbor. If this guy’s supposed to be Jesus, then he’s a Jesus the Romans could’ve gotten behind. Let’s take history, politics, and religion out of the equation. This is a story about a character who feels an ideology has gone too far in one direction. Every choice he makes only pushes things further in that direction. And the film feels pretty clueless about that.

Brett: Before we dwell too long on the negatives, what do you love about this movie, Gabby?

Gabby: Maureen O’Hara. Can we please discuss Maureen O’Hara?

Jeremy: She’s great. I mean, she’s Maureen O’Hara. This being my first viewing, I expected the movie to be focused on her. I was disappointed that wasn’t the case.

Brett: If I miracle+on+34th+4remember correctly, she was a last minute replacement.

Gabby; Maureen is great. I just think she is wonderful. There is something so earnest about her. She really plays that well.I agree that I wish there was more of her as I think it would be a very dynamic character. She manages to do that with what she is given. The way she talks about fairy tales and Princes is just emotional enough and a look in her eyes before she realised what she was saying. Like exposing herself to be heartbroken. It really is fantastic.

Jeremy: That would make sense. She’s too good and fiery for this man next door/Santa knows best movie.

Gabby: She really was a fiery person. And there is no doubt in my mind that role of organising a parade is viable to me when played by her. That is an interesting point of view. I agree that suburbs thing doesn’t suit her. She lived in a tiny village at the end of her life, where she was born. In the deep Irish green hills and romantic rugged countryside. With the red hair blowing in the wind no doubt. She was exceedingly proud of being Irish. She was the first person to ever become an American citizen with the nationality of Irish instead of English, as she fought for her right to do so for such fervour.

Jeremy: True… But I don’t believe for a second she would’ve hired that drunk Santa, or, upon seeing him in that condition, not beat him half to death with her shoes.

Gabby: I agree with that Jeremy. She was a very kind lady and would never do anything of the sort, but for sure wouldn’t let that go unnoticed either.

You see, I disagree with you two on the movie not tackling the idea that Santa is a symbol of commercialism as I think it does. ‘He’s a born salesman’ is Macy’s first reaction to him after all. They immediately think how they make money off his PHOTO_18396549_66470_7681590_apgenuine Christmas spirit.

I just think this film is filled with so many charming beats. Take when the always wonderful Thelma Ritter is so stunned that he recommends a different store. It is taken a back that someone isn’t trying to take advantage and ‘make a buck’ out of any scenario. She is so moved by it, a very small thoughtful gesture that turns your day around. I really appreciate things like that when they happen to me. As the world can be so cruel. Having someone just do small thing and be warm towards you makes all the difference, especially when having a bad day.

I think at its core the film is asking you, why should you not have hope? Why not have imagination? These things make you see the good in the world. They bring joy and laughter. Sure common sense gets you through life. But being ‘sensible’ is not the only way to be. There’s room for more.

I have always been told I had too vivid an imagination. That I was ‘away with the fairies’ or live in la la land or things like that. That I don’t understand reality. I understand reality just fine. But I love my imagination. This is who I am and I can’t help it. And no amount of people trying to tell me I was wrong or stupid changed my personality. So why not just let me be? I made some people who went along with it happy too. They started believing in my stories too, enjoying it. Then I had my younger siblings who loved it. Some people have actually told me they think it is dangerous to have such an imagination. Maureen-O-hara-miracle-on-34th-street-2-Or to encourage it. To that I simply say,
please watch J. K Rowling’s Harvard Speech about it and you can see how imagination can benefit the world.

This film, for me, is another way of expressing Jo’s beautiful words about the importance of imagination. For in the film, not everyone has to believe he is Santa. But instead, the film encourages for everyone to try and be a person with kindness and compassion. Also to allow for people to believe Kris is Santa, particularly children. That I think, is what the film is saying.

To quote Jo’s speech: ‘Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and regulatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Jeremy: I get where you’re coming from, Gabby. You need common sense and imagination, you need hope and all those good things. For me, this movie lacks a sense of checks and balances. If it were about Maureen O’Hara learning to have a little more faith and John Payne learning to have a little more common sense, I’d be completely on board.

Gabby: Closing thoughts, everyone?

Jeremy: This was my first time watching this movie, and I didn’t expect to have this reaction to it. It’s no defense, but I watched this with my wife (also her first viewing), and she was even angrier than I was while watching it.

I can see that it’s sweet. It means well. This film doesn’t have a malicious bone in its body. It’s trying to land a lot of jokes and emotional beats. It often succeeds. But it’s so focused on individual moments and getting them to play that there’s no thought of the big picture, of the implications.

Brett: I like the movie. I recognize the flaws, and I am annoyed by the things that annoy me, but I still watch the movie every couple of years. I will never not enjoy the final court scene when the dominoes all fall into place and they pour the envelopes onto the judge’s bench. But the older I get, the more I recognize the flaws and the more they jump out at me.

Gabby: To me, the movie is about believing in people. miracle-on-34th-street-natalie-wood-maureen-o-hara-1947Not a great myth or religion. I think it is believing in the goodness of human beings. And having faith that not everyone will let you down. That sometimes common sense isn’t the only thing that you need. A little bit of love and trust too. Shutting people out has been her way. And she has a reason for it. Thanks to her performance I can strongly relate to her why. I never think she is a bad mother or she is in the wrong. I think it is more that she is hurt. And having some faith in the people around her built up is no indoctrination but instead just a way to get by. A way to see there are good people as well as bad. That our actions can truly change things for the better. A small thing can bring a smile to someone’s day. I think that is what the movie is about, at the heart of it.

Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. Due to the three of us dealing with a lot of real life at the moment, we may or may not be back this season to talk about one more Christmas movie before the big day arrives.

If not, you can look forward to us talking about more hard-to-defend movies in 2016.  In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter. And if you’re reading this and thinking I’m a human monster, please hate follow me on Twitter.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

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Horror Reels: Psycho (1960) & The Wicker Man (1973)

Gabby: We talked about these two movies as an interesting contrast together due to some themes we were both interested to talk further about. These included hysteria, repressed sexuality and conservative group mentality. It is especially intriguing when paralleled with the reaction these films had on their initial release. There is something to that for sure. Both these films induced a wave of sensation. Perhaps tapping into that sexual fear that lay in the minds of the repressed middle class suburban society with Psycho. Also that paired with growth of the sexual freedom of the late 60s through to the 70s, which fed into Wicker Man.

What do you think of the way the audiences reacted in connection with these themes? And why do you think the sensationalism works so well in both due to their command of the horror genre?

Steve: I think it’s key that Psycho was released in 1960. After the end of WWII, it seems there was an aggressive desire on the part of most Americans to return to a sense of “normalcy.” Even though the Korean War took place from 1950-53, many Americans today don’t know a thing about it, and it’s commonly referred to as “the forgotten war.”Psycho I think that’s because most Americans at that time just couldn’t bear the thought of yet another war so soon after the last one. When I think of 50’s movies, a lot of them seemed to be the kind of escapist fare that we’re accused of churning out today. I know that’s not really fair, as the 50s also gave us great movies like The Searchers and Sunset Boulevard. But I see those as being exceptions. Another reason for the drive to escapism was the ongoing prospect of nuclear war – when faced with that fear, forgetting your troubles with a simple-minded comedy sounded pretty good, I’m sure. Then Hitchcock comes along in 1960 with Psycho. The 60s are remembered as being a turbulent decade, and in a way Psycho was the opening salvo. When “mother” whips aside that shower curtain, she’s pulling aside the curtain on a decade of repression and conformity. And audiences loved it. Psycho is still Hitchcock’s biggest money-maker. As much as audiences were unsettled by what they were seeing, they were fascinated by it as well. The response to Psycho showed that mainstream audiences were ready for this kind of provocative entertainment.

Psycho was a “grindhouse” movie that was safe for adults to see, in part because of the impeccable credentials of its director. As Hitch pushed every boundary he could think of, audiences were eager to see what he could get away with. Hitch was cracking open the door to more open displays of sexuality. The success of Psycho was a signal that the age of repression was over. Psycho didn’t just inaugurate the slasher film. It inaugurated a view of sex and sexuality that was not sniggering or juvenile. ps3That shower scene is justly famous, but in a way the walls of Jericho really fell with the first shot of Janet Leigh in her bra. Another reason Psycho resonated with contemporary audiences was their ability to identify with Marion and Norman. Both of these characters live with the kind of quiet desperation to which many could relate. Marion is a solidly middle-class woman who appears to live in reasonable comfort, yet has a dead-end job and a relationship that seems headed that way. Her material comforts are met, but her emotional needs are not. How many Americans in the “prosperous” 50s could identify with that?

Then there’s Norman. Before the major revelations about his character, our empathy for him resides in the sense that he is trapped by family obligations. I’m sure a lot of people in those initial audiences could identify with his desire to escape his tyrannical mother, and laud his sense of duty in staying with her.

One more thing about Hitch breaking through boundaries. I never realized until I saw the documentary on the Psycho DVD was the significance of the flushing toilet. The screenwriter Joseph Stefano indicated that he wanted to show the toilet as Marion is flushing her notes, because he thought it would unsettle the audience. He noted that he had never seen a toilet onscreen before. I wasn’t there to see, of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if audiences did wince and squirm in their seats during that bit. It was again a sense that Hitch was transgressing by showing the toilet. Even though every person in that audience knew what it was and had been using one for years, actually SEEING it was a different story. Another moment when the forces of repression were defeated. What, after all, was the point of never showing a toilet before then? It suggests that we were meant to view that natural bodily function as something “dirty” where not only could you not see it, you couldn’t even suggest it. Not so different from some attitudes about sex and sexuality.

Gabby: There is a certain claustrophobia about the 50s. That use of entrapment in mother’s house used masterfully by Hitchcock taps into that as well as the wildness of the murder and sexuality of the film. What do you feel about the stuffed animals and its part in showing Norman’s psyche?

When I thought of entrapment, I saw those beautiful shots in the house that show the corridors and make you feel like you are unsafe, even as an audience member. Psycho-1960-Martin-Balsam-Mrs-BatesThat fever of being trapped, isolated as well as powerless is shown in both films. What do you make of the way they both use their locations to heighten this feeling? Also how do you feel this plays into the themes we have discussed and what makes it still resonate today?

Steve: That claustrophobic sense is conveyed in each film, in slightly different ways. In Psycho, the sequence leading up to Marion’s first view of the motel consists of a series of close-ups of Janet Leigh, each getting tighter and tighter as she feels the noose tightening around her via her imagined narration. The darkness all around her leaves just her face swimming in a sea of blackness. And the motel itself seems to rise up out of nowhere – at first we cannot see any of the surrounding countryside because of the dark and the rain.

In The Wicker Man, Edward Woodward is isolated by being essentially trapped on this island, where (as it turns out) everyone is in on the secret but him. He has his uniform and the imagined security of his position, but because of the remoteness of the setting these things do not offer any actual protection.

Concerning the stuffed birds: Hitchcock has used birds in his films to signify chaos and destruction (even as early as his 30’s film Sabotage). Norman’s stuffing of birds could be seen as his desire to capture and repress the destructive energies within. His comment that birds are “passive” is almost comical, because of the huge threatening owl positioned above him and Marion in the parlor.

I was speaking earlier about the 50s being a time of repression, a near-compulsive desire to feel “normal.” I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Richard Evans’s “The Third Reich in Power,” an analysis of what it was like living under the Nazis. One of the things Evans touches on is the Nazis’ treatment of homosexuals. Norman-Bates_zpsf008f186However, he also specifies that many countries criminalized homosexuality at that time, including England. He then makes the observation that although homosexuality in England had been criminalized for some time, almost twice as many prosecutions for it occurred AFTER WWII (the late 40s and 50s) as there had been in the 30s. I have to wonder if this is another sign of renewed repression after the war.

Back to the isolation conveyed by the films; I think this resonates today because one thing that reliably gives a person the creeps is feeling isolated and alone. Even if there are no overt threats, being isolated enhances our feelings of vulnerability, and challenges our notions of self-efficacy.

In The Wicker Man, our “hero” police officer is placed in a setting where all he really has to fall back on is his role as the voice of authority. But because he is alone, his assertions of authority become progressively more feeble and desperate as the film goes on. One thing I was thinking about The Wicker Man is how it depicts polarized views of sexuality and sexual energy. Woodward is the repression and denial of sexuality, while the islanders are the uninhibited expression of sex, even including taboo areas such as children. Each side is destructive and counterproductive, just in different ways. The children are ultimately used, (like so much else in these movies) to unsettle the audience. Nothing terribly wrong happens involving children in the movie, but simply having them in such a community feels transgressive – the audience can’t help but wonder what else might be going on with these children.

It’s interesting that Woodward and the pagans each view sexuality as something with almost mystical power. By his extensive repression, Woodward is tacitly asserting that sexuality is something potent to be feared. The pagans believe that in their indulgent expression of sexuality they are gaining power,howie and by sacrificing a “pure” man they will secure their salvation. Each time I see the scene with Britt Eckland (you know the one), I almost laugh at the stark fear Woodward is expressing. I want to say, “Good grief, man! You clearly want her and she’s certainly acting like she wants you – get over yourself and get to it, already!” (Sigh) but the victims in horror films never listen to me, anyway.

Gabby, have you seen the remake of The Wicker Man? One thing I find interesting is that in the original the head of the pagan community is a man (the wonderfully sinister Christopher Lee). In the remake, the community is run exclusively by women. I think the community is centered around bees because a bee hive is centered around the female while the males are clearly secondary.

While the original film relies on the tension between England’s pagan past and its repressive present, the remake seems more female vs. male. tumblr_lkib9w6S5R1qzsz6ro1_500The women “win,” but are seen as crazed and manipulative, while the men (not least Nick Cage himself) are morons being led by the nose. Of course, it was made by Neil LaBute, who seems to harbor equal contempt for both men and women (In the Company of Men skewers men, while The Shape of Things concerns one of the most hateful views of women I’ve ever seen).I think most people these days watch the remake ironically, to laugh at Cage’s nutty performance. But the sexual politics depicted are more interesting (and disturbing) to me.

Gabby: I have seen neither the remake of Wicker Man or Psycho. I am very happy to stay away from both of those. Psycho 2 however, I highly recommend. Going back to Psycho, Norman Bates has been said to be an image of a homosexual man from Queer theory texts. What is your opinions on this? The image of gay men, as we have touched on before, has often been linked to the criminal, insane and dangerous or deviant. Deviant sexuality in the 50s was basically any sexuality, especially anything that wasn’t between a husband and wife. This connects to that fear of isolation you brought up, that we can relate to when connecting to being different in general, in terms of sexuality or anything that could be slightly different to the strict social norms of a suburban society.

How do you think this contrasts with Woodward not acting on his sexual desires? Many homosexual men were fearing on acting on their desires not only because it was illegal, but because it was seen in such a negative light. Society was bigoted. Woodward came from this society, he was a man of the 50s views towards sex.
Any thoughts of it were wrong basically. Building to an unhealthy and sometimes devastating result in both these films. wicker-man-1973-002-stone-circle-dancers-00m-osv
I have never really thought about this before but do you think the film is punishing these characters for not expressing their sexuality? Instead of so many films, particularly in horror, which came before it, we could interpret that in these two films as being different. That it is due to the fact they have feared to greatly the expression of their true selves so they lead to extremes of conduct. This might be more fitting for the kinds of films these were, which were shocking, taboo breaking and scandalous. Even showing Janet Leigh in her underwear was shocking at the time. So when it comes to showing her in the shower, naked, being stabbed to death by a man dressed as his dead mother, who he has the corpse of in the basement, wow, no wonder it made such a wave! Then you have taboos in Wicker Man too. What are your thoughts of the way they use children in that film? And how do you feel the taboos in each film may connect beyond connecting to fears within us?

Steve: Norman’s mannerisms and body language could be read as a coded view of homosexuality. I think the main thing with Norman, however, is that his sexuality has been hopelessly screwed up by his suffocating upbringing. Norman clearly has sexual desires, but he has been taught to fear those desires by Mother. When Marion overhears (yeah that’s rich – the whole exchange is practically shouted) the conversation between Norman and Mother, we later understand that Norman is playing both parts. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he is simply repeating things his actual mother said to him. When Mother speaks of Marion appeasing her “ugly appetite” psycho-showeron both Mother’s food and her son, “she” is expressing a hatred and fear both of women and the sexuality they represent.

Robin Wood (a wonderful film critic I’ve mentioned before – if you have not already I would encourage you to check out his books Hitchcock’s Films and Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan) noted that when we see Norman and Sam facing each other in profile towards the end of the movie, Norman is like a distorted reflection of Sam. Sam has a relatively normal, healthy sexuality (not because he is straight, mind you, but because he openly expresses sexual affection towards Marion at the start of the film). By contrast, Norman’s sexuality is warped to the extreme.

Repression is a key theme both of Psycho and The Wicker Man, and like you pointed out, both films ultimately show this repression leading to disaster.

Ultimately, I think the reason both these films work so well is because they are targeting audiences who are themselves repressed. The filmmakers skillfully play on our own sexual repressiveness to unnerve us. The British audience for The Wicker Man would not see Edward Woodward’s character Howie as being a stuck-up repressed git – they would see him as a fairly noble reflection of themselves. Likewise, thewicker_man-04 American audience of Psycho would easily sympathize with Marion – the “good girl” – going “just a little bit mad” and chucking her boring life for a chance at true happiness with her lover.

Each film proves a safe outlet to let the viewer take a peek underneath our safe, “normal” facade and see what lurks underneath.