Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday TV Viewing

It’s the season for holiday movies and TV specials. Do you have favorites you watch over and over? Some people’s holiday faves don’t even necessarily have any direct connection to Christmas or winter. In the era before home video, the annual December broadcast of THE WIZARD OF OZ was a big holiday event for many families, because that was the only time we could see it. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, of course, is another seasonal staple, even though Christmas comes into the story only at the end. As a child, I loved watching Perry Como’s Christmas shows with my parents, with Como and his guests singing the old standards. Nowadays musical Christmas specials just don’t seem to be what they used to be, so I hardly ever bother with them except to play my home VCR recording of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s holiday concert. My husband frequently re-watches Celtic Woman’s Christmas DVD, a shining exception to the “not what they used to be” remark.

We have friends who make a yearly Christmas tradition of watching THE BISHOP’S WIFE, the vintage film with Cary Grant as an angel sent to help a bishop (David Niven) who’s stressed by the project of building a new cathedral. My personal non-obvious Christmas movie is LADY AND THE TRAMP, my favorite of Disney’s “old” animation cycle. (My favorite of the more recent features is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.) This film begins and ends on a pair of Christmas days two years apart. I watch it every December despite having most of the dialogue memorized. Never having lived with a dog for my first nine years, I got my ideas about dogs from LADY AND THE TRAMP and LASSIE. When my parents bought a boxer, I was severely disappointed that he didn’t act nearly so intelligent as Lady or Lassie. Plus, he was hyper-manic and drooled constantly.

When our sons were little, naturally we viewed the standard TV specials every year—the Peanuts Christmas special, RUDOLF THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, the animated HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (voiced by Boris Karloff), etc. Since the kids have grown up and I know most of those cartoons practically by heart, I seldom watch them when they’re broadcast anymore. For my main Christmas viewing focus, I re-watch one or more of the many version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL I’ve collected. It’s fun to observe how various filmmakers have adapted the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. The Mr. Magoo animated adaptation is surprisingly good, with some lovely songs. Among the live movies, my favorite Scrooge used to be George C. Scott. He has been superseded by Patrick Stewart. I enjoy the way Scrooge displays a certain dry wit even before his conversion, and Stewart captures that trait well. Scott’s Scrooge is humorous in a different way, conveying a somewhat sarcastic tone, e.g. in the speech about garments versus coal for warmth, which isn’t in Dickens’s book. The Muppet CHRISTMAS CAROL is fun just because it has Muppets. Among looser adaptations, I especially admire the Henry Winkler AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, set during the Depression. While Winkler’s Scrooge-like character gets visited by the usual ghosts, the story’s details are different as befits the altered setting and time period. I also like the sex-switched A DIVA’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, though I wouldn’t claim it has the artistic quality of the Winkler film. The diva, a black superstar singer in a modern setting, faces the truth about her life in an updated fashion, such as viewing the Christmas Yet to Come message as a TV documentary about her career and death. This story does require a stringent suspension of disbelief, though, in that we have to accept its taking place in a world where nobody has heard of Dickens; the diva is named Ebony Scrooge and has an assistant named Bob Cratchit with a chronically ill son named Tim.

What are your family or personal holiday viewing staples?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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