TiSB Roundtable: Xmas movies UNCHAINED
It’s that time of year, folks! Christmastime! The lights! The presents! The early onset diabetes! Can’t you just smell the goddamn CHEER!? (Sure you can.)
In a way to celebrate this time of year away from the cultural tsunami of peppermint and Amazon orders, we turn to our trusty panelists to put a lens on cinematic offerings, Yuletide or not, that make this time of year expert-level special. So, strap on in: shit’s about to get jolly.
I actually watch In Bruges a few times a year, but always make sure one of those viewings happens in December. Even though there’s only passing mentions of it taking place during Christmastime (“Well I’m not about to have a shoot-out in the middle of a thousand fuckin’ Belgians, am I? Not to mention the other nationalities, just on their holidays.”), it’s always been distinctly… Christmasy. And I’ve only recently been able to put my finger on why: it’s just so damn CATHOLIC.
Sure, most of all the fun comes from the juxtaposition of all the blood and carnage embedded in this little town from the Dark Ages, with all the old cobblestones n’ that, but beyond the dreamy, Boschian streak, In Bruges firmly rests on a foundation of Catholicism: Judgement. And the afterlife. And guilt. And sins. And hell. And all that. Murders are committed in confessionals, suicides are propelled from medieval towers, and queues are formed at altars (“Do ya hafta? Of course ya don’t fuckin’ HAFTA. It’s only Jesus’ fookin’ blood, isn’t it!?”).
For anyone who spent childhood weekends getting dragged to service, the gothic framing of In Bruges feels as dark and oddly ominous as midnight mass. Okay– well, a pretty weird and bloody midnight mass, but one nonetheless.
Anne of Green Gables
Growing up in my home, the dark, depressing week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was made a little bit more bearable (and a lot more Canadian) by a complete rewatch of Megan Follows’ turn as the rambunctious titular character in Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. It’s an epic that follows the life of Anne (that’s with an E) Shirley, redheaded (although eventually auburn) orphan with the luck to be adopted by a grouchily loving Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.
It seems kind of saccharine at first glance but what makes Anne of Green Gables so great are all the characters that come and go in her life. Besides Marilla and Matthew there’s her bosom buddy Diana Berry (and her entire family), her nemeses Josie Pye and Rachel Lynde, and the entire English class of Kingsport Ladies College. Of course there’s Morgan Harris and Gilbert “Anne I’m SORE-EY” Blithe, the love interests who actually deserve Anne. The series spans decades so we get to see all the characters grow up and change, usually for the better, usually because of Anne.
And, like any holiday tradition, the marathon involved a fair amount of fighting: since our copy of this PBS masterpiece was a VHS tape of the television broadcast it was always a struggle to known exactly when to stop fast-forwarding through the commercials. To me “you’re missing it, you’re MISSING IT” means Christmas.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
“What’s your favorite thing to watch for the holidays?” The question gave me a startling amount of pause. I enjoy the season, despite not being a religious. Sure, I’ve got some Black Friday cynicism, but I think it’s a time for people to get together, forget about work for a while, and just enjoy each others’ company. So why the hell couldn’t I think of anything? A Christmas Story? No. Rudolf? Nah. Miracle on 34th Street? Zip. Zilch. Nada. None of those movies evoke any emotional response.
I had to go back, way back, to being a six year old kid, sitting on the floor and watching a VHS tape of the 1966 animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. At the time, I had no idea who Chuck Jones was, despite being inundated with his work. All I knew was that I wanted nothing more than to have all those marvelous, imaginative toys. The Jing Tinglers, Flu Floopers, Tar Tinkers, and even the Who Hoovers. Then they’d feast and sing and it was just… magical. And the Grinch, who had a wonderful, awful idea that ended with his heart growing 10 sizes. Charles Dickens eat your heart out.
These days I actually KNOW who Chuck Jones was. I’m also able to consciously rationalize how awesome this movie is. It holds up as a true classic, and I hope future generations continue to appreciate its value.
There are countless classic Christmas–errr-Holiday movies out there and I would have a hell of a time trying to pick my favorite. However, since we’re in the realm of geekdom here, I’d like to give a shoutout to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns.
The combination of the Batman world, the Tim Burton sensibility, the Christmastime setting just work magically together. The entire film it feels as though you’re in some dark, creepy, winter wonderland that you just don’t see too often. There’s a great juxtaposition of the cheery 1940’s-ish Gotham, and the dark characters of Batman, Penguin, Catwoman and even dare I say…Max Shreck!?
This movie certainly has its issues, but it’s got it where it counts. Sure Batman only has about 6 lines in the whole movie, sure the Penguin’s plot is a tad on the dark side, but when Batman opens up that cape/glider of his and flies by that giant Christmas tree with the swarm of bats, that’s just plain bat-holiday fun. Batman Returns is crazy, fun, and festive! It’s a great flick to throw in if you want to watch a holiday movie but need to escape the more conventional ones.
Also, since we’re talking Batman/Christmas, I’d also like to give an honorable mention to the “Christmas with the Joker” episode of Batman The Animated Series, doesn’t get any more classic than that.