’tis the season to watch movies, tra la la la la la la la la

Last night a friend of mine asked me what was my favourite Christmas movie.

Before I continue, however, I have to explain something about my taste preferences.

I’m not a Christmas person.

I know plenty of people who adore the holidays, and get a real kick out of decking their house in lights and decorations, dressing a Christmas tree, wrapping presents and writing cards.

I’m not going to splutter “Bah, humbug,” at that attitude, but I don’t share the same level of enthusiasm.

When I was asked about my favourite Christmas movie I did have an answer because it was a question I had contemplated that very day.

My response was Trading Places.

This is a film that I’ve watched many, many times, and will watch it anytime I happen upon it on TV. In some ways it’s not a “Christmas Movie”, but the holidays play an important backdrop to the film’s plot and subtext. Also, it’s a comedy, and a classic comedy can reveal serious, painful, and wonderful aspects about its subject, and make you laugh–everyone’s a winner. I do enjoy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation too, and this season I plan to watch, finally, both Elf and Bad Santa as my nod to the time of the year

If I was to ponder on the more traditional Christmas flick, then I think I would turn to one of the various adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There have too many to mention. There are the ‘straight’ versions that concentrate on the journey of Scrooge from an isolated money-grubber and loveless man to a joyful person who embraces the importance of love and generosity. Then there are the variations on the story: Mickey Mouse has one, as have the Muppets, Mr. Magoo, and even Blackadder.

I will admit to having a nostalgic fondness for Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which has been adapted to the silver screen numerous times with varying degrees of success. I do bow to sentimentality on occasion.

I re-watched It’s a Wonderful Life a few days ago, and I was reminded of my original impression of the film as being a dark rumination on the sacrifices that life requires, and how the holidays can be both the best, and the worst, time of the year. It’s a well-crafted, and acted film, but despite the wave of feel-good emotion at the end it always leaves me vaguely unsettled.

Perhaps it’s the hysterical edge in George Bailey’s (James Stewart) voice as he wishes everyone a Happy Christmas, or it’s the fact that Mr. Potter’s (Lionel Barrymore) evil silence about the loss of money is never revealed (which is realistic). The town’s act of collective good will is indeed wonderful, but to my mind that never overshadows that George has never achieved any of his dreams. Of course I get that Capra is trying to show a difference between wants and needs in the film. George wants travel and education, but needs a family and friends more. But there is something nullifying to George’s personality in his self-sacrificing choices. The excellent sequence that shows George’s importance in the world, and the difference his life has made to the town of Bedford Falls is illuminating, but I would love to have seen the more realistic version in which George chooses differently.

Life requires compromise, but we don’t always have to sacrifice our dreams on the anvil of responsibility. I don’t think it’s that cut and dry. But, of course, that would be an entirely different film!

Christmas is a time of year for over-dosing on films. When I was growing up, when there were less channels and choice, I loved pouring over the bumper edition of the TV guide, and marking everything I wanted to see. I enjoyed children’s films like The Wizard of Oz, or <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067992/”Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the time, but for some reason they don’t hold a lingering appeal on my imagination.

The movies I remember being available, that weren’t always on TV otherwise, were the epics, the musicals, and the visual spectaculars.

In particular I loved the mythological stories that SFX legend Ray Harryhausen brought to life: Clash of the Titans (gods and monsters!), Jason and the Argonauts (cool battling skeletons!), and the Sinbad series (flying carpets; wizards; the deadly clockwork Kali!). I developed a love for swashbuckling flicks: if it features acrobatic heroes, breathtaking extended sword fights, and goateed villains then it’s usually my kind of movie (which is why I was so delighted with Pirates of the Caribbean).

This overview has prompted me to scan the upcoming schedule for TCM, which is airing a fantastic smorgasbord of holiday treats. Those of you who want to catch up on old favourites, or watch a classic you’ve missed would be well advised to keep a track of its Christmas timetable.

Christmas: it’s movie heaven (Hip hip hip hip hip hooray!).