Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh... Fudge: 25 Years of A CHRISTMAS STORY

Anyone who knows me (or has been paying attention) knows that I’m a bit of a Christmas nut. Not overly religious by any means, just someone who truly enjoys the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays. I love how it makes the onset of winter bearable, perks people’s spirits up, brings about a reunion of friends and family, and yes, I sure do love getting gifts (I love giving them, too, but the getting’s the real fun). The major downside of the holidays is their over-commercialization, which has always been the case but seems to get worse and worse every year, and the really crappy holiday movies, specials and music that pops up every year. There’s always been second-rate holiday entertainment, but the amount of lame animated movies, TV flicks and albums out there these days is too much for me. It doesn’t exactly take away my holiday spirit, but it’s annoying, especially when you see things that shouldn’t be over holiday-ized but are. This came to mind the other day when walking through a massive Wal-Mart the other day (hey, sometimes you’ve got to go to Wal-Mart) and as I was looking through the holiday section of the store I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at what I was seeing: An entire endcap devoted to holiday merchandise from Bob Clark’s A CHRISTMAS STORY. It went beyond just mere wrapping paper and Leg Lamp ornaments, but there were also snow globes, t-shirts, stickers, and a few too many other items to count. Listen, for the likes of Rudolph, Frosty and Peanuts this stuff is fine, but when I see all these CHRISTMAS STORY products on the shelves like clockwork this time of year, I always get a little sad. Something that’s so good, that began in such a genuine and honest way is now a cash cow that the marketers don’t seem to understand. I’m sure these people have seen A CHRISTMAS STORY, but do they understand it?

Listen, you don’t need me to tell you that A CHRISTMAS STORY is a terrific movie, because we all know that. It’s one of two classic Christmas movies directed by the late Bob Clark (the other being BLACK CHRISTMAS, of course) and I’m happy that it’s become a modern day classic, because it deserves to be called one. I’ve always loved how A CHRISTMAS STORY got what it was to be a kid in pretty much any age and how was very level-headed and down-to-earth about the holiday, about families, and about childhood in general. It’s not about saving Christmas or Santa or elves and reindeer or anything like that. It’s got very modest ambitions and it’s refreshingly not out to give you an important lessons about life and the spirit of giving, it’s just a slice of life and it comes across as pretty true, which is part of its appeal. So to see all this merchandise is more than a little disconcerting, because that’s not what A CHRISTMAS STORY is all about, either. You’ve got to remember that Ralphie nearly does shoot his eye out with that BB gun, and that the leg lamp is to be mocked, not proudly displayed in your own home or on your tree. People don’t understand the bitterness and disappointment that exists through most of Jean Shepherd’s work (even this one) or that A CHRISTMAS STORY was meant to be a sort of anti-Christmas movie that presented (no pun intended) the holiday as it truly was, not how advertisers thought we wanted it to be. Everyone has stories about Christmases that don’t always go right, which is part of the reason why this one has connected with so many people. Its current incantation as an annual source of revenue for Warner Brothers and the estates of Shepherd and Clark is great for them, but for what A CHRISTMAS STORY is supposed to represent, it kinda sucks if you ask me.

Despite all this, it won’t take away from my own pleasant memory of seeing A CHRISTMAS STORY 25 years ago this night at the old Madison Triplex. The place was packed – rather surprisingly, since I hadn’t seen much pre-release press on it – and everyone loved it. Having a bit of a holiday buzz in me already, it was the perfect way to start the holiday season (back in those days the Christmas movie season actually started in December). But what made it even better and all the more memorable was walking home to see the 1983 Madison Christmas tree finally up in the center of town, knowing damn well that the holidays had arrived. The Christmas that followed was a good one, as I remember it, with the usual kids vs. parents crud that went with it, so I'm happy A CHRISTMAS STORY came along when it did, as I wasn't going to be a kid much longer and its magic might not be as potent on me the older I got. It gets childhood just right, and that's why it's a classic.

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