Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story is probably the most polarizing Christmas movie of all time. People either love this movie to death, or hate it with extreme passion. I was raised on this movie, and had no idea that other people even knew about it until TNT and TBS started showing it for 24 hours straight from Christmas Eve night through Christmas Day. Turns out everyone knows about this movie, and luckily it hasn't ruined it for me. I am unfortunately one of those people who don't like when things get too popular, but you can't ruin childhood favorites. I really can't see a reason that people don't like this movie other than that it's a bit overplayed. It's on for 24 hours straight! Why?! It's a great movie, but why for that long? Why not make it an event and have it on Christmas eve at 8? Everyone would tune in! Instead you look for things to watch on Christmas day and after you have watched A Christmas Story once, you're not going to stay tuned in! You're going to look for something else! To be fair, A Christmas Story scores TBS huge ratings. People really do love this movie. Some even to the point of obsession. A fan bought the original house from the movie and made it into a walk through museum! That's pretty crazy!

A Christmas Story was directed by Bob Clark, who at the time was best known for directing Black Christmas and the two Porky's movies. I know what you're thinking. He's the perfect person to direct a feel-good Christmas movie! We actually have Porky's to thank for A Christmas Story, funny enough. No studio wanted to touch a Christmas movie, mostly because they weren't popular back then. The success of Porky's allowed him to finally do the Christmas movie he always wanted to do, and not one that involved murder like Black Christmas. For source material he turned to Jean Shepherd, whom he had first discovered in 1968 when he heard Shepherd's semi-autobiographic story "Flick's Tongue" on the radio. Story ideas came from many of Shepherd's stories that he published in Playboy in the sixties and others that were unpublished stories from Shepherd's days touring colleges. I think this really helps with the appeal for many in the older generations. Not that the movie isn't entertaining to other generations, but it's always fun to see a story true to how life was back when you were young. This begs the question then: what year does this movie take place? It's left ambiguous on purpose, though many have tried to nail one down following clues from the movie. Clark and Shepherd, both of whom helped pen the screenplay, decided that it was supposed to be vaguely set in the 30's and 40's. I'm not sure why, but I always thought it was the 50's as a kid. Shows what I know! While the story takes place in Hohman, Indiana, a fictionalized version of Shepherd's hometown of Hammond, Indiana, the movie was actually shot in Cleveland, Ohio, with a few in Toronto, including the "Oh, Fudge" scene and the dinner at the Chinese restaurant.

Music is big part of the movie, which mixes classical, western, and Christmas songs. To extenuate the hyperbolic nature of the film, some scenes are enunciated with familiar classical songs, like Tchaikovsky's Hamlet (Oh Fudge scene, the second breaking of the leg lamp, and Ralphie breaks his glasses), Alphons Czibulka's Wintermarchen (Ralphie is blind dream sequence), Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (Miss Shields grading papers in Ralphie's fantasy), and my favorite, Prokofiev's "Wolf Theme" from Peter and the Wolf (anytime Scut Farkus is seen). To make the predator-like bully seem even more linked with the music, they gave him the last name Farkus, which means "Wolf" in Hungarian. I never really got why they named him Scut. I always thought it was Scott, and was really confused when I saw it wasn't. Who names their kid Scut? There's also music borrowed from Movement 3 [On the Trail], for any scene involving the Red Ryder BB Gun. Many Christmas songs were used for the movie, with even some modern ones (for their time) that included Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Fred Waring. The music really makes this movie. I mean, yeah, it has a lot going for it, but the music just takes the outlandishness of the movie and makes it fit perfectly together.

A Christmas Story was released in November of 1983 and didn't fare too well, thanks in part to the aforementioned fact that people didn't really care for Christmas movies in the 80's. The film stopped playing at most theaters by the time Christmas rolled around, but some people put up a fuss and few hundred theaters let it stay until January. Released initially by MGM, the movie grossed a little over $19 million and probably would have faded into the background of forgotten Christmas movies had it not been given a second chance on video and TV viewings. It first aired on HBO in 1985 and quickly gained a following. It was then aired by WGN, WTBS, and Fox in the late 80's and early 90's, each of which started the tradition of showing the movie on or the day after Thanksgiving. Ted Turner acquired MGM in the mid-80's and therefore owned A Christmas Story. He took advantage of the movie's growing popularity by putting it on all three of his major channels, TNT, TBS, and TCM. The tradition of having 24 hours of A Christmas Story started in 1997 on TNT, which lasted until TNT realized it was a serious drama station and was too cool for Christmas movies. In 2004 TBS took over the Christmas Story marathon and it has stayed there since. Each year it gains more and more viewers, so Turner must be doing something right. Honestly I think it's hurting the long term value of the movie by over-saturating us with it, but people still watch It's a Wonderful Life after all these years and it's on every Christmas.

So are you one of the people that love or loathe this movie? As you know, I love it, but I grew up with it, so maybe I'm biased. I appreciate the dark humor and the hyperbolic antics. It's not your traditional Christmas movie. A kid wants something the whole movie, is warned about having that thing, and then when he does receive said thing, he promptly does the thing people warned him about. Go figure. Such is the struggle of being a kid though, right? We've all had to put on the "bunny suit." We've all wanted something awesome that had unforeseen consequences. We've all accidentally said a bad word in front of our parents, though at lease mine didn't end up with soup in the mouth. A Christmas Story is legit funny, entertaining, and so what if it's everywhere on Christmas, it's still awesome.