Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I thought I'd do a few 30-second Christmas movie reviews, for shits and giggles:

White Christmas (1954, dir. Michael Curtiz): White Christmas is pure war propaganda. It starts off with a stage (scene-within-a-scene) performance featuring Bing Crosby as Captain Bob Wallace, singing the eponymous song, written by Crosby and Irving Berlin, "White Christmas" ("I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..."). Crosby gives a sendoff to the unit's benevolent Major General Thomas F. Waverley (Dean Jagger) as he returns to civilian life and is replaced by General Harold G. Coughlin (Gavin Gordon). Crosby and the squadron sing "The Old Man," ("We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go... because we love him!"). The next leg of the film takes Crosby and Danny Kaye into civilian life as a popular duet who, in classical Hollywood fashion, meet a sister act, with whom they go on an adventure (to Vermont, where there is supposed to be snow). There, they re-encounter Major General Waverley, who has become an inkeeper, but who will have to quit because there are no guests. Thus, predictably, Crosby and Kaye bring their act to the inn to attract guests. In an effort to get the old squadron to appear for the performance, Crosby goes on The Ed Harrison Show and sings the most despicable, propagandistic song of the entire film, "What Can You Do With a General?" This song makes the demonstrably false claim that G.I.'s after the war have a much easier time reacquainting themselves with civilian life than generals:
When the war was over, why, there were jobs galore
For the G.I. Josephs who were in the war
But for generals things were not so grand
And it's not so hard to understand

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?

Who's got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires
In an era in which retired generals get paid by the Pentagon to go on CNN and lie, we should rightfully be cynical about this claim. Dean Jagger's constantly pitiful General Waverly is a blatant misrepresentation. White Christmas is nauseating.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas(1966, dir. Chuck Jones and Ben Washam): There seems to be two ways of interpreting this film: either, the Grinch is the pariah, the outsider, the wandering Jew; he lives on the outskirts of Whoville and haunts the inhabitants with his malicious deeds, or, and this seems more accurate, he is a landlord or capitalist living on the outskirts of town who exploits the Whos and takes their property (through mechanisms legal and "etra-legal"). The Grinch is old and green: greed, miserliness. He has a lacky who is at his beck and call. He lives above the town (rather than in the slough or the swamp, which would be reserved for the pariah figure, as in Wagners Rheingold). Granted, his interior decoration is sparse, but his stealing of Christmas seems to stem less from need than from a desire to make others miserable. Furthermore, when he gives back to the residents of Whoville that which already belonged to them (wages), they treat him as a guest of honor and welcome him into their homes.

Christmas Vacation (1989, dir. Jeremiah Chechick):: Critique of the American Dream. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase )desires to play the patriarch; he wants to create the "perfect" Christmas, i.e. the Christmas that most mirrors the Hollywood Imaginary of Christmas. He seems to want to fulfill all of the fantasies that he held as a child: a gigantic tree, lights that illuminate the entire neighborhood, a private swimming pool. He is the model of American infantile consumerism, and he terrorizes his family with his schemes, forcing them to participate, occasionally at great personal risk (e.g., the opening scene in which they go to get a Christmas tree and nearly kill themselves in the process).

Christmas Vacation is a model movie for the current recession: Clark Griswold buys a swimming pool on credit in the belief that his Christmas bonus will cover the purchase, but the owner of the company decides on no bonuses in order to secure the "bottom line." Griswold is the model consumer, going in over his head in debt in order to purchase completely worthless, extraneous material goods. In the end, of course, something happens that would never happen in the real world: the boss is made to feel remorse at his decision and reinstates bonuses with a 20 percent increase. Griswold is ultimately triumphant (the last words of the film are him saying, "I did it"); although the film begins as a critique of the Christmas fantasy, Griswold's triumph is a spur for the viewer to ignore his misery. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that, in the final scene, the senile aunt begins to sing the Star Spangled Banner as a rocket display (Santa on a sled) takes place. Rather than laughing off her silliness, the entire Griswold family (plus extended family) joins in. The message: sentimental ideology serves the same purpose no matter what the circumstances.

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