11.30.2017

Xmas90

By the time I was 7 years old, I'd only been to the movie theater a handful of times (if you can buy that) - it comes from growing up in an age of VCR and HBO. In fact, I think I'd been to the drive-in just as often. In any case, it was a 'treat,' like McDonald's or an amusement park, and I took it seriously as such. No one had to explain to me that it was sacred -- I merely felt it to be so...

To the best of my memory, December 1990 inaugurated a tradition that carried on throughout the decade: Dad & I went to the movies so Mom could wrap the presents for all the children of the world.
Boil that down into the crack-cocaine that it is: "We get to go to the movies, specifically for the purpose of staying occupied so your Christmas presents can be wrapped! Also, it's almost Christmas! And we're going to the movies!"

In hindsight, there were a couple of interesting options that particular weekend: Misery, Jacob's Ladder, Predator 2. Of course at the time I don't think those would have stood out to me just yet -- though they were valued video rentals.
Naw, the frontrunner was, in fact, something that wasn't entirely running up front with me, or my father, at all. If you were alive then, you'd remember the full-on glue-and-feather assault that Home Alone was exacting on our culture. And what they were selling looked kinda, well... stupid; potentially too juvenile even for a 7 year old. And I think that may actually be why adults - then & now - love it. We'll get waaaay into that later.

I think Dad & I were optioning swallowing this bitter pill: it's popular, it's a comedy, it's a Christmas movie, probably a good theater experience (big crowd, lotsa laughs)... why the fuck not?

The thing that is perhaps most fascinating (to me, anyway) is that I can't fully remember what is was that inevitably drove us into the razor-sharp embrace of Edward Scissorhands instead. I do remember my mother gently trying to dissuade us - me especially - warning me that they appeared to be selling it as a 'dull romance' & that maybe I'd be bored. I was still quite a rookie then, & I wasn't fully aware of Tim Burton or Danny Elfman or that I was already an avid fan & that I simply couldn't go wrong. And it really is strange - I'd only seen a couple commercials for it & really couldn't make heads or tails of what the hell I was looking at. That strict curiosity + some exciting apprehension + some magic je ne sais quoi was the formula that somehow got us into those seats.

So, there we were at Loews Cinemas, Saturday matinee, December 15th 1990. We always got there way early. As we sat waiting, my father pointed out how the majority of the half-full theater were young girls, most likely due to the film's heartthrob star; something I wasn't aware of, but apparently Dad was. My apprehension grew a little in those last few moments before the trailers.

And, for anyone who cares, the trailers were: Green Card, Come See the Paradise, and Sleeping With the Enemy. You're welcome.
I don't think I've ever completely told this story, because it's not easy to tell. I don't mean emotionally, I mean intellectually - it's fucking hard to describe. Watching the movie now, nearly 3 decades later, I still try to pinpoint exactly what it was that connected all my dots -- or the dots of any 7 year old. I realize this kinda cheapens whatever voodoo the film had or has, but there are plenty of superficial signposts: A candy-colored melodrama with shades of jet-black goth; a literal 'Rainbow in the Dark' with big music & crazy landscape. Beetlejuice on ice. Blue Velvet for kids. Disney's Hellraiser. Call it what I may, none of it really reveals what I felt when I felt it, or how it felt to feel it.
But I'm still gonna try.

Since birth, I'd been intoxicated by movies. I don't think - or, I didn't then - that there was anything unique there; everyone loves movies. I also don't think I had the wherewithal to look inside myself & recognize that I was getting more enjoyment from film than the next person. I may've been self aware, but not on deeply cerebral level. I was a baby. Christ.

Edward Scissorhands flipped a switch that was somehow missed by Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, The
Right Stuff, Ghostbusters, Young Frankenstein, Lethal Weapon 2Running Scared, and hundreds of other big colorful booties, up to & including all of Tim's previous stuff. What it does (I think) is truly something that I'm not always consciously looking for in art, but I recognize it hard when it happens, and it's rare (and/or rarely done right).

And yet it sounds simple enough: elaborate fantasy within a 'real-world' framework -- sharp contrast.

Pulp Fiction does this. The Exorcist does this. Magnolia does this. And though all of its subtext re. sex, religion, pop culture, and individuality may not exactly be subtext, it had a mystique that I think resonates best & brightest with a child - especially this child. It is viscerally compelling: a non-threatening cenobite travels down the rabbit hole into a ridiculous Bo Welch Wonderland, and it's played completely straight. So straight that's it's funny, scary, sad, romantic, and so on. And that's only a vague description of part of why it's important.

However, if I had to point to one thing in the movie that perhaps reached into my soul & turned me on dead man, it's what I consider to be the greatest film score ever created. 
That list does exist -- it's in my noodle. And #1 has never not been Danny Elfman/Edward Scissorhands.
I received the cassette tape for my birthday 2 months later. My first soundtrack album. It was exhilarating, because it was like owning the movie itself: I could listen to it & play back the scenes in my head as though I were watching it.
I drained so many black magic markers of their juice drawing Edward surrounded by his topiary creations. My father drew me a fantastic rendition of the castle, & my brother-in-law drew a true-to-life portrait.
I was becoming a real movie fan.
I was becoming a fan, period. Up until then I had liked things & was invested in whatever was around, but now I had a deep interest in something beyond the workaday dimension of being 7: fun & games, schoolwork, television. I had my first healthy obsession, life had meaning & depth. It was a stepping stone.
We went back the following weekend to see it again, bringing my mother along. This was unprecedented: going to the theater to see the same movie? That's allowed? It certainly helped that my father was equally taken with the film, which also propelled its legitimacy in my mind: an adult likes this too & isn't just catering to whatever 'child thing' I happen to be into. My mother was so moved that she never really liked watching it again due its heartbreaking premise and ending. So, I believe it was just me & Dad again for the inevitable third viewing.

In school, all I wanted to talk about was the movie, but the opportunity never presented itself. I kept waiting for someone to ask me about it, or perhaps there could be some assignment where we'd have to talk about the stuff we liked, a 'show & tell of the soul'. Or there would be some class discussion about contemporary cinema or fictional heroes.
It was not to be - this sorta free-floating expressionism didn't exist in my second grade classroom. And when the subject of movies did come up around that time, there was but only one...

The week before our confirmed fourth consecutive trip to the cinema, my father & I debated. "Is it time we go see the most popular movie in the world? Do we care?" We both knew it was less of a want and more of a should. It was the hip thing to do, I suppose. Every visit prior, we'd treated Home Alone the way Pee-Wee regarded the snakes in the pet store scene in Big Adventure. But perhaps it was time. As precious as weekends were, we were willing to sacrifice this one to the masses.
And masses they were...
Roughly seven weeks after wide release, the line, still, was 'around the block' as it were - extending outside the cozy cathedral of the multiplex into the gray January. "Fuck that," we said, to some degree. "No line for Edward! Shall we?"

So, the following weekend was it - we were committed - so committed that we would stand in any line to see this kid fuck shit up in a mansion.
And there was a line. And he fucked that shit up good. And even still, the most exciting part was that an Edward trailer preceded the movie - which I had never seen: The Theatrical Trailer! I called them the "Movie Previews", which were longer & had more emotional impact & told a better story, as opposed to the "TV Previews" which were shorter & felt rushed & shortchanged. But to see the theatrical trailer was like watching an encapsulated love letter to the movie I'd wished I was actually watching. Needless to say, I was distracted.

I know we went back the following week (not to Home Alone obviously), and, I'm pretty sure the week after that as well. (This was clearly a time when movies stayed in the theater a little longer than a week).

And wouldn't you know it: eventually that weekend came when a friend or cousin or someone my age invited me to go the movies with a crowd of 'my ages' to see the movie I'd already blown my no-hitter with.
Yeah, fine.
No 7 year old is so jaded as to purposefully root for the underdog. I wasn't even aware Edward was an underdog until I started to realize no one my age (or any other adults actually) were even aware of it.
They loved that "filthy animal" bit, though.
Well, I get to see that trailer again-- oh, it's no longer in theaters so they pulled the trailer. Fine. So what am I left with: Leo 'Getz' his head on fire, Gatsby's dad shovels driveway, kid from Uncle Buck says 'horse's ass' to thunderous applause.
Alright, alright. I was not some jaded emo kid - I was a happy little boy. It was fun to see in a theater, & it's easier to laugh along with others laughing. And while Edward may have been a very personal turning point for something, Home Alone was a major cultural phenomenon & I was part of it. I had no choice. Once it was on video for the following Christmas, that was it - it was never going away. And it ages loverly - largely due to nostalgia (sorry if that cheapens it, but that's what it is). Like Spaceballs, "Ice Ice Baby," and other accessible mediocrity, it can be fun when the world brands it as such.
And speaking of Spaceballs, can we talk for a moment about the watermark in the declination of certain artists? In this case, Chris Columbus, and, to a great extent, John Hughes.
Two men that, separately, shaped youth pop culture for roughly a decade. And then to collaborate? This film should have been the most popular, most quotable, most Christmassy Christmas movie of all time.

And, well, I suppose it is. There.

But why so predictable? Why so aggressively wholesome, yet simultaneously so clumsily mean-spirited? But really, overall, why so dull?


This Christmas: Stale Snickers & A Flat 2-liter of Pepsi
From the screenwriter of Goonies and Gremlins combined with the screenwriter of Ferris Bueller and Breakfast Club

We still try to watch it every Christmas (Lost in New York is better, but let's not get into a big thing right now). Perhaps I ask for too much. I set my standards based on these previous credits + the fact that I was dealing with my first obsession movie. The commercials sold it as a nonstop slapstick farce (and, for the most part, it was) showing all the traps & stunts so there were literally no fresh ones to be seen. That was the biggest surprise - there weren't any surprises. It was that nonthreatening.
And that's ok - that's why it lives on. People cling to a lotta the nits I've picked, but that still leaves plenty of other gems in Buzz's treasure chest: John Williams's score, the fetishization of pizza, the strong adult performances, actual (for the most part) location shooting set during the correct season, and a (supposedly) improvised sequence with John Candy that feels like it's part of a different, better movie.
I can't call Home Alone "fucking awesome" or "one of the greatest movies, or even comedies, ever made." Hughes made a few of those - this wasn't one of them. I'm happy it's there - I like that it's part of the lineup -- somewhere between Jingle All the Way and The Santa Clause; not special, but definitely elemental. And that lineup grows a tiny bit each year, and while not nearly as tough as Halloween, it's getting tricky to get in all the movies we watch only between December 1st and December 24th. If they don't make it, they go to the top of the order next year. Hopefully.

- Paul

T  R  A  D  I  T  I  O  N  A  L

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Santa Claus The Movie (1985)
Scrooge (1970)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970)
Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
The Snowman (1982)
Scrooged (1988)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Bad Santa (2003)
A Christmas Story (1983)
The Santa Clause (1994)
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Prancer (1989)
Northpole (2014)
Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)

S  E  A  S  O  N  A  L

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The Conversation (1974)
Hard Eight (1996)
Carol (2015)
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
12 Monkeys (1995)
Gremlins (1984)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Trading Places (1983)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

H  O  R  R  O  R

Christmas Evil (1980)
Jack Frost (1997)
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
I Come In Peace (1990)
Trancers (1984)
American Psycho (2000)

W  R  A  P  P  I  N  G     P  R  E  S  E  N  T  S

Paul - The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
Jess - Inglourious Basterds (2009)

J  E  S  S  '  S     A  L  O  N  E     T  I  M  E

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (2005)
Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix (2007)
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - Part 1 (2010)
Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (2011)

2 comments:

Luke said...

Good stuff. I have a very specific memory of watching Edward Scissorhands for the first time in a shoe store of all places. I was also way into Burton's stuff at the time.

Some of the ones I watch during this season that are not on the list are Black Christmas, Morvern Callar, LA Confidential, and Batman Returns. Tim really gets the feel of the season down.

Dan Movieman said...

I'm gonna try and watch the majority of you're list this Christmas. Didn't last Christmas (except for Edward Scissorhands and my all time fave It's A Wonderful Life, really), but I'll try to do better this December.

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