I hope everyone has enjoyed this Christmas Day, which is only the first day of the real Christmas season--there are eleven more, don't forget!
My family is engrossed in watching The Muppet Christmas Carol, which we all agree is our favorite version of the classic tale: Not only is it remarkably faithful to the story and spirit of Dickens' novella, but it also has Muppets! I've heard many of my friends share this sentiment, so while some may discount a film's sincerity and gravity if it has comical puppets, in reality, the Muppets deliver a timeless message of redemption in a palatable format that even small children can enjoy. There is often a misconception that A Christmas Carol is about the joy of some magical Christmas cheer, but it actually conveys sin, repentance, forgiveness, and grace, as well as learning not only to love others but to receive love (and even to love oneself). Not only that, but the lessons learned at Christmas are intended to transform us and change our lives throughout the entire year. Yes, Michael Caine and Kermit the Frog co-starred in one of the most Christian movies ever made. Christmas truly is a magical time of year.
So The Muppet Christmas Carol is well-liked, but it got me thinking about other over-looked or under-rated Christmas movies.
1. The dueling Christmas Carols: The 1951 Alistair Sim production is generally considered to be the definitive all-human version of the story, but while I was talking to my father this year, I insisted that I recalled seeing an even older (1930s) movie that featured possibly Lionel Barrymore or a similar character actor as Scrooge. A quick visit to IMDB revealed that MGM had done A Christmas Carol in 1938, and Lionel Barrymore (who performed the role on a radio broadcast special every year) was intended to be the star, but illness took him out of the picture and he personally selected Reginald Owen as his replacement. Owen was even made up to resemble Barrymore, so my confusion was understandable. My guess is that I saw it on AMC or TCM during the 1990s, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I know that I enjoyed it. The general complaint is that this film doesn't follow the source material as faithfully as it could, but what it lacks in textual authenticity it more than makes up for with production values (Victorian atmosphere, sets personally designed by set master Cedric Gibbons) and a gallery of fabulous character actors from Hollywood's golden age. Owen was a solid Ebenezer Scrooge; the Cratchits were warmly portrayed by real-life couple Gene and Kathleen Lockhart (with real-life daughter June as their on-screen daughter as well). Leo G. Carroll, a veteran of hard-boiled gangster-type movies, looked utterly convincing and natural wearing Marley's chains and grim countenance. The only one of the three Christmas spirits that stands out in my mind is Ann Rutherford, pretty-pretty and fully capable (a seasoned actress at age 17--you may also know her as Andy Hardy's Polly Benedict and the youngest O'Hara sister in Gone With the Wind) as the Spirit of Christmas Past, but I'm sure the other two spirits were great and I just don't remember them. Terry Kilburn was a bit too syrupy as Tiny Tim, but... it's Tiny Tim, which is as legitimate an opportunity as any for a young thespian to turn up the saccharine pathos. All in all, this Christmas Carol is worth a look as a companion to the British Sim and American Muppetastic renditions.
2. Little Women (1933): Tall, gangly New England tomboy Katharine Hepburn was born to play tall, gangly New England tomboy Jo March. The perfect confluence of director (George Cukor), performers (an utterly enviable cast of classic players), and source material (Alcott's proto-feminist tale of girls becoming women) make this the definitive and essential Little Women. While some would argue (and I would somewhat agree) that it's not really a Christmas movie overall, I always associate it with Christmas because it opens with a famous setup involving (spoiler, but have you really never read or even seen Little Women??) the March brood giving their Christmas feast and gifts to a needy family. Performances are excellent all-around, but standouts of the cast include Spring Byington (usually a ditzy mother in screwball comedies, but here delivering a beautiful turn as Marmee), young Joan Bennett as Amy, Paul Lukas as the usually-boring Professor Bhaer, and the incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as a pitch-perfect Aunt March. Frances Dee and Jean Parker are visually right and very competent in the more thankless roles of Meg and Beth. Ultimately, the messages of Little Women are the importance of family and the joy of finding and fulfilling one's true place in the universe. Even though (spoiler) Beth dies, after viewing this movie, one sustains a lingering feeling of peaceful satisfaction: "God's in His Heaven, and all's right with the world."
3. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): As with Little Women, Meet Me in St. Louis is not a Christmas movie in the strictest sense. However, its climax, the emotional heart and most memorable scene in the film, takes place at Christmas, and this is the scene that gave the world "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", so, you know, game over. Another coming-of-age tale, Meet Me in St. Louis is light on real plot, but heavy on atmosphere and an emphasis on family and idealized 1900-ish Americana. In the aforementioned climax, Judy Garland as an older sister comforts Margaret O'Brien as they come to terms with the fact that, with their family's upcoming move to support their father's burgeoning career, it will be their last Christmas in the lovely Victorian house that has been their home all their lives. Judy sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as both a reflection on the past ("Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore") and a hopeful look toward the future ("Through the years, we all will be together..."). The underlying theme of this gorgeous classic musical is the inevitable passage of time, emphasizing that it can be embraced rather than feared. The presence of three generations under one roof lends poignance to this theme. The direction by Vincente Minnelli highlights the beauty and incredible talent of his soon-to-be wife Garland, but instead of overshadowing the other performers, the incandescent Judy illuminated them with a special leave to shine in their own roles. O'Brien manages to be palatable in a role that could have been irritating if handled less skillfully; little Joan Carroll (talented in her own right) and pretty but boring Miss Lucille Bremer rounded out the family as the less interesting sisters, but they fit in smoothly with the ensemble and looked well in period costume. The very great Mary Astor (a mere 3 years after an Oscar-winning turn in The Great Lie and a portrayal of the most fatale femme in film noir in The Maltese Falcon) deserves specific mention for creating a magnificent portrait of motherhood in what could have easily been a throwaway supporting role. Finally, Marjorie Main (as the family's housekeeper) and Harry Davenport (as the sprightly, good-natured grandfather) enliven proceedings as recognizable and gifted character actors. See this movie at Christmas or any other time of the year!
4. Bachelor Mother (1939): This is a sadly and unjustly neglected screwball comedy from Hollywood's golden age. It starred one of the industry's brightest and most multitalented actresses, Ginger Rogers, who clearly didn't need Fred Astaire to make a movie--a good script and good director (Garson Kanin) were all Rogers required to create magic. Bachelor Mother portrays the fate of Polly Parrish, who has been hired as a department store clerk to help with the Christmas rush and ends up stuck with a baby when she agrees to hold it for a few minutes and the shopper never returns. Good-hearted Polly has no choice but to care for the infant while she tries to figure out to whom it belongs. Polly is immediately presumed to be an unwed mother, and in addition to providing fodder for the amusing situation comedy, the misunderstanding allows for breaking multiple Hayes Code-era taboos regarding depiction of risque out-of-wedlock birth and implicit class struggles. Cue Charles Coburn as the crusty-but-benevolent department store tycoon and David Niven as his formerly shiftless son. Cue Rogers' unique ability to combine rampant absurdity with down-to-earth working-class charm. Cue a happy ending that is satisfactory but doesn't feel forced or falsely sentimental. Cue pure (if lighthearted) cinematic delight!
5. Christmas in Connecticut (1945): Barbara Stanwyck was always competent and watchable. Christmas in Connecticut is less well-known than, say, Double Indemnity, and fans of that heavy noir drama may be surprised to see Miss Stanwyck handling comedy with a deft and delightful touch. This post-war flick has Stanwyck as the Martha Stewart of her day, a homemaking-expert columnist for a major women's magazine. As it turns out, Stanwyck's Elizabeth is actually a glamorous city slicker who has never cooked or sewed a day in her life, and she just invents material for her column. Her bluff is called when her boss shows up at her (borrowed) vacation home with a war hero in tow, bent on providing him with a real down-home American Christmas experience. The ending (Elizabeth ends up with the war hero, etc.) may be a bit predictable, but getting there is all the fun, as poor Elizabeth must figure out how to handle her reckoning day, so to speak. Mix it up with a decent script, good humor, and (yet again) a fabulous cast of supporting players (including Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardener, S.Z. Sakall, and Una O'Connor), and the end product is everything one could hope. There is even something of a proper post-World-War-II respect for strong women and their expanding roles in society. In fact, I'd like to watch it again, so I hope I can track down this little feel-good gem via Netflix or some other source.
Am I the only person who despises reading blogs wherein the writer is a parent who dotes upon his or her offspring and believes said children to be full of charm and brilliance and possessed of qualities that render them a little lower than the angels? Just me? Okay, then. *ahem* Well, I have now become that which I most hate and fear. [I'm pretty sure there's a sobering and deeply meaningful moral somewhere in there.] The Little Bug is reaching the age of crazy and hilarious statements and I just may start documenting some of them. If you hate reading these kinds of irritating cutesy items, feel free to skip. I won't be offended.
Today: We were discussing fossils, because he's my child and therefore we're as likely to be talking about paleontology as anything.
First, "Fossils are called ants!"
And as I was still trying to sort out that first statement, he came out with "Fish fossils are angry."
My dear fashion-conscious readers--I have made a sartorial discovery that has transformed my life, and no one is more surprised than I at the source.
I know I tend to harp on my own issues with finding clothes. I'm basically a tall, slim, curvy girl. I wouldn't have thought, based on simple observation, that I am particularly misshapen or misproportioned. However, I've deduced that nothing else could explain my situation, for it is virtually impossible to obtain off-the-rack clothing that fits my body type; apparently retailers manufacture their wares for everybody but me. I think the assumption is that slender women are built straight up-and-down, so there are no allowances for hips, rear, or bust.
I also make no secret of my distaste for certain kinds of "reality TV" programs, though I don't habitually watch many of them. I have a mixture of pity and disdain for people who put their personal lives on public view, because it seems somewhat unhealthy, although obviously they don't care about my opinion anyway. I've never been a fan of Lauren Conrad (to say the least). So imagine my total shock when I went to Kohl's, tried on a pair of jeans, and after deciding I loved them and I wanted to never take them off, checked the tag and discovered that they are from Lauren Conrad's LC clothing line. Well, with one pair of denim trousers, she has earned forgiveness from me for at least two seasons of The Hills. I just ordered two more duplicate pairs from the Kohl's website (I should have waited a week, because I paid $34.99/pair and now they are even lower at $27.99/pair--dang it!) because these jeans fit me perfectly: they are fashionably slim and slimming on the hips and thighs but then flare down from the knee to balance curvy proportions and allow boots to be worn underneath. Two different washes are available, but I went with the dark wash because it looks good enough that I can wear these jeans to work (with sweater or blouse, boots or flats) and still look professional.
I recommend these jeans to any ladies who (like me) have longish legs, round hips, and a waist that is small in proportion to hips and bust. Try them on at Kohl's if you are wondering if they will fit you as well. You can also check them out online: Lauren Conrad LC New Flare Jeans.
I am not getting paid to advertise this product. I just have so much frustration in shopping for flattering jeans that I thought I'd share something that I've found that actually works for me.
I've mentioned once or twice before, though I don't dwell on it, my curious and possibly irrational disdain for the New York Times. I'm no Hearst or Pulitzer, so I'm sure the NYT doesn't care what I think. However, it seems that they ought to have at least enough self-awareness to realize that they are heading down the path to becoming the grown-up journalistic version of twee. They are predictable, unoriginal, and drifting ever more toward just floating opinions and lifestyle features in a sea of trend pieces, unhampered by reporting of any actual news. The funniest part about it all is the fact that the Times continues to take itself VERY SERIOUSLY.
Think it's just Deb over in her rural Ohio corner spewing vituperative venom at the sleek and successful folk of New York City? Nope. There's a whole lot of people who notice the same issues and have cleverly let humor make the point for them.
First, from Salon.com, a satirical list of the NYT's "most e-mailed articles of all time". They're almost all brilliant. I love the shameless swipe at the overly-pious and self-promoting Nick Kristof, as well as the milder mention of Paul Krugman, who essentially vomits Keynes in every column and doesn't realize he might want to look into something else for a while.
1. The Minimalist: Ramen Noodles With Salty Packet Sauce
2. Poll Suggests Majority of Baby Boomers Intend to Cheat Death Indefinitely
3. Well: How to Cheat Death Indefinitely: A Guide for Baby Boomers
4. 36 Hours in the Gowanus Canal
5. David Brooks: Research Is for Liberals
6. Well: How to Burn Calories While Getting Your Kid Into a First-Tier College
7. The Pour: Using Oenophile Jargon to Rationalize Ordering the Second Cheapest Bottle on the List
8. Thomas Friedman: I Kinda Wanna Make Out with China
9. Maureen Dowd: Inscrutable Fake Dialogue Utterly Devoid of Context
10. A Thing Happened at Harvard
11. Magazine Preview: A Slightly Different Take on an Increasingly Common Diagnosis
12. Gail Collins: Shucks, I’m Adorable!
13. The Lede: Liveblogging the Assistant Deputy Comptroller’s Debate
14. Paul Krugman: Mr. Keynes, Please Stop Haunting My Dreams
15. Nicholas D. Kristof: Disadvantaged Individual From Developing Nation Overcomes Staggering Adversity to Become a Much Better Person Than Any of You
16. Modern Love: My Unrequited Crush on a Career in Narrative Nonfiction
17. Frank Rich: Newsmaking Politician Is a Hopelessly Out-of-Touch Feckless Hack
18. Tweeting Toward Bethlehem
19. Magazine Preview: Photographs of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters Surrounded by Vibrant, Abundant, Organic Produce Grown Three Thousand Miles Away From New York City
20. Lindsay Lohan Is the Name of a Movie Star
21. Away From the Headlines, One-and-a-Half Wars Apparently Continue to Rage
22. Editorial: The Lifeblood of Democracy and Western Civilization That Is Print Journalism Must Be Preserved at All Costs
23. Vows: B-List Celebrity and Regular Person
24. The Pour: The Best Wines for Getting Your Kid Into College
25. The Minimalist: No-Cook Cheese on Store-Bought Bread
Second, from The Awl, an utterly convincing parody of "The Most E-mailed New York Times Article Ever", by David Parker. If you don't get it, count yourself lucky: It just means you haven't read too much of the New York Times. The first few paragraphs:
It’s a week before the biggest day of her life, and Anna Williams is multitasking. While waiting to hear back from the Ivy League colleges she’s hoping to attend, the seventeen-year-old senior at one of Manhattan’s most exclusive private schools is doing research for a paper about organic farming in the West Bank, whipping up a batch of vegan brownies, and, like an increasing number of American teenagers, teaching her dog to use an iPad.
For the last two weeks, Anna has been spending more time than usual with José de Sousa Saramago, the Portuguese water dog she named after her favorite writer. (If José Saramago bears an uncanny resemblance to Bo Obama, the First Pet, it’s no coincidence: the two dogs are brothers. Anna’s father was an early fundraiser for Barack Obama; José Saramago was a gift from the President.) Anna takes José Saramago’s paw in her hands and whispers in his ear. He taps the iPad and the web browser opens. José Saramago gives a little yelp.
“It’s entirely conceivable that a dog could learn simple computer functions,” says Dr. Walker Brown, the director of the Center for Canine Cognition, a research facility in Maryland. “Word processing, e-mailing, even surfing the web: for many dogs, the future is already here.”
In Anna’s bedroom, decorated with the trophies and medals common to young achievers, José Saramago is on Facebook, the popular social networking website. He’s helping Anna organize an event to raise money for her greatest passion: sustainable ibex farming.