“Come in! and know me better, man!”

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

If you don’t know the story of “A Christmas Carol” either you’re from some very far away place or you’re sick with a memory afflicting illness.  The Charles Dickens classic is the best Christmas story ever, a heart warming tale whose characters have become household names: Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, the ghost of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge himself.  It’s a great tale I’ve seen in many versions.  I saw a play in college with Josh and Anna, I had a cartoon version that scared the shit out of me when I was little, and I also had the version I know and love best, 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol.

It was in one of those squeaky white plastic VHS boxes that all Disney movies came in, do you remember those?  I wasn’t even a particular fan of the Muppets, besides maybe a stuffed animal and seeing a few episodes of the Muppet Babies cartoon, but this movie was a great favorite of the childhood me.  I liked the snow (something so rare and exotic to a child of Georgia, land of the 8-month summer), I liked Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine as Scrooge, and I probably even enjoyed the songs, even though as an elementary school hard-ass I probably wouldn’t have admitted it.

Watching the movie now I appreciate it as one of those childhood favorites that turned out to be actually good, and I find so much of it endearing.  Being a fan of Hollywood studios and Cinecitta and those true “dream factory” type places, I really enjoyed that this movie was clearly a studio creation, with the streets of London and the outdoor scenes clearly recreated on a set.  There’s something magical about that to me, and I’m always reminded of Federico Fellini on the set of Amarcord, who reportedly pulled a set designer aside and whispered that he didn’t want a nighttime scene on the ocean to look “too real.”  He appreciated studio magic, and I agree that there is something special about a studio movie.  The Muppet Christmas Carol has all that studio charm and detail, and it just feels right for this familiar Christmas tale.


Kermit as Bob Cratchit in a quiet, touching moment

I love the Muppets in this movie (especially Gonzo as the narrating Charles Dickens accompanied by Rizzo the Rat (as himself)), but it’s Michael Caine’s Scrooge who really makes the movie.  I mean, it has to be this way; any production of a Christmas Carol in which Scrooge isn’t the star is doomed to failure.  Michael Caine is perfect in the movie.  Who in their right mind doesn’t like Michael Caine?  He is awesome, and a really great Scrooge.  The ghosts are also very good in this movie.  The Christmas Past spirit is very creepy and cute at the same time, and the Spirit of Christmas Future is scary and silent.  The best spirit, of course, is Christmas Present, so jolly and good.  I enjoy his repeating “Come in! and know me better, man!” over and over, because it’s just one of those strange lines I like so much in the original story.

ImageScrooge and the ghost of Christmas Present on the delightfully artificial London streets

All in all, it’s a Christmas classic and a sweet triumph for Muppet and human-kind alike.


When Santa says “Ho Ho Ho!” is that his way of laughing?

Christmas movies.  I think it’s popular for people to say “Christmas movies suck!” for some reason.  I don’t really get it.  I think Christmas movies are good if they’re good and crappy if they’re crappy.  People who generalize about Christmas movies are probably dumb as dog shit anyway.  I’ll be writing about some of my favorite Christmas movies this month.  I like Christmas and Christmas movies. Humbugs go away. GET! SCRAM!


Have yourself a Griswold Christmas

The Irish Living, the Irish Dead

The Dead (1987)

    I’m not even that old yet but I do notice how more and more Christmas is about cherished memories and such.  When you’re a child, and you’re in that pure Christmas fervor, there isn’t too much of this.  You’re always looking ahead, not backwards.  Marveling at the calendar, wide-eyed waiting while the red X’s over the days multiply in number until there are 24 little crosses and the 25th finally arrives.  But that kind of delight isn’t really possible for a grown person, unless you’re like Robin Williams in that movie where he graduates high school as an 18 year old geriatric.  Whatever, the memories abound around the holidays:  once I went to midnight mass, another I ate dinner with an Italian family, some holiday seasons I was away from home, others at home, sometimes I was in the holiday mood and others I wasn’t.  They’re all unique little Christmases and this time of year certainly brings up thoughts of the past.  Maybe it’s that we hear a lot of the same songs, see a lot of the same people, and eat a lot of the same seasonal goodies.  All these things are hardwired to stir up the old memories and hopefully, the vast majority of these are fond and wonderful.  

    Hollywood super-duper director John Huston’s final film is an adaptation of James Joyce’s classic short story “The Dead.”  The movie, like the book, is set at Christmastime (one word! I don’t know when I discovered this, but I love it. Maybe the first time I read “The Dead”?) in Dublin in 1904.  Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann play Gretta and Gabriel, two attendees of an annual Christmas party that is fancy dress and fancy food and nice songs and even some dancing.  It’s very atmospheric and lovely and warm.  The movie is full of sweet little moments and songs but also contains glimpses of disappointment, frustration and resentment.  You didn’t think James Joyce would get all sugary just because it’s the holidays?  


Anjelica Huston, Donal McCann and John Huston on the set of The Dead

    Late in the movie, Gretta pauses on the stairs while listening to a song.  She’s experiencing some kind of deep remembrance, when the memories come back so strong that you just have to stop and you’re no longer even in the present moment.  Her husband sees her like this and can tell by her face that she’s somewhere else entirely.  She is so deeply affected by this memory, and when they leave the party and are back in their hotel for the night Gretta tearfully recalls the past events that the song brought back to her mind.  It’s very emotional.  As the title indicates, The Dead is not 100% good cheer, but what Christmas ever is anyway?  It’s the best movie I’ve ever seen about the power of memory, and I think The Dead is one of the most successful literary screen adaptations. 


Gabriel and Gretta at the party

    I cannot resist.  Here’s the final haunting paragraph of “The Dead” probably the greatest short story of them all:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.