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December 15, 2005

Thoughts on Christmas Movies

First a little about myself. I don't formally celebrate Christmas. I never have and I probably never will. I grew up in a Jewish household and converted to Buddhism when I was twenty-one. While we did have what was dubbed a "Hannukah bush" growing up, I have no such shrubbery or lights in my own home. The only bush or Bush I have is a CD by Kate Bush named after a beloved classic film.

Because of my own mixed feelings about Christmas in particular and the holiday period in general, the films I like that are holiday related are usually not the traditionally cited films. And as a long-time observer of films and filmmakers, while I can make sense of Frank Capra making It's a Wonderful Life and John Ford's Three Godfathers, I have to wonder what was going on in the minds of directors with Jewish heritage like Mark Rex Goldstein, Michael Curtiz, and Joe Roth. Lately I have been pondering about that scene near the end of It's a Wonderful Life when one of James Stewart's kids states that according to a teacher, when a bell on the tree rings, an angel get his wings. What kind of school is Stewart sending his kids to?

One of the films I use to enjoy catching on television many years ago is titled The Cheaters. This film stars Eugene Pallette, the millionaire father in several screwball comedies and Billie Burke, best known as Glinda, the good witch. Joseph Schildkraut is the homeless man invited to dinner who teaches Burke, Pallette and their family about the real meaning of Christmas. Another dinner guest, Erland Josephson, saves Christmas in Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander. Christianity plays a key part in many of Bergman's films, but what was interesting for me is that Josephson's character is specifically Jewish, and within the context of this film seemed to have a sense of freedom some of the other characters lacked.

Until I saw it again a couple years ago, I forgot that Eric Rohmer's My Night at Maud's takes place primarily on Christmas Eve. Little did I know when I first saw the film soon after it's initial release that watching a couple of French intellectuals talking all night would be so thrilling. As it turns out, Francoise Fabian, Rohmer's Maude is one of several stars in the French Christmas movie, La Buche. This is the dysfunctional family comedy done right, very dark and very funny. Also in the cast are Claude Rich, Emmanuelle Beart and my current favorite French actress, Charlotte Gainsbourg. I found La Buche by chance at Netflix, one of my happier film discoveries.

I don't know if I had anything to do with it, but after mentioning Die Hard at Cinematical, it was listed in the IMDb poll of favorite Christmas movies. This is a film that almost always grabs me, even if I'm channel surfing and I catch the film in progress. Between Bruce Willis going, "Yippee ki yi yay!", and the song "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" as the film closes on the never going to snow Los Angeles, this has always been a fun film for me. Certainly a film about killing "terrorists" on Christmas is more timely than ever.

While there is some question as to whether Jesus was actually born on Christmas Day, there is no question about it being the birthday of Leon Corledo, portrayed by Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf. With that in mind, I can more easily explain my own tradition of watching several horror movies on Christmas day. Of course my significant other will argue that as far as my watching horror movies, every day is Christmas.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 15, 2005 06:59 PM


I generally love Christmas movies, even terrible made for TV ones, as long as they don't linger too long on that pensive scene at a church. All of my favorite Christmas movies, like DIE HARD, A CHRISTMAS STORY, CHRISTMAS VACATION, all of the claymation ones, and even new ones like BAD SANTA and ELF steer clear of religion. I wish I could say I want depth in my holiday movies, but Christmas makes me feel like a kid, so I tend to stick to comedy and action.

Posted by: nilblogette at December 16, 2005 12:49 PM