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Christmas notes: "I'm too much!"

Tuesday 12/12/23

There's something fundamentally Christmas-like about oatmeal raisin cookies. Is it some spice?

In old television shows and especially old movies, we see people getting their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and then decorating the tree that night. People would find this unthinkable now. If you saw someone with a Christmas tree atop their car on December 24 you'd find that to be madness.

Caroling just seems like something that is good for you. Stopping on a December's walk and listening to some carolers as well.

I love all of the Rankin-Bass specials, but if we're judging in terms of quality, nothing approaches Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), but The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) is also well done. The extended section with the Miser brothers and their family dynamic with themselves and their mother--Mother Nature--is quite sly and witty. (And everyone sort of FaceTimes each other.) There's plenty in there for adults as well. Is it strange, though, that Heat Miser is on the chunky side and Snow Miser is svelte? Heat Miser also attempts murder early on, which tends to go overlooked. Now I know that each of these brothers want to sing a song that features the claim, "I'm too much!" but it has always amused me that in order to do so that have to use the phrase "my clutch." To be honest, I like people who think in terms of their clutch.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas--also from 1974--is actually my favorite Rankin-Bass special. It seemed kind of unloved and unknown, and if you happened to catch it--or knew to look out for it and utilized the TV Guide in order to be ready--it was like you were a buff. I liked the songs from the first as well. A lot of it happens at night, which makes it feel cozy. And I do love the animation. The whole thing just looks like the Christmas you dream about in your head as a kid.

If I was asked what the single greatest performance was for a Christmas number, my answer would be the first ever live version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which Judy Garland sang on the radio on December 17, 1944. Think of where everyone's head was at in America at the time. So many loved ones fighting for justice and freedom in Europe. So many of them dying. It was such a different time, and this country was such a nobler enterprise. She's backed by the orchestra of our friend, Paul Whiteman, whom I just completed a big piece about, which is in The Root of the Chord: Writings on Jazz's Essential Power and Artistry.

I watched the 1948 Christmas film noir, I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes. Flawed, but affecting. A young husband and wife dance team are down on their luck and their fortunes. He gets angry one night and chucks his tap shoes out the window at a cat making a lot of noise, and this being a Cornell Woolrich story, he ends up, as a result, getting hauled in for murder. The Christmas touches add to the pathos. You were really fast-tracked on the death penalty back then. Convicted on circumstantial evidence of murder today, and then the electric chair the Tuesday after Christmas! Or that's how the movies wish us to think, anyway. Scenes with the prisoners on death row are very effective. They call each other by their numbers rather than their names, and we get some Chopin. This picture was made for Monogram, so we're in cheapie territory. These crime thrillers didn't have big budgets anyway, but Monogram was getting down into the rough part of town. As a result, there are surprises. Sexual manipulation, for instance, and what you could call strategic--and loving--infidelity.


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