A Christmas Message, December 2016
Christmas is a time that means many different things to many different people. It can be a time of joy, bringing families together, or a time of sadness, reflecting on loved ones lost and loved ones who we perhaps wish would be lost (at least for a little while). Regardless of one's personal feelings towards Christmas, for screen scholars and fans, December means only one thing: Christmas movies. Therefore, the editors of Peephole Journal are delighted to be presenting you with a special Christmas issue. Each of the contributors have used a gif from a Christmas movie to explore broader issues of genre, temporality, society and, of course, Christmas, resulting in six thought-provoking and genre-explorative essays.
In this issue, Felicity Chaplin and Belinda Glynn write about Christmas favourites from the 1940s. Chaplin considers the melancholy of Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minelli, 1944), while Glynn addresses the disappointments of George and imagines new possibilities for Mary in It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1947). Andréas Giannopoulos and Trevor Cencic muse on the idea of festive sub-genres. Giannopoulos closely examines Allen Baron's Blast of Silence (1961), making a strong case for the recognition of the genre of Christmas noir, while Cencic writes on Dziga Vertov's Soviet Toys (1924), exploring how this unique addition to the animated Christmas genre deconstructs the Christian conception of Christmas and rebuilds it within the context of 1920s Russia. Finally, Whitney Monaghan and Jessica Marshall both use the Christmas prompt to think about temporality. Monaghan highlights the queer time of Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015), while Marshall draws our attention to the nostalgic yet future-oriented temporality of You've Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998).
We hope you enjoy this special issue and we leave you with a Christmas message from each of our editors.
Whitney Monaghan: For some people, Christmas is about religion. For others it is about giving, doing good deeds or spending time with family. Others still might say that Christmas is about food, money and presents. For me, Christmas is the time of year to think about time. We might think nostalgically about the past, or about the pleasures and pains of the present, or about the possibilities of the future. Regardless of our focus, Christmas and time go hand in hand. What I like about Christmas films is that they are always also films about time. Christmas films are about reflecting on the past, responding to the present and imagining the future.
For this issue of Peephole Journal I wrote about time in Todd Haynes' film Carol but my favourite Christmas movie is actually a made-for-TV special called Emmet Otter's Jug-band Christmas. It was directed by Jim Henson and made for HBO in 1977. I watch it on VHS with my nanna every Christmas. It's about a small-town otter and his mother who live in poverty. Though they wash clothes and do odd jobs to make a living, they barely scrape by. With Christmas approaching, they both secretly enter a talent contest so they can win fifty dollars and buy a present for the other. But to enter they have to forfeit their only sources of income. Emmet puts a hole in his mother's washtub so that he can turn it into a bass. His mother pawns Emmet's tools to buy fabric for a dress. They both lose the contest. Though Christmas is the season to be jolly, Emmet and his mother have no money, no future income and therefore no future. My heart breaks whenever I watch this part of the film. However, noble deeds are always rewarded in Muppet musical telemovies from the 1970s. The film ends when a bullfrog invites Emmet and his mother to perform together at a local restaurant in exchange for a living wage and endless free dinners. Both Christmas and the Otter family are saved. I think I like this film because we all face uncertain futures and sometimes we just need cheesy Muppet musicals to tell us that everything might be okay, even if we've given all we have and we still think we've lost.
Kate Warren: Reading through the contributions for Peephole Journal's Christmas issue, one feature that struck me was the complexity of emotions that emerge through these writings on the festive season. Particularly evident is the darkness, the disappointments, the mistreatments, loneliness and noir that all feature prominently, in various tenor and emphasis. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843), which gave us the touchstone figure of the festive "Scrooge,: also makes multiple appearances in the writings. Why is this so? Perhaps because more than any other holiday celebration, the widely promulgated "image" of Christmas – with Santa, snow and sleigh bells – can so often differ drastically from people's lived experiences of this time of the year. Some of the most compelling Christmas films successfully exploit and play with these ingrained tensions.
Of course, A Christmas Carol has a famously happy ending, in which Scrooge realises the errors of his ways and Christmas becomes a time for him to make amends. Writing at the end of 2016, a year that has undeniably been one that many of us would like to forget, the idea of a happy ending or a "new start" rings somewhat hollow. Maybe the darkness that does creep through these articles in Peephole Journal is particularly timely, and telling. In acknowledging the darkness of the season, amidst overwhelmingly choreographed and commercialised "cheer," Christmas films are in fact a particularly effective reminder of the importance of maintaining both criticality and kindness – something we would be wise to keep in mind in turbulent times.
Belinda Glynn: When I was a kid, my sisters and I would approach Christmas with the fervour common to children who are young enough to receive presents but not old enough to wonder about how they got there. While, of course, we liked the food and the presents (we may have been young but we were not stupid), what we loved the most of all were Christmas movies. We watched them on a loop, year after year: classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas (Bill Mendeles, 1965), Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988) and Home Alone (Christopher Colombus, 1990) alongside whatever else the networks chose to show (Ernest Saves Christmas (John R Cherry III, 1988) anyone?). We could not get enough of them.
As a grown-up, I do now have to worry about the food and the presents; however, my love for Christmas movies has never wavered. I may feel like crying when the supermarket runs out of roasting potatoes the day before Christmas but I know that Jack Skellington singing in front of the moon in The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, 1993) will make me feel better. That said, until I started writing this editorial, I had never questioned why I do love this genre so much. Why is it that I cannot, ever, not watch Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003) when I see it on TV? I think my co-editors hit it on the head: the appeal of these films are their acknowledgement of darkness and temporality. The plots of Christmas movies are driven by disruption - whether you're a kid who's been forgotten by your family on Christmas (and seriously, how dark is that?), a shop owner trying desperately to hold onto her dream or an adopted human trying to figure out their place in life outside of Santa's Workshop, at the core of these movies is sadness. But, the sadness is always resolved and time passes. As other Christmas have passed, so too will this one, along with its problems, stresses and disruption and, if there's one thing that Christmas movies have taught us, it's that in the future lies hope.
Peephole Journal wishes happy holidays to all and many happy returns.
Our next issue will be about women in cinema and will be presented in conjunction with the Melbourne Women in Film Festival. A Call for Contributors will be released shortly.