About Christmas TV History

Monday, March 24, 2014

Jingle Bell Rocks! (2013) documentary


I'm so excited about a new documentary movie Jingle Bell Rocks! that began circulating film festivals in late 2013.  This week the movie comes to my local area, screening at the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF).  Film Critic Bob Ignizio from The Cleveland Movie Blog generously shares with us his review of this new movie.  Thanks Bob!  I can't wait to see the movie myself--and I'm looking forward to its eventual wider release so that everyone can see it and buy a copy themselves.

Jingle Bell Rocks! (March 28th, 29th, and 30th at the Cleveland International Film Festival)

[JINGLE BELL ROCKS! Screens Friday March 28th at 4:50 pm, Saturday March 29th at 8:00 pm, and Sunday March 30th at 1:50 pm at the Cleveland International Film Festival.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

However you feel about Christmas, even if you loathe the holiday or are ambivalent to it, there's probably a Christmas song for you. For Vancouver based JINGLE BELL ROCKS! director Mitchell Kezin, that song was Nat King Cole's “The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot.”  It's a song about a kid with an absentee dad who, despite being good and having a perfectly reasonable Christmas list, winds up being passed over by Old Saint Nick. “The Christmas Song” it ain't, but nonetheless it struck a chord with Mitch, whose own father was frequently absent (or might as well have been) around the holidays.

As strange as it might seem, that one dreary carol started Mitch down what he thought was a lonely road collecting Christmas music, and despite the film's title, not just of the rock and roll variety. As it turns out, though, there's actually a sizable underground of Christmas music collectors, many of whom put great time and effort into searching for rare records and then making mix CDs of their finds for friends and family each year.  Once Mitch realized how widespread his hobby was, he decided to make a movie about it.

In JINGLE BELL ROCKS!, Mitch introduces us to fellow collectors like former Def Jam Records producer Bill Adler and filmmaker John Waters, and also tracks down some of his favorite Christmas music performers ranging from the known, like bebop pioneer Bob Dorough and rappers Run DMC, to more cult performers like soul singer Clarence Carter (“Back Door Santa”), jazzy folkies The Free Design (“(Close Your Mouth) It's Christmas”), and indie rockers The Flaming Lips, who made the film CHRISTMAS ON MARS. It all leads to a surprisingly emotional conclusion in which Mitch gets to make his own contribution to Christmas music history.

Although Mitch does appear on camera and the film is upfront about being from his point of view, it never feels self aggrandizing the way the films of Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, and Nick Broomfield sometimes can. Once he gets his personal story out of the way, Mitch puts the focus of his film where it belongs: on the musicians who made these often quirky songs, and the other obsessives who share his passion. Sure, on one level this is just a movie about some weird guys and their weird hobby, but it also manages to find something to say about the human condition that just about anyone can relate to. And it's a lot more fun than yet another documentary trying to change your politics or make you eat better. 3 out of 4 stars.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Christmas Snow (1986)

With the dozens of hours of new Christmas TV movies generated each November and December, it's so easy to forget about the classics.  Sometimes we can lose track of our Christmas spirit unless we actively incorporate the past into the present.  How long has it been since you've seen 1986's Christmas Snow?  Though I see this movie in the TV listings each December, I think Christmas Snow is too easy to overlook in cable TV's many holiday offerings--maybe because of its familiar-sounding title.  But I never forget this movie-- it has an incredible cast and a heartfelt story.

Mr. Snyder (left) is played by Sid Caesar, and Ma is played by Katherine Helmond (center).

The optimistic Widow Ma runs a candy store with the two children she’s taken in.  Two days before Christmas, their cantankerous landlord Mr. Snyder informs them he has plans to turn his property into a laundrette and the widow and her children will not only have to close the store but find a new place to live. 

Ma's intuition is correct:  it snows on Christmas Eve!  Ma hugs her children Wally and Amy.

Yes--Amy is played by a very young Melissa Joan Hart (before Melissa & Joey, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and even Clarissa Explains It All).

Despite Mr. Snyder's threats, Ma is hopeful and thinks things will eventually work out well for her family.  The widow tries to stay focused on her immediate concerns such as making the scheduled deliveries and running the candy store.  Just as she predicts, there is a rare snow storm the covers the city on Christmas Eve.  When Mr. Snyder misses his appointment to meet with the launderette franchise operator, Ma begins to worry.

Ma calls the police to report Mr. Snyder's absence but no one is concerned except her.

Mean Mr. Snyder seems to have disappeared, but no one is worried except Ma.  Amy and Wally think his absence may solve all their problems.  How can they be forced to move if Mr. Snyder stays missing?

Sacrificing her own time and business concerns, Ma closes the shop so they can go out looking for Mr. Snyder.

However, Ma fears Snyder is in trouble.  Although Ma needs to keep her business open on Christmas Eve, she decides they close it to go look for their landlord. 

Amy follows what she thinks may be Mr. Snyder's tracks in the snow into the cemetery.

Amy sets out to follow the old man's tracks in the freshly fallen snow.  Mr. Snyder has an unusual gait and walks with a cane so his tracks are distinguishable from most others'.  But when Amy follows his tracks into the local cemetery, the young girl becomes frightened from her brother's many scary stories and she flees the graveyard before reaching the end of the tracks.

Ma is so convinced that Snyder is in trouble, she can't open her Christmas gifts.

The next day, Christmas morning, Ma is still worried about Mr. Snyder's disappearance.  She explains to the children that she can't celebrate Christmas and open gifts with Mr. Snyder's absence looming about.  The children still believe that their mean landlord's disappearance is the answer to their problems--but Ma's maturity and compassion speaks otherwise.  It is then that Amy shares her experience of hearing a ghostly wail after following Snyder's tracks in the snow at the cemetery the day before.

Ma insists they go out looking for Mr. Snyder again.

Just as Ma feared, Mr. Snyder was in trouble, having fallen into a recently unearthed grave in the cemetery.  Snyder was terribly frightened that no one would ever find him in the hole over the holiday and is grateful that Ma came looking for him.  He also confesses that the idea of his new business opportunity offered him no comfort while he was trapped--but the hope that Widow Ma would miss him and come looking for him was all he wished for.

Trapped in a hole overnight, Mr. Snyder has a change of heart.

Though this TV movie runs less than an hour in length, it efficiently tells its story and expresses more character than most other Christmas TV movies.  Ma's insistence that people are more important than business, betrayal, or hurt feelings is inspiring--and not just at Christmas!  It's also a distinctive story that you won't confuse with many others.  Too bad the title isn't just as distinctive.  Fortunately, this short movie can be found on DVD.

Have you memories of Christmas Snow?  Do you like it as much as I do?