Thursday, December 14, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Scrooge McDuck (1983)

In Mickey's Christmas Carol, Scrooge seemed like a believer when he was talking to Marley, but his tone quickly changes once Marley's gone. He searches his room, and finding nothing, he grumbles, "Spirits." That doesn't necessarily mean that he no longer believes in Marley's ghost, but maybe he thinks that Marley was wrong about the other visitors. At any rate, he goes to bed with a final, "Humbug!"

He does fall asleep and we get a nice POV shot of something bouncing into the room and landing on Scrooge's nightstand. It's Jiminy Cricket, who raps his umbrella on the bells of Scooge's clock. That's all the chiming we'll get, but this Marley never made any predictions about what time the spirits would show up. In fact, Scrooge's clock says that it's not quite ten minutes after midnight. So no waiting around 'til one this time.

Jiminy makes an okay Spirit of Christmas Past. He's tiny (something that Scrooge comments on), but his real advantage is his personality and the role he's known for in Pinocchio. It's in character for him to lecture about morality, which will be a major part of his job in the coming scenes as he points out the lessons that Scrooge should have learned in his past. Unlike some of the other characters in this adaptation, Jiminy's look isn't modified to represent Dickens' version. There's not so much as a holly branch. In fact, the only modification to Jiminy's traditional look is that his medal now says "Ghost of Christmas Past - Official" instead of "Official Conscience."

Scrooge and the Spirit's conversation is almost entirely changed from Dickens. They briefly debate the importance of kindness before Jiminy declares that Scrooge didn't always undervalue the trait. As Scrooge tries to ignore him and go back to sleep, the Spirit hops over to the window and opens it. The snowy breeze gets Scrooge out of bed as the Spirit announces that they're going to visit Scrooge's past. Scrooge worries that he'll fall, but the Spirit hops in his hand and tells him to "just hold on." Then he opens his umbrella and flies out the window, dragging Scrooge behind him like Mjolnir pulling Thor. Well, maybe not so gracefully as that.

There's no touching Scrooge's heart and all together it appears that Scrooge has backslid in this scene. He seemed willing to change with Marley, but he doesn't respect this little Spirit. He's going to need some more convincing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Walter Matthau (1978)

Since Rankin-Bass' The Stingiest Man in Town spent so much time on Marley, it keeps this introductory scene incredibly short. We'll have to get to know the Spirit of Christmas Past as we go.

Scrooge doesn't even get a chance to go to sleep. He's still quivering in his bed when the Spirit draws back the curtain and introduces himself. And he's decidedly a man. And an old one.

If you're not going to go all out and do the young-old, genderless representation, I understand the impulse to make the ghost old. Scrooge himself is an old man and this spirit represents all of his previous Christmases, so it makes sense that it's as old as he is. Dickens' adding a youthful quality is just a metaphor for how fresh our memories are. We remember even childhood things as if they were "just yesterday." If you've got to pick either young or old though, I think old is the way to go.

Incidentally, it's just this year that I paid any attention to the Spirit's explanation (which does come up in this abbreviated version) that it specifically represents Scrooge's past and not all Christmases past in general. I used to think the Spirit must have been 1,980-something years old, but really it's only going to be in its 70s or however old Scrooge is.

What I don't accept as much is the decision to make the Spirit male. If you're not going to go genderless, then why not add a woman to the already very male-heavy cast of characters?

The Spirit is small like in Dickens, but not supernaturally so. He just looks like a very short person. And he does carry the holly and the cap and he has the bright light shining from his head. This Scrooge is still terrified, so he doesn't dare ask the Spirit to put the cap on. In fact, he doesn't talk to the Spirit at all except to ask if he represents "long past."

The Spirit doesn't touch Scrooge's heart either. He simply commands Scrooge to take the Spirit's hand and then flies them both out of the window. As we talked about last year with Scrooge's question about "how" to change, I think his heart has already been touched. He doesn't know what he needs to do, but the interest in changing is already there at this point.

As the window opens, Tom Bosley's Humbug character has the chance to come back in, since he was trapped outside during the Marley scene. He watches Scrooge and Spirit go, but stays behind. I don't remember if he witnesses the past with Scrooge, so maybe he catches up later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Alastair Sim (1971)

Richard Williams' animated version had Scrooge hurry off to bed after his encounter with Marley and we find out in this scene that he did go to sleep. He's awakened by the chime of one though, so there's no sitting up and fretting for the last hour. I'm curious to see if any of the theatrical versions include that and how they might handle it, but I expect that most will just cut straight to the Spirit's showing up.

Michael Redgrave's narration comes back in rather unnecessarily, since he's just describing things we can see onscreen, like the room's filling with light or a ghostly hand drawing back Scrooge's bed curtain. Once Scrooge and the Spirit speak though, Redgrave backs off.

The Spirit itself is super accurate. It's got the long, white hair and the youngish, gender-neutral face. It carries the holly and the cap and there's a bright flame coming from its head. It even flickers in the way Dickens described, with extra limbs and even heads coming into and fading out of view. (One cool result of this is that the Spirit can hold onto its holly and cap, but still have hands to interact with Scrooge.)

Scrooge is very polite to it. He calls it "sir" (that could be his own bias talking as much as any real understanding of the ghost's gender) and he doesn't complain about the light or ask the Spirit to put on its cap. Scrooge is so polite that when the Spirit says that its there for Scrooge's welfare, there's not even a mention of unbroken rest. Scrooge doesn't even think it, as far as we know. If he does, the Spirit doesn't correct him, but I think that line was left out on purpose. Scrooge's attitude seems to be very complacent and it has been since the end of Marley's visit. It looks like Marley did the heavy lifting on this transformation. Scrooge already seems willing to learn.

That might also explain why this Spirit never has to touch Scrooge's heart. It simply says, "Rise, and walk with me," and then whisks Scrooge out of the window. Scrooge doesn't express fear of falling and doesn't appear to need any extra upholding by the Spirit.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hellbent for Letterbox | Maverick (1994)

It's cold out there, but Pax and I stayed warm talking about one of our favorite Westerns, 1994's Maverick with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner. And in a special "Whatchoo Been Westernin'?" segment, we discussed some of the episodes of the Maverick TV show that we watched, too.

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Teen Titans #13 (1968)

The Teen Titans version of A Christmas Carol isn't an adaptation, but just an adventure inspired by Dickens' story. Once Robin noticed the similarities between Dickens' characters and the people involved with the Titans' current case, he had the idea of using Christmas Carol tactics to try to redeem Scrounge.

So late on Christmas Eve night, when Scrounge is finally alone in his junkyard, Kid Flash shows up and pretends to be the Ghost of Christmas Past. It's never spelled out in the story, but I assume that he's vibrating his molecules at super speed in order to pass through that wall.

Unfortunately, his costume is a rush job and looks more like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Accurately representing the story isn't really the kids' point. They're just using its general approach.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics (2010)

Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor's severely abridged version of the story cuts this year's scene down to five panels. In the first, Scrooge is sleeping and a clock chimes one. In panel two, Scrooge wakes up. And in panel three, the Spirit appears and Scrooge asks who it is.

Panel four is the one above. The Spirit is relatively androgynous; perhaps leaning towards masculine. And it's neither young nor old, but middle-aged. I'm not crazy about that, but I do like the choice to give the Spirit flames for hair. That suggests the flickering nature of the ghost and also provides a source for the light emanating from its head. The holly branch is replaced by a garland that the Spirit wears as a necklace. The cap is there, but Scrooge calls no attention to it and it serves no purpose other than to be faithful to Dickens.

In the final panel, Scrooge asks the Spirit if it's the ghost of "long past." It says, "No, your past" and orders Scrooge to take its hand. Their hands touch in an inset panel and the following panel smash-cuts to the next scene, outdoors.

That means that the Spirit never touches Scrooge's heart, but I think Scrooge is going to be okay anyway. He doesn't have much to say, but his eyes are wide and submissive the whole time. He turned humble halfway through Marley's visit and still is. Earlier in the story, this Scrooge's defining characteristic seemed to be arrogance, but his confidence has been shaken by the ghosts and I'm betting he's going to be pretty easy to change. We'll see though.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)

Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar skip the build-up to the Spirit's appearance and just have Scrooge wake up at the stroke of one. Frankly, that's fine with me. I don't think that the weird passage of time adds to the story and I prefer versions where everything is happening in one night anyway.

Kumar draws the Spirit as feminine and vaguely young. Maybe in her twenties? She does carry holly and a cap, but they both appear and disappear from panel to panel. Maybe that's intentional in lieu of a flickering affect. I doubt it - Kumar's art is sloppy in general - but Mike Collins' version did the same thing so I'll cut Kumar some slack, too.

Scrooge's reaction to the Spirit is hard to get a handle on. Kumar has a tough time maintaining consistency in facial expressions (or even in just the way he draws eyes), which has created a malevolent, sociopathic version of Scrooge who may be hallucinating all of these ghosts. He's positively horrifying when he asks the Spirit to cover her light with her cap, but thoughtfully complacent when apologizing after she takes offense. He's so all over the place that - like in the Marley scene - the general impression is that he's struggling internally with how to deal with all this. There's no sense that he's actually interacting with real beings.

Which makes the Spirit's hand on Scrooge's heart all the more fascinating. This is my favorite depiction of that so far. Other versions have only implied or outright changed it, but Kumar has the Spirit's hand firmly on Scrooge's chest with bright light passing from her to him. If I haven't stated it outright yet, I will now that this is a big deal.

I believe that Dickens' intention is to show the power that memories have to shape our character. Specifically, that dwelling on positive memories (like of Christmas) can lift our spirits and make us better people. The Spirit's putting its hand on Scrooge's heart is a metaphor for that, but as a thing that literally happens in the story, it also means that Scrooge's transformation isn't entirely his own choice. There's a direct, supernatural influence over his heart that at the very least makes him more receptive to what the Spirit's about to show him.

Reading this version as all being in Scrooge's head gives him back the power to change. I still really like this as an alternative reading. The weakness with it though is that there's no obvious reason for Scrooge start struggling with this. I can imagine that it's just something that's been building for a while and is now bubbling over, but that's not satisfying. Maybe there is a supernatural force at work - and maybe it's even Marley's ghost - but it could be triggering this war in Scrooge's mind rather than literally visiting him.

Friday, December 08, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (2008)

Sean Michael Wilson and Mike Collins' adaptation again makes great use out of its longer page count. There are three entire pages dedicated just to chiming clocks and Scrooge's nervous build-up before the Spirit's appearance. It plays out just like it did in Dickens, with Scrooge's falling asleep and then being awakened by the midnight chimes so that he can count down the final hour.

Collins bravely takes up the challenge of faithfully depicting the Spirit. It's an accurate representation from the ghost's diminutive stature to its youthful, androgynous face and long, white hair. Collins even goes for the flickering effect by giving the Spirit extra limbs in some panels, but not in others. Sometimes it's more legs; sometimes more arms.

I wish that the holly branch was bigger, but oh well. And it's interesting that it and the cap disappear and reappear through the rest of the Spirit's visit. They're as ethereal as the Spirit itself.

Scrooge's reaction to the Spirit is as Dickens wrote it, but this adaptation calls out something that I missed earlier. In Dickens, Scrooge's observation about "a night of unbroken rest" being best for his welfare is an unspoken thought. I'm so used to its being spoken aloud in movie versions that I read it that way in the text, but Dickens specifically wrote that "the Spirit must have heard him thinking." Wilson and Collins called my attention to it by putting the "unbroken rest" line in a thought balloon. That also helps with what I noticed in the Marvel adaptation, where the "unbroken rest" line is omitted entirely. It was a risky approach for Marvel to just take it out and have the Spirit respond to it anyway, but I'm happy that now it at least looks like it was down on purpose.

The thing I don't like about this version of the scene is what it does with the Spirit's touch. Instead of asking Scrooge to bear but a touch of the Spirit's hand on Scrooge's heart, the Spirit pulls Scrooge's hand to its own heart. I guess it still works - that some of the Spirit's own compassion may pass into Scrooge this way - but it's an unnecessary change and I much prefer that the Spirit literally touch Scrooge's heart.


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