Monday, December 30, 2013

Ashley Quach's 'Das Wampyr' cards

A while back I contributed to the Kickstarter for Mark Sable and Salgood Sam's Dracula: Son of the Dragon. One of the rewards I signed up for was a set of three 'Das Wampyr' cards from Ashley Quach, the wonderful cartoonist behind Sassquach. They arrived this week, and they're so awesome that I have to share them.

Backers could choose any vampires they wanted, so being a movie fan, I asked for each card to have an element from the three most iconic film Draculas.

First, I asked for old school Nosferatu:

Then, instead of Bela Lugosi as Dracula, I asked for his three brides:

And finally, I asked for Hammer Dracula:

Ashley is pretty great.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas. At Your Service.

This scene from Alastair Sim's Scrooge has always stuck with me. Sim's version adds a bunch of extra stuff in Christmas past, including the first meeting between Scrooge (on the right) and Marley. What's stayed with me though is their greeting. "Your servant, Mr. Scrooge," says Marley. And the proper reply is, "Your servant, Mr. Marley."

This wasn't the first time I'd heard that. I read enough Victorian literature as a kid to have had it drilled into me, and there's also a notable variation of it in The Hobbit:
He hung his hooded cloak on the nearest peg, and "Dwalin at your service!" he said with a low bow.

"Bilbo Baggins at yours!" said the hobbit, too surprised to ask any questions for the moment.
According to, the greeting goes back to the 18th century and was common between people who were more or less social equals. That means that an actual servant would never have used it on his employer (because that would be ridiculously redundant) and it was pretty much only used between men. Of course, like with any social ritual, it eventually lost it's meaning, so saying "your servant" or "at your service" didn't actually mean you were ready to serve. No more than asking, "How are you?" today means that you're really willing to hear the honest answer to that question. It became merely a politeness.

But what if it wasn't?

On this Christmas Day, after spending a lot of time thinking about A Christmas Carol and particularly the scene with the charitable solicitors, it feels right to think about service as well. In the story, the portly gentlemen put themselves at the service of the poor for that one day, if no other time. Dickens wrote eloquently in that scene and others about the need for human beings to serve each other, regardless of how "deserving" the recipients of that service are.

And not just at Christmas, either. As Scrooge tells the final spirit at the end of the story, "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year." And it occurs to me that honoring and keeping Christmas all the year is best done in the saying to people, and meaning it, "At your service."

Something I'll be thinking about as I make New Year's Resolutions.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa hates cephalopods

By Jose Alves da Silva.

Oh sure, he looks delighted, but I'm pretty sure that's actually fear and hatred.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

"You Wish to Be Anonymous?" | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics (2010)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

After breezing quickly through the first two scenes, Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor slow down a tad with the solicitors and give them two full pages. It's still heavily abridged, but like some of the other short adaptations, that can work in its favor. The solicitors don't come off nearly as clueless as they do in the full Dickens.

Other than that, there are a couple of things worth mentioning with this one. The lead solicitor has a sad, weary look to him. That could be meant to convey depth of feeling for his cause, or it could just mean he's had a long day, but it's a different approach to the character.

There's also a quick flashback panel to Marley's funeral when Scrooge mentions that Marley's been dead these seven years. This is the first time Marley's been mentioned in this version, so it's a good spot to put a look at the lonely scene with only Scrooge and two officiants (the priest and the undertaker, I presume) in attendance.

And that's that! Thanks for following along. This was another fun exercise for me and I hope you enjoyed it too. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Re-reading my posts on this adaptation from the last couple of years, I see that I was presumptuous about the parts that writer Scott McCullar was responsible for and which parts were by artist Naresh Kumar. One of the things I've been reminded of this year is that it's difficult to know what kind of collaboration an artist and writer have. I know that Jason's made suggestions that have changed the script of Kill All Monsters and I've had input to some of the visual elements, so it's not always as clear as it first appears. I should have known better, so from here out I'm going to quit blaming Kumar for all the visual flaws of the Campfire edition and simply write about the work itself.

There do continue to be major flaws in the scene with the solicitors, but it opens with something that I mentioned last year that I like. As Fred is leaving Scrooge's office, Scrooge insults Cratchit for celebrating Christmas on his miserable salary. That's straight from Dickens, but in the original text Scrooge is muttering it to himself. In the Campfire comic, he's saying it out loud and the word balloons spill into the next panel where the solicitors are greeting Scrooge. What that suggests is that Scrooge is badmouthing his clerk - and revealing his salary - in front of potential customers. That's a bold, dickish action and I kind of love Scrooge for it.

I also like the perturbed look that the lead solicitor (on the right) gives Scrooge in the first panel above. Rather than seem confused by Scrooge's comments, he appears to get it. Sadly, that doesn't make sense with the rest of the scene when the same character (inexplicably white-haired in the next panel) continues to press on with his pitch. There's also some awkwardness with the balloon placement in that third panel, making it look like Scrooge's "Nothing" is a response to the offer of anonymity.

There are a couple of other oddities in the next two panels, but like Scrooge's jerkiness at the scene's opening, they can be read in a way that enhances the story. When Scrooge dismisses the men, he waves a friendly goodbye while talking about decreasing the surplus population. He's not just mean; he's cheerfully mean.

And then there's the end of the scene with Scrooge seated, thinking, "Good afternoon, gentlemen." Like the stuff above, we can either read that as a mistake (which I imagine it is), or accept it as the way this version is told and just read it as it is. The second option is way more fun and what that does is create a Scrooge who is so pleased with his own meanness that he's savoring the idea that he's just ruined the rest of these guys' day. Read that way, McCullar and Kumar's Scrooge goes beyond just being miserable and mean; he's actively evil. That should make his redemption - if he is redeemed - very interesting.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Jim Carrey (2009)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

In Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol, the charitable solicitor scene has a couple of things in common with TNT's Patrick Stewart version. Instead of a pamphlet, Zemeckis has the solicitors offer Scrooge a card as credentials, but there's also a shot where Cratchit looks rather nervous at what's about to happen and sneaks away back to his little office. Gary Oldman plays this Cratchit as kind of a simpleton though, so we get an idiotic smile from him first as he approvingly listens to the solicitors.

When Scrooge corrects the gentlemen about Marley's death, he does it with a dramatic, ominous flourish. He not only wants to set them straight, he wants them to be uneasy about it. And this is before they've even mentioned why they're there. Jim Carrey's Scrooge is aggressively offensive. Stewart's Scrooge has built walls to keep people out, but Carrey's also has soldiers atop them to shoot at anyone who stops to show interest.

He calmly listens to their pitch, sliding his candle closer to look at their card, and when they finish, he responds in a careful, measured way. "Are there no prisons?" he purrs, holding the card close enough to the candle that it starts to sizzle.

The lead gentleman snatches the card away before it can burn. He's skeptical and cautious at first in how he answers Scrooge, obviously thrown off his game, but then he rallies and continues his pitch until Scrooge growls that he only wishes to be left alone. He asks the men to leave and they comply.

Overall, there's not a lot new here, but that's been the way with most of the adaptations. The solicitors generally show some hesitation when Scrooge asks about prisons and workhouses, but soldier on, thinking that they must have misunderstood him. They're simply not used to this kind of response. In addition to showing us more of Scrooge's attitude about the world, the scene highlights the contrast between his view and the rest of correct-thinking society.

In reality, Scrooge's view wasn't so different from a lot of powerful men in Victorian London, but Dickens writes as if it is. These portly - in Zemeckis' version, extremely portly - gentlemen may make merry all year round, but at least at this one time of year they think beyond themselves and consider those less fortunate. And they're used to seeing that attitude in everyone they talk to. It's not a radical kind of compassion, it's simply the baseline that any human being should be expected to possess. But Scrooge doesn't even have that.

Friday, December 20, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (2008)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

One of the things I've paid attention to the last couple of years with Classical Comics' A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel is how closely the adaptation adheres to its claim that it's the "original text." In previous scenes, there have been some abridgements, but for this one we get the whole thing.

It works rather well, too. Writer Sean Michael Wilson and artist Mike Collins give the scene four pages with plenty of room for reaction shots like the one above. I quite like that beat with the solicitors' looking at each other to see if they're reading Scrooge the same way. Other than that, the reactions are all ones that we expect - Scrooge is grumpy; the men are perplexed - but I like that the scene has room to breathe even if it doesn't add much new to our understanding of the characters.

One other thing I was reminded of though as I revisited Dickens' text to compare it with this one, was that Dickens has the lead gentleman present his credentials to Scrooge. Wilson and Collins include that (and Scrooge's handing them back), but it only now occurs to me that that's also what was going on in Patrick Stewart's version with the pamphlet. And we'll see it again in Jim Carrey's tomorrow.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Patrick Stewart (1999)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Like with a couple of other adaptations, TNT's movie starring Patrick Stewart gets clever with the introduction of the charitable solicitors. They stop Scrooge's nephew on the street after he's left his uncle and ask him for directions to the office. They tell them that they're new to the area (something that will come up again shortly) and are collecting charitable donations for the poor. Fred is confused at first, but figures out that they're completely unfamiliar with Scrooge. Oddly, he doesn't warn them, but gives them directions and watches them go with a bemused, "those poor bastards" expression. As we noticed in the last scene, this Fred can be kind of a jerk.

True to their newness in the area, the men don't know if they're addressing Scrooge or Marley, so Scrooge corrects them in the traditional way. Stewart gives it an interesting twist though by making Scrooge seem to recollect just at that moment that Marley died seven years ago that very night. It's a little weird since Scrooge and Cratchit were talking about Marley's death before Fred came in, but maybe Scrooge didn't connect that it was the actual anniversary. Stewart's Scrooge doesn't seem to hate Christmas so much as he simply dismisses it. (Scrooge's specific feelings about Christmas and why the various adaptations suggest that he feels that way is something I want to look at next year when we cover Cratchit's asking for time off. Hopefully I'll remember.)

The lead solicitor introduces himself as Williams - his companion is Foster - and hands Scrooge a pamphlet that Scrooge doesn't yet look at. The men offer their sympathy, which immediately makes Scrooge suspicious. He nervously asks if they're relatives and I wonder if he suspects them of looking for an inheritance from the business. He's relieved when they explain that they're not, but his suspicions go up again when they use the word "generosity." He finally looks at their pamphlet and hands it back with a sigh.

As the gentleman continue to explain why they're there, Cratchit looks uncomfortable about what he knows is about to happen and slinks back into his office. With a sneer, Scrooge says that he takes it that the gentlemen are new to the district. He obviously has a reputation and he's rather proud of it.

The rest of the scene proceeds pretty much as Dickens wrote it, with Stewart alternating between perfectly sincere delivery of his lines and making faces during theirs. Scrooge is doing everything he can to let them know that he's not interested, but they don't seem to grasp it. When they finally ask him what they can put him down for, his "Nothing" is a harsh challenge to continue the conversation.

Of course, they still can't believe it and ask if he wishes anonymity. He tiredly whispers, "I wish to be left alone" like he means it. I noted in the last couple of scenes that Stewart's Scrooge is a severely lonely man. He seemed to have some emotion connected to Marley at the funeral, but displays none of it seven years later. He's throwing up walls all over the place like he's desperate to push people away, but I can still see sadness occasionally peeking through in Stewart's performance. It's a genius bit of acting.

He talks about decreasing the surplus population very matter-of-factly and makes Cratchit show the disbelieving gentlemen out. There's no emotion in his dismissal. The walls are firmly in place.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Michael Caine (1992)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

I mentioned this last year, but The Muppet Christmas Carol is unique in that it has the charitable solicitors' visit overlap Fred's by a considerable margin. Other adaptations may have the two men come in as Fred's leaving, but here they get to interact quite a bit. As Fred's just finishing up his speech about how wonderful Christmas is, Gonzo cuts in to introduce the audience to the "well-meaning gentlemen (who) call upon businesses collecting for the poor and homeless." Cue Professor Honeydew and Beaker.

It's great casting since in Dickens the second gentleman remains silent for the entire scene anyway. Most adaptations correct this by sharing the dialogue between the two characters, but the Muppets don't have to since Beaker simply meeps behind Honeydew. Honeydew himself makes an interesting solicitor, but I'll come back to that in a second.

It's interesting that there's no confusion about whether Scrooge is Scrooge or Marley. In spite of Marley's name on the sign outside, Honeydew presumes he's Scrooge. Maybe he's done a little research and learned that the Marley brothers are dead?

Scrooge's reaction to them is interesting. His "Who are you?" is curt, but not offensive. If he thinks they're customers, he's not excited to take their money like Scrooge McDuck is, nor is he outright rude with them like Reginald Owen. He knows that they need something from him and he exerts that power right away in the relationship while still leaving the door open for them to do business. It fits with Michael Caine's portrayal so far of a Scrooge who has obtained his power and money through smarts and cleverness.

(Interesting, but meaningless side note: Honeydew gives Scrooge the name of the organization they're collecting for. It's the Order of Victoria Charity Foundation. )

Since Fred is still there, he has some more fun with his uncle by gleefully misrepresenting Scrooge to the solicitors as a generous man. That gets a growl from Scrooge, but he regains his humor for most of his conversation with Honeydew. That's similar to what we saw in the Alastair Sim cartoon and with Scrooge McDuck, but we've also already seen that humor in Caine's Scrooge in the first couple of scenes. Again, he's a smart, clever man and that means that he also has to be somewhat self-aware. When he says horrible things, it betrays the darkness of his heart, but he often does it with a chuckle, so he's at least attempting to disguise his wickedness as humor.

That only confuses Honeydew though, who on The Muppet Show traditionally also had a dark sense of humor in the way he let horrible things happen to Beaker during experiments. Even though Honeydew is playing a character here, he does it with his typical mannerisms and one of those is that his response to horrible things is sometimes laughter. Since Scrooge is also laughing at unpleasant things, Honeydew can't really tell if they're kindred spirits or not. He has a hard time figuring out if Scrooge is serious and the offer of anonymity is a result of that.

Scrooge gets serious with his, "I wish to be left alone," which leads into one of my favorite exchanges in the whole movie. Scrooge says that he doesn't make himself merry at Christmas, to which Fred replies, "That certainly is true." But then Scrooge follows it up with the traditional, "And I cannot afford to make idle people merry," to which Fred replies, "That is certainly not true."

This causes Scrooge to turn his attention back to Fred and finish up their conversation that we talked about last year. There's a nice, final moment between Fred and the solicitors though when Fred drops some coins into Beaker's hand and says that he's leaving Scrooge to make his donation.

Possibly because Fred has hinted that Scrooge will still donate, or possibly because Honeydew and Beaker are a little dense anyway, the solicitors stay at Scrooge's desk, patiently (and hilariously) waiting for his offering. That finishes his patience and we see him finally lose his temper on the way to the door to show them out. When he talks about the surplus population, he's shouting furiously.

Another unique aspect of this version is that the solicitors are equally frustrated. In most versions, they're saddened by Scrooge's attitude, but Honeydew is clearly flustered and Beaker actually scolds Scrooge on the way out. There's an emotional level in the parting that isn't reached in other versions (so far, anyway), so it's natural that Scrooge is still angry when he closes the door and sees the wreath that Fred left hanging on the knob. Scrooge picks it up and opens the door to throw the greenery at the solicitors (a la Scrooge McDuck), but what he finds on the other side... is something we'll wait until next year to discuss.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | George C. Scott (1984)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Yesterday I went on about how Scrooge McDuck is the most relatable Ebenezer Scrooge, completely forgetting that I'd already awarded George C. Scott that distinction last year. I should quit making it a contest, because each character is believable in different ways. The joy with which McDuck celebrates his wealth feels familiar and human, but it's an exaggerated, comical glee. The way Scott relates to his money is more subdued. He's a smart businessman and I get the feeling that he finds more pleasure in a shrewdly negotiated deal than in wealth for its own sake. That becomes really apparent in a scene that the '84 Christmas Carol adds to Dickens' text.

This version moves the charitable solicitors to a little later in the story and by the time we get there, Scrooge has become less sympathetic than he was in the first two scenes where he seemed put upon by Bob Cratchit and Fred. We'll cover Scrooge and Cratchit's time-off negotiation in detail next year, but Scrooge makes some good (if entirely selfish) points about paying for work that's not done. As I'm still sort of reluctantly nodding my head at that though, Scrooge has a couple of moments of pure meanness. The first of which involves Tiny Tim, who's waiting outside the office for his father. I think I'll cover that more next year.

The second moment is what I was alluding to above about Scrooge's attitude towards business. He leaves the office to finish his day at the Exchange and we see him playing hardball with some other gentlemen. Scrooge has corn that the others desperately want, but they haven't yet agreed on a price. Scrooge demands five percent more than what he asked the day before and threatens to raise the cost another five percent the following day if they don't agree to his terms. They point out that if he doesn't sell to them he'll be stuck with a warehouse full of useless corn, but he doesn't seem to care. I suspect he's bluffing, but he's very good at it and they cave. He's thoroughly convincing that he'd rather eat the cost of the corn than not be able to exploit these men and in turn their customers who - though poverty stricken - will have to pay more as well.

With that act of ruthlessness still fresh, the charitable solicitors (one of whom is played by Alfred from the '90s Batman movies) approach Scrooge. Still pleased from his victory over his peers, Scrooge is immediately rude to the solicitors before they even explain what they want. Unlike Reginald Owen's version though, the incivility of Scott's Scrooge makes sense. That's partly because the encounter is at the Exchange and he doesn't know of any business he needs to conduct with these guys, but even if he did have business with them, we've already seen the incivility with which he conducts his affairs. People do business with Scrooge because he's powerful and they have to, not because they want to. Dickens says that Scrooge is a powerful man on the Exchange, but unlike adaptations where Scrooge comes across as petty and pathetic, Scott makes me believe it.

Though Scrooge is mean to them, he does it with a perfect, gentlemanly smile until they mention giving to the poor. At that point his grin drops and it's clear that he thinks they're complete lunatics. The conversation follows Dickens closely, which means that it's a little weird and the two, kind-hearted gentlemen come off as clueless at best and doddering at worst. They don't pick up on the clear message that Scrooge not only isn't interested, but is morally opposed to helping anyone but himself. With that, I'm back to understanding him again. I may not like him, but I get why he feels superior when surrounded by such fools.

Friday, December 13, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Scrooge McDuck (1983)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Possibly because Mickey's Christmas Carol puts as much value on humor as on faithfulness to Dickens, its Scrooge is arguably the most relatable version ever. As I've mentioned before, Disney's Scrooge isn't a miserable miser; he's a merry one. Unlike most other Scrooges, he gets joy out of his wealth and has a robust sense of humor. That's never more evident than in his encounter with the charitable solicitors, played in this version by Rat and Mole from The Wind in the Willows. (I used to get Rat confused with Basil from The Great Mouse Detective, because of his pipe and hat, but that character looks completely different.)

When Rat and Mole enter, Scrooge first thinks that they're Fred, coming back to irritate Scrooge some more. And why not? He quickly realizes his mistake though and warmly welcomes the pair, now thinking that they're customers. And again, why wouldn't he? For all his silliness, this Scrooge behaves more rationally around prospective customers than either Reginald Owen or the cartoon version of Alastair Sim.

Of course, when their true purpose is revealed, Scrooge changes his tune, but not dramatically or even noticeably. He has this in common with the cartoon Sim: he has a private joke at their expense. In Disney Scrooge's case, he cheerfully defeats them with logic, pointing out that if they give money to the poor, they won't be poor anymore, which means that Rat and Mole won't have to raise money for them anymore and will be out of a job. "Oh, please, gentlemen," he concludes. "Don't ask me to put you out of a job. Not on Christmas Eve!"

As he does this, he shows them outside, almost without their even realizing it. Once there, he turns nasty and throws Fred's wreath at them, saying that they can give that to the poor. Finally rid of them, he states outright his problem with charity: "What's this world coming to, Cratchit? You work all your life to get money, and people want you to give it away." It's the most clear - and again, relatable - rationale for Scrooge's bad behavior that we'll ever get in any version.

I'm not saying that a rational, relatable Scrooge is preferable to the more sinister, dramatically wicked versions, but it's a unique take and I'm glad it exists.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Before I get to Marvel's version of the charitable solicitors, I just want to acknowledge a couple of Christmas Carol adaptations that I'm not covering this year because they don't include the scene. Teen Titans #13 is only loosely following Dickens story as it contemporizes it (to 1968) and works in a criminal plot for its teenage superheroes, so it's understandable that it jettisons our charitable gentlemen. I was a little more surprised though to see them gone from Rankin-Bass' The Stingiest Man in Town. It's a shorter adaptation and we've already talked about how this scene is an understandable cut, but the even shorter Disney version manages to keep them in.

Anyway, Doug Moench and Friends offer a severely trimmed version of the scene in Marvel's adaptation. One notable addition to it is Scrooge's repeating the word "liberality," which drives home nicely for younger readers the humor of the solicitor's mistaken assumption. After that though, the conversation is so truncated that when Scrooge says that they can put him down for nothing, that's the first chance he's had to object. The gentlemen are understandably confused and offer him the opportunity to be anonymous. This is the second time we've seen the scene work that way (the Shower of Stars episode being the first) and I like it. It makes more sense than Dickens' version, frankly.

What doesn't make sense is the violence with which Scrooge finishes the scene. His response to the offer of anonymity is to shake his cane in the second gentleman's face and the panel that follows that one is a close up of Scrooge's face, enraged almost to the point of insanity as he shrieks about the surplus population. If Fred was acting a little inconsistently in the previous scene, Scrooge is even more so in this one. The problem is that the various artists are trying to add energy to the story, but are doing it in unnatural ways. Characters can't just be frustrated with each other, they have to be furious. All the reactions are extreme, including in the last panel of the scene where the two gentlemen literally run out of the office as if frightened for their lives. It makes for a visually exciting comic, but not for organic storytelling.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Alastair Sim (1971)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

As we noticed last year with Fred, Chuck Jones' Scrooge is mostly an unemotional fellow. I wondered if that might be a flaw of the animation and voice acting, but with the solicitors I see that it's a deliberate choice.

As Fred leaves Scrooge's office, the solicitors come in and Scrooge rolls his eyes. It's impossible to tell if he's doing that because of his encounter with his nephew or if it's at the prospect of yet another interruption. Since he doesn't yet know why they're here, it reminds me of the rudeness of Reginald Owen's Scrooge. I can see why people go with that choice, but it makes Scrooge less human and more of a caricature. I like to think that this one is rolling his eyes at his nephew, just at an inopportune time.

As the very portly men explain their purpose in visiting, Scrooge taps his face drowsily with his quill. He asks them about the prisons and workhouses, but he's calm and sounds genuinely inquisitive. He's playing with them, even making pathetic faces as he talks. Like with Fred, there's no passion in the scene, but with these two men Scrooge is at least replacing his traditional anger and frustration with something else. It's a weird something else, but the result of both scenes is an aloof, cold-hearted Scrooge who's completely in control.

That's further supported in his reciting some of the solicitors' dialogue before they have a chance to. By the end of the scene, he's literally carrying both sides of the conversation and they don't even have a chance to recite the line about being anonymous. There's no doubt where he stands and they leave as soon as he wishes them a polite, but firm "good afternoon."

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Albert Finney (1970)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Albert Finney's musical Scrooge moves the charitable solicitors to later in the story, after Cratchit's already gone home and Scrooge is himself heading out for the night. The two men, one quite portly, accost Scrooge in the street outside his office and follow him for a way, trying to talk him into contributing.

The move of the scene doesn't seem to be about the story so much as it does about musical numbers. After Cratchit leaves, he has a song with his children while going about the pleasant task of Christmas shopping. In contrast, Scrooge's encounter with the solicitors propels him into a song as he makes his way through the Christmas crowds, singing about his hatred for humanity. More on those songs when we get to those sections, but it's important to note that this version feels free to adjust the story to fit the needs of the music.

Regarding the solicitors themselves, they're as annoying as Scrooge's nephew was in the earlier scene. They seem particularly clueless about getting the message that Scrooge isn't going to give them anything. Unlike other versions where Scrooge is kind of trapped in his office, this Scrooge has the option of walking away and he takes it. Stubbornly, the pushy solicitors block his way and - once he moves around them - follow him until he gets so angry that he swings his cane and screams about decreasing the surplus population. He's a mean person and it's hard to sympathize with him too much, but I can start to see why he launches into the misanthropic song right after this. So far, the Christmas celebrants Scrooge has encountered have been insufferable.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Fredric March (1954)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

The Christmas Carol episode of Shower of Stars continues the tradition in the early adaptations of putting the solicitors in front of Fred. It even uses the pair as an introduction to Scrooge himself. We meet them on the street, collecting a donation from another pleasant gentleman before heading into the next place on their list: Scrooge and Marley's. It's a nice move, letting us witness the success they're used to before hitting us with Scrooge's cranky rejection.

The script moves around some of the dialogue so that the solicitors get to their purpose more quickly than usual and ask Scrooge what they can put him down for. When he says "nothing" and they ask if he wants to be anonymous, it makes sense because he hasn't yet had a chance to make his feelings about the poor known to them. His response that he wants to be left alone leads them to expand on why they're there as they try to convince him.

One other remarkable thing is the look Scrooge has after his remark about decreasing the surplus population. He pauses and smiles broadly to himself, incredibly pleased with his cleverness. It's a weird expression and somewhat out of character for the traditional Scrooge. It'll bear watching to see if he exhibits a similar sense of humor as the story progresses.

The solicitors are so flummoxed by his refusal to chip in that they just stand slack-jawed in his office until he gets up and shows them the door with a grouchy "good afternoon."

Friday, December 06, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Alastair Sim (1951)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

1951's Scrooge is another adaptation that puts the visit by the charitable solicitors in front of Scrooge's nephew. I speculated why that was last year and I'm happy to see that my previous thoughts match the theory I came up with this year, which is that putting the solicitors first is a way of presenting Scrooge's general worldview before honing in on his personal issues with Christmas and his nephew.

Alastair Sim's version began by showing us Scrooge at work at the London Exchange, interacting with other businessmen. When he gets back to his office, he has more ‘business’ to conduct, but this time with people looking for handouts. Seeing how he reacts to them makes a nice transition from the business world to the purely personal visit of his nephew.

The Scrooge we saw on the Exchange and Scrooge as he is around his nephew are very different characters. On the Exchange, Scrooge is energetic and dangerous. Where his sister’s boy is concerned, he's less sure of himself. It’s the first chink we see in the armor he so effectively wears around other people of business, including the charity solicitors. By switching Fred and the solicitors, the film can head into the next events with Scrooge less at ease and less on his guard. It’s a great piece of character development.

As for the solicitors, they're waiting for Scrooge when he gets back to his office from the Exchange. This version has them as thin men, which I won't read into, but is a departure from Dickens. Curiously (since they've been hanging out with Cratchit for who knows how long), they still don't know if Scrooge is Scrooge or Marley. Wouldn't Marley's death be something they learned when they introduced themselves to Cratchit?

There's a great, comical moment when the lead solicitor talks about Marley's "generosity" being represented by his surviving partner and Scrooge simply walks away and goes into his office. He's not inviting the gentlemen to follow, he's dismissing them, very rudely, and the speaker misses a beat of his speech as he tries to process what just happened.

He recovers though and with his partner follows Scrooge into the office, explaining the reason for the visit. The rest of the scene isn't played for laughs, but Sim is darkly funny as he questions the men. "A few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund," one of them says, "to buy the poor some meat and drink and means of warmth." "Why?" says Scrooge. And he genuinely doesn't know.

As the solicitor explains, Scrooge smiles, amused by the notion. He actually laughs when they ask how much they can put him down for. He's still very confident and in control, which will change once Fred shows up.

The solicitors, on the other hand, are shocked and confused by Scrooge's statements. They're severe, serious men (not like the pleasant gentlemen from Reginald Owen's version who seemed so passionate about their work), but they're also quite genuine in their concern for the poor and don't understand why Scrooge doesn't share it. "You wish to be anonymous?" doesn't come across as a legitimate question, but as a last-ditch effort to get a donation. These men know what's going on, but are grasping at straws.

I love that this version includes Scrooge's line about the poor not being his business. The script changes Dickens' text dramatically and effectively. "Isn't it, sir?" replies the lead gentleman in a way that makes me want to cheer. Sadly, Scrooge gets even more grumpy and insistent that no, it's not any of his business. He quickly dismisses the men with a gruff "good afternoon" and they exchange a frustrated look between themselves and leave.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)

George D Lipscomb and Henry Kiefer's adaptation for Classics Illustrated only gives five panels to the charitable solicitors and cuts out huge chunks of the dialogue. They don't even have time to get confused about whether Scrooge is going to contribute. He makes it very clear that he won't and they very briefly try to change his mind before they give up and leave.

It's a perfunctory presentation, which is probably the point. Part of the value of the shorter adaptations is seeing what they think is crucial to the story. Lipscomb and Kiefer wanted the solicitors so that Scrooge's wider selfishness is seen (as opposed to his narrower selfishness about Christmas), but saw no need for Dickens' nuance.

One thing this version reminds me of is that the men are "portly." That's right out of Dickens, but I glossed over it earlier. These are not people who deny themselves pleasure as a matter of habit. They're not skipping meals so that others might be fed. I think it's interesting that Dickens specifically calls that out, though he doesn't judge them for it and neither will I. Perhaps he just means to suggest that they're wealthy before they open their mouths, but I like the question that it raises even if I don't have an answer ready in response. How much should the wealthy give up for the sake of the poor?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Reginald Owen (1938)

Scrooge's nephew, still maintaining his Christmas spirit after an unpleasant conversation with his uncle, wishes a Merry Christmas to two, incoming gentlemen as he leaves. Thanks to the set up of Scrooge's office in this version (with Scrooge having a separate room and Cratchit's occupying the foyer), the gentlemen greet Cratchit first and there's a lightly humorous moment as they mistake him first for Marley and then for Scrooge.

Scrooge comes out during this though and quickly corrects them. He doesn't know what they're here for yet, but he's already in a bad mood, possibly because of his encounter with Fred, but of course we get the feeling that he's sort of always that way. This is no way to address potential customers, but this Scrooge is so miserable that he doesn't care.

This version actually gives names to the two gentlemen: Twill and Rummidge. Further humanizing them, the script also allows them to share the conversation instead of following Dickens' lead and just having one of them interact with Scrooge.

We learn about Marley's death for the first time in this version when Scrooge explains it to the men, and the detail that it was seven years ago. That's just following Dickens, but it works just fine as exposition too, though we don't get a sense yet of the kind of man Marley was. Of course, that will become very clear later when we meet his ghost.

There's a nice reaction shot of Cratchit as he nods at Rummidge's explanation of the reason for their visit. Charles Coleman and Matthew Boulton are well cast as the gentlemen. They have a clean, pleasant look to them and both men communicate gentle kindness and compassion for the people they're trying to help. The music makes it an overly sentimental scene, but it's genuinely touching acting by Coleman, Boulton, and Gene Lockhart as Cratchit.

Scrooge on the other hand is just mean. This interaction has none of the brief glimpses of regret in Scrooge that we saw in his conversation with Fred. He's got no time for these guys and wants them out as quickly as possible.

They seem to get that he's not with them, but still hopefully offer him the line about being anonymous when he says he to put him down for nothing. They've given some disturbed looks prior to that in the conversation, but even then they don't quite believe that he's as mean and cold as he seems to be. They can't seem to imagine it until he offers the final line about decreasing the surplus population. At that point they look very concerned; about Scrooge as much as about anything else, which further illustrates their sincerity and compassion. They're really a wonderful pair and are going to be the ones to beat as my favorite portrayal of these characters.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Seymour Hicks (1935)

1935's Scrooge omits the charitable solicitors altogether, which calls into question the usefulness of the scene. Some adaptations make in interchangeable with Fred's visit and now we have a version that simply leaves it out.

As I argued when we looked at Dickens' version, I do think the solicitors' scene is doing something different from Fred's, but the significance of that difference could be up for debate and I acknowledge that simply leaving out the solicitors is a valid option (though not, in my opinion, the preferable one).

Frankly, I'd be surprised that it isn't deleted from more versions except that the "surplus population" line is such a classic.

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Mark McDermott (1910)

Thomas Edison's 1910 adaptation of A Christmas Carol is one of those that has the solicitors visit Scrooge before his nephew. It's a quick scene without even any intertitles except for the one that sets it up: "The day before Christmas. Scrooge, a hard fisted miser, receives an appeal from the Charity Relief Committee."

There are three committee-members in this version and they bluster in, shake snow onto his floor, and wave a donation ledger in Scrooge's face as he tries to work. He quickly stands and shows them the door. This is immediately followed by the nephew's entrance and - as you may remember - he also has an entourage.

The effect of these two scenes is counter-productive to establishing Scrooge as a miserable person. Except for the intertitle calling him a "hard fisted miser," he could be anybody having a bad day and suffering constant interruptions to his work. I would likely be cranky too in his position and he seems justified in throwing out the bad-mannered Committee. We don't even know why Scrooge was fussing at Cratchit when he walked in, so even that could be deserved.

Monday, December 02, 2013

'You Wish to Be Anonymous?' | Dickens

Illustration by Sol Eytinge.

Borrowing from Siskoid's format on his Hamlet blog, as we look at Dickens' text, I'm going to copy the entire text of the section in italics and insert commentary. That'll help identify elements that we want to pay attention to in the adaptations.

This lunatic, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge's office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

The "lunatic" is Bob Cratchit, whom - as we learned last year - Scrooge thinks is crazy for celebrating Christmas on a clerical worker's salary.

"Scrooge and Marley's, I believe," said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. "Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?"

You gotta wonder how often Scrooge gets this since he hasn't changed his sign. He doesn't seem that impatient with it though.

"Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years," Scrooge replied. "He died seven years ago, this very night."

"We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner," said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word "liberality," Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

I imagine that Scrooge thought these were customers until they brought up that word.

"At his festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

According to the annotated text I'm using, the Poor Law of 1834 allowed church parishes to unite (unionize) in order to provide room and board for the poor in return for labor. Conditions in these "workhouses" were horrible, with as little as possible spent on food and shelter. Gender segregation meant that families were split up and there was no concept of privacy.

Those who couldn't pay debts were imprisoned and the Treadmill was a form of hard labor used as criminal punishment. Picture the wheel that Conan grows up on in Conan the Barbarian and you're not far off. These are the solutions that Scrooge advocates for solving the problem of poverty.

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

Scrooge is undoubtedly mean, but based on how this story ends, one gets the feeling that he's not intentionally evil so much as he is unkind and unthinking. He's never actually considered the poor. They're not people; they're a problem to be solved. The journey he goes on in A Christmas Carol is mostly about correcting that.

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?'

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

I never know what to feel about the solicitor's persistence. Is he stubbornly hoping to wear Scrooge down? Or is he just that clueless about what Scrooge is clearly telling him? Dickens doesn't clarify, so it'll be interesting to see what facial expressions and body language the actors and artists use when delivering these lines.

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there."

Scrooge not only doesn't want to support private charity, he also resents the government's doing it.

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides - excuse me - I don't know that."

There was apparently a serious fear of overpopulation in Victorian England. Scrooge and real-life people like him contemplated the issue dispassionately, like a math equation.

His "I don't know that" statement is awkward, but has to refer to the solicitor's claim that "many would rather die." Scrooge is disputing the claim, but dismissing it at the same time. Again, his entire attitude is that poverty is someone else's problem. It's profoundly sad how relevant this still is today.

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

If only you gave a damn.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labors with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

There's not a lot to look out for as we explore this section in the adaptations. We'll keep an eye on whether the solicitors are clueless about Scrooge's lack of interest in contributing, or if they realize it and are simply hoping to wear him down.

Other than that, the scene's function is to cement what we learned about Scrooge during his interaction with his nephew. Scrooge's hatred of Christmas isn't just about the holiday; it's part of his attitude about life and people in general. He only thinks of himself, so of course he sees no sense in a holiday like Christmas during which the rest of society is putting others first. It's a foreign concept to him.

With that in mind, another interesting thing is that some adaptations switch this scene with the one about Scrooge's nephew. Dickens leads with Scrooge's particular feelings about Christmas, his nephew, and perhaps the concept of love (seen especially when Fred offers love as the reason that he got married too early for Scrooge's liking). From there, Dickens expands on Scrooge's personal feelings to include his entire, miserable worldview. Scrooge's feelings about Christmas and family are tied to his feelings about love, which affects how he feels about people in general.

By putting the solicitors first, the adaptations work in the opposite direction. They establish that Scrooge doesn't care about people and then show how that affects his relationships to Christmas and Fred. I'm not sure one works better than the other; it might just be personal preference. I'll try to keep an eye out though to see if those adaptations are saying anything profound by flipping the order.

The Christmas Carol Project | "You Wish to Be Anonymous?"

Hey, everybody! After a much-needed break for a lot of November, it's December and time again to get back to our annual look at everyone's favorite Christmas/ghost story, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. If you're new to this, the idea is to pay attention to the way Scrooge's story has been interpreted and adapted to other media over the years. I’ve broken the story down into scenes (or sometimes parts of scenes) in order to look at their translation to 19 different films, TV shows, and comics:

A Christmas Carol (1910) starring Marc McDermott
Scrooge (1935) starring Seymour Hicks
A Christmas Carol (1938) starring Reginald Owen
• Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)
Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim
"A Christmas Carol" episode of Shower of Stars (1954) starring Fredric March
• Teen Titans #13 (DC; 1968)
Scrooge (1970) starring Albert Finney
• A Christmas Carol cartoon (1971) starring Alastair Sim
• The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) starring Walter Matthau
• Marvel Classics Comics #36 (Marvel; 1978)
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) starring Scrooge McDuck
A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) starring Michael Caine
A Christmas Carol (1999) starring Patrick Stewart
• A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (Classical Comics; 2008)
• A Christmas Carol (2009) starring Jim Carrey
• A Christmas Carol (Campfire; 2010)
• "A Christmas Carol" in Graphic Classics, Vol. 19: Christmas Classics (Eureka; 2010)

Annual Disclaimer: This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list. I started with my favorites, added some that people have recommended over the years, and then threw in some others that just caught my curiosity. We can talk about the ones I left out, but I will say that Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol isn’t here because I hate it with a passion. It’s neither a good Christmas Carol nor a good Mister Magoo cartoon. There’s also no Scrooged or An American Christmas Carol or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. When I first started this, I tried to stick to more-or-less faithful adaptations, but even though I've since added Teen Titans to the list, I'd rather that be a fun exception and not have to figure out where I'm going to draw the line.

This is going to take years. Every December we'll look at one scene; start with Dickens' version, then explore individual adaptations of that scene in the days leading up to Christmas. Last year, we met Scrooge's nephew. This year, we meet the two solicitors unfortunate enough to ask Scrooge for a charitable donation.

I'm a little behind in getting started this year, so we'll double up for a couple of days. Expect the post on Dickens' original story tonight, then tomorrow we'll cover McDermott and Hicks and be back on track.


Related Posts with Thumbnails