Monday, December 30, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Erik Johnson and I chill out during the week between Christmas and New Year with a favorite movie set during that time. It's Jon Turteltaub's romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher, Peter Boyle, and Jack Warden.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Four Christmases (2008)

Merry Christmas! However many celebrations you have today, I hope you'll enjoy my son David and I discussing this Seth Gordon comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Kristin Chenoweth, Sissy Spacek, and Jon Voight.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Patrick Stewart (1999)

The TNT adaptation plops Scrooge and the Ghost in a narrow, deserted street in front of a building that says "Albert Fezziwig and Company" over the door. I think this is the only version that gives Fezziwig a first name?

Scrooge is quite pleased to see it and leads the way to the front door. He pauses for a moment before opening it, savoring the moment and excitedly anticipating what he's about to revisit.

There are a few other employees in the warehouse, with Fezziwig on a raised platform standing at a tall desk. His wig isn't Welsh, but it's the most elaborate I've seen yet with a high, bouffant shape and ridiculous little curls at his temples. He's also probably the most overweight Fezziwig so far. I recognize actor Ian McNeice from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and - more recently - Winston Churchill on a few episodes of Doctor Who.

When he announces closing time to Young Ebenezer and Dick Wilkins, Old Scrooge gasps at the name of his friend. "Why bless me, there he is..." He says the line about Dick's being attached to him, but there's no "poor Dick" and Scrooge clearly remembers the friendship as mutual. He's very pleased to see Dick again.

Fezziwig comes over to Ebenezer's desk to make him and Dick stop working. He pours some kind of powder over the ledger that Ebenezer is frantically trying to finish up. A little research tells me this was probably pounce, used both to dry ink and prepare rough paper for writing. It's a nice detail.

Dick scurries off to put the shutters up as Fezziwig's requested, but Ebenezer quickly completes his task before leaving the desk. He's smiling as he does it though. The ledger was important, but Ebenezer is definitely in the spirit of the evening. When he leaves, Old Scrooge remains at the desk, looking at the open ledger and other papers. He smiles and nods with satisfaction, as appreciative of reliving this work as he is of being here on this night. These were clearly good times for him. His earlier disbelief has left him. He wants to witness this scene. Like Albert Finney's version, this will be the scene that really starts Scrooge on the road to transformation.

We get to go outside and see Dick and Ebenezer putting up the large, removable shutters. And then it's back inside where the furniture has been cleared away and people are bringing out food for the party. "We're ready, ladies!" calls Fezziwig.

Mrs Fezziwig appears on a gallery that must connect the warehouse with the Fezziwigs' home. Or maybe the rest of the family was already at the warehouse, but hidden away upstairs for some reason. Mrs Fezziwig is just as big and ridiculous as her husband with lots of lace and flowers and curls surrounding her head. "Splendid woman, Mrs Fezziwig," the Ghost observes.

Scrooge observes the Fezziwig children coming down the stairs, too. There are the three daughters, and they get names: Marigold, Daisy, and Lily. Neither Scrooge nor the Ghost call it out, but there are young suitors at the foot of the stairs to greet the girls with flowers. There's also a young son, Eli, in an outlandish wig to match his father's.

Eli makes a beeline for Ebenezer and begs him to "do the trick." Ebenezer eagerly complies, pulling a coin from behind Eli's ear. The dancing starts shortly after that and Ebenezer just as enthusiastically joins in that. He dances with girls and he also dances with Dick in a joyously energetic display. There's a fiddler naturally, but also a clarinet and a serpent, another lovely 19th Century detail. They're not on Fezziwig's desk, of course, but up on the gallery where Mrs Fezziwig and her kids were earlier.

Old Scrooge watches all of this with a scowl, but the camera pans down to betray that he's tapping both feet in a private, whimsical, little dance of his own.

With that dance finished, Mrs Fezziwig has Ebenezer persuade Fezziwig into a song. "It wouldn't be Christmas without you performing, Mr Fezziwig!" he laughs. And he laughs even harder when Fezziwig, who clearly wanted persuading, fake-reluctantly agrees. Old Scrooge remembers, "I could always coax him into it."

Fezziwig's song is as silly and dramatic and fun as he is. It's about wanting to marry a woman named Rose (probably Mrs Fezziwig's real name considering how they also named their daughters) even though her relatives are horrid, because he's not marrying them, he's marrying her.

That done, Fezziwig announces another dance: not the "Sir Roger de Coverley," but the "Portsmouth Polka." Ebenezer sits this one out, which means that he's waiting by the door when a beautiful woman enters wearing a bright, yellow dress. It's not the color I expect at a Christmas party, but she stands out in the best possible way. It's the color of sunshine and happiness. Ebenezer walks over to greet her and it's downright sensual the way he unties her cloak for her. From across the room, Old Scrooge also notices her enter and stands up, stunned by the memory of her.

She and Ebenezer kiss as the polka winds down and the band starts a slower tune. Belle and Ebenezer dance and they're easy in each other's company. Lots of loving eye contact. Old Scrooge sits back down and rests his head on one hand at his old desk. "Fezziwig once said to me," he recalls, "'Ebenezer, when happiness shows up, always give it a comfortable seat.'"

"True," says the Ghost. He was on the other side of the room by Belle and Ebenezer when last I noticed him. And Scrooge seems to have forgotten about him as well. He's up on the gallery now, looking down at Scrooge. And though I read Scrooge's Fezziwig quote as being more about Belle than Fezziwig, the Ghost takes the opportunity to undercut Fezziwig's generosity like he does in the book. It's an awkward non sequitur, but it gets the scene back on track with Scrooge defending his old master. And Scrooge does so with gusto and downright anger.

When Scrooge finishes his argument, he looks confused and defeated for a moment. The Ghost asks him what's wrong, but in this version Scrooge isn't thinking about Bob Cratchit at that moment. He's still too tough for that. What's bothering him is his comment about Fezziwig's power to make his employees happy and their work light. As I said before, these were clearly good times for Scrooge. But the realization is deeper (and more selfish) than just wishing he could create the same atmosphere for Cratchit. I believe that Scrooge is wishing he could create the same atmosphere for himself. He's wondering why he let himself lose this happiness. And the thought upsets him enough that he questions for a moment whether he really was happy. "Perhaps things seemed better than they really were," he says.

"All this was a lie then," the Ghost clarifies.

"The world changes," Scrooge counters. "You can't trust anything." Maybe it was real, but it wasn't lasting. And of course he doesn't blame himself yet. "But no," he finally admits. "It was just like this right down to the last mince pie and dance."

The Ghost seems satisfied and rests his head against a post and watches Ebenezer and Belle dance. They're alone in the room now and snow is falling, signaling the transition to the next scene.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

Pax and I wrap up Deadwood December with the reunion movie from earlier this year and talk about whether or not it was a fitting conclusion to the legendary TV series.

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Michael Caine (1992)

The Muppets Ghost of Christmas Past doesn't like to travel the same way twice. She flew Scrooge from his apartment to the school, but from the school to Fezziwig's they sort of hyper jump and warp into the street. It's a cool effect, but looks a bit odd in the Victorian setting.

The sign on the warehouse says "Fozziwig and Mom, Ltd." As much as I dislike Fozzie's having such a small role in the movie, I can't fault anyone for casting him this way. It's too perfect. And I love that Scrooge identifies the building as Fozziwig's old rubber chicken factory. Because of course it is.

Fozziwig himself comes outside to enjoy the evening and the lamplighters and just Christmas Eve in general. He's not as jovial as I expect, in fact he's downright sentimental. But the effect is the same on Old Scrooge. "As hard and as ruthless as a rose petal," he chuckles, clearly fond of his former boss.

True to his name, Fozziwig is Fozzie in a wig: the white, old-fashioned kind that's become the shorthand for identifying so many versions of this character. As he goes back inside, he announces that it's time for the party to begin, and Old Scrooge gets excited. He's eager to relive this memory.

Fozziwig's announcement was actually meaningless, because the party has already begun. There's no scene of anyone setting up; all the humans and muppets are milling about with drinks and chatting together. But Fozziwig has a few words to say to open the festivities and after some problems getting everyone's attention, he does. Heckled of course by Young Statler and Waldorf as the Young Marley Brothers.

Fozziwig's speech is super short and the music starts right after. Instead of a fiddler, it's Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. They're not on Fozziwig's desk of course, but they are on a raised platform. They start with a slow number until Animal gets bored and starts rocking out, bringing the rest of the band along with him.

At one point, Young Ebenezer appears, extremely well-cast. I don't know if the makeup department did some extra work on Raymond Coulthard's eyebrows, but he looks a lot like a young Michael Caine. At any rate, Ebenezer has been going over the books and has some concerns with how much the party is costing the company.

Fozziwig gently chides him about Christmas and generosity and how Ebenezer needs to enjoy himself. We've seen different Ebenezers have different reactions to the party, but this is the only one who's actually objected to it. As we saw at the school, Scrooge has replaced his empty family life with hard work and dedication to his career. He came from a miserable home where he didn't feel loved, so he gets his sense of value from succeeding at work and accumulating wealth. The Muppet Christmas Carol is especially simple and on-the-nose about this, but that's not a bad thing. I appreciate its spelling out some things for me.

Speaking of simplistic, there's also not much detail about Fozziwig's character in this version. We meet his Mom, but he doesn't appear to be married or have any children. The guests are a hodgepodge - we get to see Rowlf and the Swedish Chef - but puppets causing chaos is a Muppets staple and it doesn't seem like Fozziwig has any special, particular compassion for social outsiders as a group. He's weird, so his friends are all weird, too.

There's no Dick Wilkins in this version and the Ghost never challenges Fozziwig's generosity. The only person who does that is Young Ebenezer himself who never quite follows Fozziwig's advice about having a good time. And yet, Old Scrooge remembers the party fondly and was excited to revisit it. I don't think it's because he met Belle there, because that's also a painful memory. I don't know how many Fozziwig Christmas parties he went to, but it seems like the celebration is what he remembers fondly, even though he was complaining about it. He may have tried to resist, but deep down, these parties affected him. As simple and kind of dumb as he was, Fozziwig affected Scrooge.

As I mentioned, Ebenezer meets Belle in this scene. Later in the festivities, he accidentally bumps a beautiful girl whom Fozziwig is talking to. Fozziwig introduces Ebenezer to her as "the finest young financial mind in the city." I don't know if he's just being hyperbolic there or if Ebenezer really does have that reputation, but I can believe it based on what we've seen of Scrooge so far: his single-minded dedication as a young man and his obvious success as an old one.

Fozziwig introduces Belle as "a friend of the Fozziwig family" and there's an instant connection between her and Ebenezer. The Ghost asks Old Scrooge if he remembers the meeting.

"Yes," he says, deeply emotional about it. "I remember."

"There was of course another Christmas Eve with this young woman. Some years later."

He looks frightened. "Oh, please," he begs, turning back to look at Belle again. "Do not show me that Christmas."

But she does.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | George C Scott (1984)

As usual in director Clive Donner's version, the Ghost's snuffing cap is used as a transition between visions. As we leave the school for Fezziwig's warehouse, images play across the cap: people shopping and preparing for Christmas Day and then on Fezziwig and his employees. He's at a raised - but not cartoonishly high - desk at one end of the warehouse floor, writing in a ledger as his employees fold cloth and go about other business. He appears to have his own hair, but it could be a good, brown wig. Not a Welsh wig though. He pleasantly instructs a young woman to have Mr Pooling (I think?) talk to Mr. Scrooge about whatever book she's holding.

As she goes off to obey, Fezziwig gets down from his desk and reveals that he's a delightfully tiny man. He lets everyone know that it's time to stop working, because it's Christmas Eve. He particularly instructs Dick and Ebenezer to set down their pens, presumably because they're extra industrious and need to be personally ordered. Everyone's going to help clear the room, not just Dick and Ebenezer.

As Young Scrooge grabs some cloth to carry it away, Fezziwig playfully orders him to enjoy himself at the party. Ebenezer smiles and says that he'll try. The conversation goes on, but the gist is that Fezziwig wants Ebenezer to get more out of life than just the conducting of business, though Ebenezer is clearly very good at business. Ebenezer seems willing to learn.

The scene cuts to final decorations and the big buffet spread as Mrs Fezziwig enters with her three daughters and their suitors. Old Scrooge laughs as he identifies them. He's clearly enjoying seeing these faces again. And his face softens even more when he sees Belle enter with some rolls that she places on the buffet. His eyes moisten and he looks stunned. "I'd forgotten how beautiful she was." And he's right.

Young Scrooge comes up behind her and asks her to dance. He's not especially animated, but he's not awkward like the Young Scrooge in the Albert Finney version. He's much more comfortable and confident around Belle. This is a Scrooge who has settled in and made a place for himself.

A fiddler climbs up on Fezziwig's desk and begins the first dance. Fezziwig doesn't even join in this one; the focus is all on Ebenezer and Belle having a great time with Ebenezer even stopping to steal a kiss at one point. Eventually they leave the dance and run off to a corner by themselves.

Old Scrooge is smiling at the party and the memories. The Ghost catches him and asks him how long it's been since he danced.

He drops his grin and turns grumpy. "A waste of time, dancing."

"You didn't think so then."

He's quite serious and thoughtful as he says, "There was a reason then."

The scene cuts to Young Scrooge and Belle as they talk in their corner. Belle notes that Scrooge has changed since he came to Fezziwig's. "You were so gloomy."

"I think I should warn you, Miss Belle. I am of a serious bent of mind." He looks overly serious as he says it. Playfully serious.

She says that she finds seriousness admirable, "but it can be overdone."

"I shall take heed of your advice, ma'am, and go through life with a grin on my face." But he's not quite grinning. He doesn't seem to think that he can actually do it. We've seen him capable of enjoying himself at this very party, and that's all due to Belle's presence. She has that effect on him. But to fundamentally change his personality and worldview? That's a tall order.

Old Scrooge also smiles at the scene, but it's a wistful, rueful smile. He knows that he meant it back then just as he knows that he never achieved it.

Back in the corner, Fezziwig accosts Belle and Ebenezer to get them back in the dance for "Sir Roger de Coverley." Then he realizes that he needs to get back himself and "partner my wife before that young scamp goes dancing off with her!" He puts his arm around Young Scrooge and gives him the second piece of advice of the evening. "What a difference it makes, Ebenezer, to travel the rough road of life with the right female to help bear the burden." He's grinning at Belle as he finishes and she's blushing. Ebenezer looks at her, quite seriously.

She wonders if they should join the others and he takes her hand. "My pleasure, Miss Belle." He is absolutely, deeply in love with her. It's a beautiful scene that really captures the essence of falling in love with someone you don't feel you deserve, but who - against all reason - apparently loves you back. They're such a sweet couple. It's heartbreaking to know how they turn out.

But Old Scrooge isn't thinking about that now. As his younger self rejoins the dance with the love of his life, Old Scrooge smiles like a fool, just enjoying the moment.

The scene then shifts to later that night. The warehouse is empty except for Scrooge and the Ghost. "Old Fezziwig," the Ghost says. "A silly man." And indeed he was.

Scrooge defends him anyway. And the Ghost challenges him further. What did he do to deserve the praises of his employees? "Spent a few pounds? Danced like a monkey? Beamed a great smile?"

Scrooge laughs and explains gently. "The happiness he gives..." He corrects himself, "Gave... was quite as great as though it had cost a thousand pounds." He turns thoughtful. "Just... small things."

He doesn't mention that he'd like to have a word with Bob Cratchit just then, but that would just be spelling out something that Scott's performance already does quite nicely. The schoolhouse failed to create empathy in Scrooge, but he's been touched emotionally by this scene. Not just by Belle, but by Fezziwig as well. This was a time when Scrooge was truly happy and hopeful about his future. But things have not turned out the way he hoped back then.

Cut to Ebenezer and Dick in their bunks somewhere in the warehouse. Ebenezer is staring off into space and Dick doesn't even have to ask what Ebenezer is thinking about. He just stares at Young Scrooge until Young Scrooge laughs and says, "Belle."

"Are you in love, Ebenezer?"

"Mmm. The thought had occurred to me."

"She's too good for you." Dick means it, but there's no malice. He clearly likes Belle, too, though he doesn't really consider himself competition for Ebenezer. She may be too good for Ebenezer, but she also loves him and Dick knows it. There's been no mention of Dick's attachment to Scrooge, but we don't need it. This scene shows us that they're good friends.

"One day!" Ebenezer objects. "When I've made my fortune. Then I'll deserve her."

Dick changes the subject. "It was a night never to be forgotten."

"Never..." muses Ebenezer.

"But you did forget," says the Ghost. "Often." And the scene changes once again.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Albert Finney (1970)

In the musical Scrooge, the schoolhouse scene ended with the Ghost pointing offscreen and declaring, "There's a Christmas that you really enjoyed!" I love this elderly, grand-dame version of the Ghost of Christmas Past. She's stuffy, proper, and will take none of Scrooge's guff. He enjoyed this next Christmas and there's no arguing about it.

The scene smash cuts to Fezziwig sitting at his desk, scribbling for a couple of seconds until he realizes that it's time to stop. He's played by Laurence Naismith, whom I know best as the chairman of the British diamond syndicate who helps M gave James Bond his orders in Diamonds Are Forever. He's not an actor that I know very well, but he has a kind, familiar face. He's bald except for a ring of his own, white hair. The film doesn't suggest that there's anything old-fashioned about him. He just really likes Christmas.

Old Scrooge and the Ghost appear in the warehouse nearby and Scrooge is thrilled to see his old boss; probably the happiest and most unreserved he's been the entire movie. As he comments on Fezziwig throughout this scene, it's clear that he not only liked Fezziwig, he also respected him. This Fezziwig is certainly jolly, but he doesn't come across as an out-of-touch fool (however endearing) the way that some other versions have suggested. He does have a very tall desk though.

Fezziwig has Dick and Young Scrooge clear away for the party, but the room is already mostly decorated with lush garland hanging from the rafters and chandeliers. Dick and Scrooge just have to clear out some huge sacks of corn. Old Scrooge comments on how good-looking and strong he used to be. "I used to carry sacks around all day," he says. So Fezziwig was exposing his apprentices to all sides of the business; not just the books.

Old Scrooge is also giddy about seeing Dick Wilkins again and there's nothing sad or "poor Dick" about the memory. "Nice young fellow," Scrooges remembers. "Very attached to me, he was." These are all great memories for Scrooge.

His young self and Dick don't put up any shutters, which is important, because just as they're finishing getting ready, we hear a fiddle and see through the warehouse's large windows that the guests have arrived. The fiddler leads them and they're all dancing and shouting and twirling and carrying bowls and baskets filled with treats for the party.

When Fezziwig ordered the shop closed, he mentioned needing to have it done before Mrs Fezziwig and their daughters arrived with the punch bowl. We don't know who any of the other guests are, but it's not important for this version. The focus isn't on Fezziwig's compassion for all outcasts (as pleasant as that is to see in other version). It's on his effect on Scrooge personally.

The fiddler hops up on Fezziwig's desk and Fezziwig announces that "there will now be happiness and contentment in this room the like of which none of us has ever seen before." He then points to the fiddler and orders, "Begin!" He's proper and commanding, but people follow him out of love, not fear.

As the guests clap, Fezziwig and Wife take the floor and begin the next musical number, "December the 25th."

Of all the days in all the year that I'm familiar with,
There's only one that's really fun: 

The crowd answers in unison, "December the 25th!" to which Fezziwig shouts, "Correct!"

He and his wife punctuate the song all throughout with that affirmation.

Ask anyone called Robinson or Brown or Jones or Smith
Their favorite day and they will say:
December the 25

I don't know why I love that as much as I do. Maybe it's just that it's so very English. It's a great song though and the dancing that accompanies it is complicated and boisterously exuberant.

During the dance, a particularly beautiful woman with blonde hair and an eye-catching blue dress tries to grab Young Scrooge's hand and pull him into the merrymaking. He politely shakes his head and puts up his hand.

Old Scrooge and the Ghost have moved up to a storage balcony to watch the party. "Why didn't you join the dancing?" she asks.

Scrooge is cranky and unapologetic. "Because I couldn't do it!"

She tut tut tuts him in response.

They continue watching and Fezziwig is having such a good time, flailing about and laughing uproariously at the dance's twists and complications. "What a marvelous man," Old Scrooge observes. And he believes it.

"What's so marvelous?" the Ghost challenges. "He's merely spent a few pounds of your mortal money." She's wonderfully stuffy and condescending the way she says it; I almost believe that she means it rather than being sarcastic.

Scrooge doesn't pick up on her sarcasm either, but defends Fezziwig honestly. "You don't understand!" he scolds. "He has the power to make us happy or unhappy. To make our work a pleasure or a burden. It's nothing to do with money!"

That last declaration slips out of his mouth so naturally that it puts a lump in my throat when I hear it. This is something that Scrooge has believed in the past and must still believe deep down, but he hasn't let himself believe it - much less express it - in a really long time. And even now he doesn't realize that he's said anything remarkable. The visions of the past are having their effect on him though.

This is the moment where Scrooge starts to change. He never quite bought that Marley's ghost was real and he continued being grouchy with the Ghost of Christmas Past. He didn't cry in the schoolhouse scene; he was just grumpy and bitter. But here, without his even realizing it, the lessons he learned from Fezziwig are beginning to peek out from the place where Scrooge has buried them.

The "December the 25th" number dies down as the scene fades to another, slower dance later in the evening. The woman in blue again seeks out Young Scrooge and this time, though he's clearly uncomfortable, he puts his arms around her and dances.

"Isabelle," observes Old Scrooge.

The Ghost tells us that this Belle is actually one of Fezziwig's daughters. I don't know why the film made that change. Maybe to consolidate characters. But the Ghost and Old Scrooge talk about how he was engaged to her and as Young Scrooge and Isabelle dance, I believe that they're in love. He's so clearly awkward and nervous about dancing, but even though his expression is rigid, it's also obvious that he wants to be exactly there where his is, dancing with her and making her happy. And she is happy. Completely pleased that he's making the effort. This can't be an easy relationship for either of them, but they both want it very much.

As Old Scrooge watches, he begins to sing softly to himself:

You, you were new to me.
You, you were Spring.
You, you were true to me.
You, you were everything.

It is 100% legitimately heart-breaking.

After this, the music livens again and the scene fades to another Christmas outside.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | A Christmas Carol (1984)

Finishing this season's trilogy of Christmas Carol episodes, my guest Carlin Trammel (Nerd Lunch) and I visit a relatable Ebenezer Scrooge as played by George C Scott in director Clive Donner's authentic-looking British production.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Fredric March (1954)

The Shower of Stars adaptation does something very different with this scene. Rather than have it take place in Fezziwig's warehouse, it places the party at what appears to be Fezziwig's home: a large, expensive place with marble floors and chandeliers and a gorgeous, garlanded staircase leading to upstairs rooms. The party is already in progress and everyone is well-dressed in tails (or military dress uniforms) and evening gowns. A servant in livery and a white, powdered wig circulates among the guests, offering them refreshments. Instead of a fiddler, there's a sextet that includes a harp and oboe alongside the standard strings.

Fezziwig presides over the festivities mostly from his chair, sitting next to a woman Scrooge identifies as Fezziwig's wife. Fezziwig gets up to dance a couple of times, once with a young girl who's probably meant to be his daughter, but looks more in grand-daughter range. Then a pretty party guest invites him to take a spin and he does. He's a hefty, old nobleman with a powdered wig, but jolly and game and he's thoroughly enjoying himself and the pleasure he's bringing to his guests.

Scrooge spots Dick Wilkins at the party, but only mentions that they were apprentices to Fezziwig. In lieu of a scene where Fezziwig has them shut up the shop, Scrooge simply quotes his former master. "No more work tonight! This is Christmas Eve!" It's hard to imagine this Fezziwig overseeing a rustic, old warehouse and I imagine that this Scrooge and Wilkins may have worked from Fezziwig's home or at least from a posh office.

One unfortunate effect of the change in venue is that none of the party guests seem remotely like social outsiders. This appears to be a fancy event put on by a wealthy person for other wealthy people. Or at least it does at first.

Old Scrooge spots his younger self at the punchbowl, looking as dapper as everyone else. When he serves another guest half a cup of punch, there's some foreshadowing of the man he'll become as she complains, "Ebenezer, don't be stingy with the punch." He doesn't seem to have done it out of actual stinginess. And you can read it where she's not actually accusing him of stinginess, but is just being kind of awkwardly playful. In fact, he does appear to have been pouring the cup for himself and then offered it to her out of politeness when she interrupted him. But I have to believe that the association between him and stinginess is absolutely intentional. And the rest of the scene bears that out.

As he fills the cup up the rest of the way, another woman asks him why he's not dancing and he lets her know that he's waiting for Belle. The two women giggle over the idea of Ebenezer in love, so apparently he does have a reputation as someone who usually doesn't place a lot of value in romance.

Belle appears just then and apologizes for being late. "We were very busy at the shop," she says. So she's some kind of clerk herself. We don't find out in this scene (if at all) how she knows Fezziwig, but her presence at the party does suggest that not all the guests are aristocrats. For all his wealth, Fezziwig isn't a snob about whom he invites.

Belle is well-known to the other guests, too. One of them requests a song from her and she agrees on the condition that Young Scrooge joins her. They sing a lovely duet (both actors have excellent voices) about what to get each other for Christmas, with the suggestions being things like smiles and kisses that lead to "a golden ring" and "the ground-floor plans for a castle in Spain." They seem comfortable and happy in their love, but they also have dreams and plans. At this point, it seems like they share them, but knowing what we know about how their relationship will turn out, I suspect that these are dreams for her and plans for him. That's getting ahead of the scene though. The song ends with applause by the guests and the singers kissing under mistletoe held by Fezziwig himself.

With the sappy stuff out of the way, Fezziwig announces that it's time not for the "Sir Roger de Coverley," but for the polka. Old Scrooge is pleased by all of this. He looked wistful a couple of times when watching Belle, but he's snapped out of that and focused on Fezziwig's ability to spread happiness. He's about to express a wish (Dickens readers know it would have been about speaking to Bob Cratchit just then), but the Ghost interrupts him.

"Your happiness was short-lived." She directs his attention back to his younger self and Belle at the party. They're in the middle of a disagreement, which we'll listen in on next year, but since it's at the same party, a lot of Scrooge and Belle's apparent happiness there must have been covering some much more complicated feelings that are about to bubble over.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Alastair Sim (1951)

Alastair Sim's classic version skips right to Fezziwig's party in full swing by the time Old Scrooge and the Ghost arrive. It breaks the scene into two sections: the dance and then Young Scrooge in love. But where some previous versions that introduce Belle have neglected Fezziwig, this one pays attention to both.

Fezziwig is a lovely, joyously uninhibited little man with an endless grin. I don't think he's wearing a wig, but his hair is excessively curly (whether natural or something he's done on purpose). We never see his desk, but wherever it is, the fiddler isn't sitting at it. He's on a stool in the foreground. The dance is a raucous affair though with lots of stamping feet and people looking on and clapping from the sidelines and on balconies around the room. It looks like a great time.

Since there's no getting ready for the party, Dick Wilkins is never named. Which probably works in this version's favor. The schoolroom scene was especially sad and emphasized Young Scrooge's deep loneliness. He felt that no one but Fan ever cared for him. That would be undermined by a faithful chum like Dick in Scrooge's life. We'll see of course that Fezziwig has been nice to him, but it's a general kindness that Fezziwig extends to everyone, not a special, particular relationship with Scrooge. And we'll also see that Scrooge is in love with someone who also loves him, but that relationship is the exception that proves the rule. Scrooge's brief happiness in love only deepens the tragedy of his monumental loneliness.

We're not thinking about that right now though as Old Scrooge beams at the party and remarks what a kind man Fezziwig was. That cues the Ghost to question the assertion and Scrooge of course defends his old boss. Fezziwig's special attention to social outsiders isn't explicitly mentioned, but Scrooge says that Fezziwig's generosity affected not only his employees, but "everybody who knew him." During all of this, Sim's Scrooge never appears angry or put off by the Ghost's comment. He's still enjoying himself and he's not so much defending Fezziwig as simply stating what he knows to be facts. He only stumbles when he says that the happiness Fezziwig brought was as great as if it had cost a fortune. The word "fortune" pulls him out of the pleasant memory.

The Ghost notices something wrong and coaxes Scrooge into sharing. Sim is so wonderful as he dismisses that there's something really wrong, but admits, "Just that I'd like to have a word with my own clerk, Bob Cratchit, just now." His face and the music sell the moment. This is something that Scrooge is really feeling. And I love the Ghost's pleasantly satisfied expression at the progress that Scrooge has made. He decides that Scrooge is ready for another scene, though still at Fezziwig's party.

In a quiet corner away from the revelers, Young Scrooge is proposing to a woman. Her name is Alice, not Belle, for some reason. George Cole plays the younger version of Scrooge and he's great. He's a young man who knows that he has a lot of work to do in becoming financially stable and he's concerned about it, but he's also very much in love.

Alice teasingly refuses at first, but it's clear she's not serious. She's just enticing assurances out of Scrooge that he won't have a change of heart toward her some day. He seems equally concerned about money and her, but the attention he gives to money worries her enough that she wants to have a conversation about it before she accepts his proposal. He's able to reassure her though (very eloquently thanks to the script and convincingly thanks to Cole) and she whole-heartedly agrees. I think he's completely sincere at that point in his life. He sees in Alice an attitude towards money that he wants for himself. "I love you because you're poor, not proud and foolish." It's beautifully subtle, but I read that as Scrooge admitting to himself that he's proud and foolish, but doesn't want to be.

As he puts the ring on her finger and makes further promises about "eternity," Old Scrooge turns away, plainly hurt by the memory of how this will all turn out. "I've seen enough," he says.

"Yet more awaits you," says the Ghost.

Scrooge snaps at him. "I won't look!"

The Ghost takes no pleasure in ordering, "You shall." And a new scene begins to fade in.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Deadwood Season 3 (2006)

Pax and I finish watching David Milch's Deadwood and talk about how the show ended, and about our hopes for Deadwood: The Movie.

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Reginald Owen (1938)

The 1938 Christmas Carol does something very different with this year's scene, but it's all in service to communicating the actual point of the scene well. Certainly better than the last couple of adaptations we looked at. There's been a trend of using Fezziwig's just to introduce Belle and identify the stakes involved when she and Scrooge break up. But the Reginald Owen film keeps the focus squarely on Fezziwig and his relationship with his employees.

After a standard, fade out/in transition from the schoolhouse to the streets of London, the camera lands on the warehouse of J Fezziwig and Company. Outside, the Ghost and Scrooge see Fezziwig working through a big window. His desk is normal sized, but he's a paunchy old gentleman with an outdated brown wig. Old Scrooge is thrilled to see him.

Fezziwig happens to look up at the clock and see the time, so he finishes up what he's doing and calls in Ebenezer and Dick. After faking like he's upset with them, he reveals that he's "angry" because they've let him work them 5 minutes past closing time. And on Christmas Eve at that. This Fezziwig isn't shutting up early for a party, but he does ask the boys to close up shop as they normally would. And part of that does involve going outside and putting up removable shutters as Dickens described it.

I wanted to pay especially close attention to Scrooge's relationship with Dick Wilkins in this version, because the previous scene revealed that they were also schoolmates and good friends as children. There's nothing in the dialogue this scene to suggest a special attachment between the two, but as they shut up the windows the boys clearly enjoy each other and have a fun, bubbly conversation about how awesome Fezziwig is.

This underlines something I've been thinking about over the last couple of adaptations. I expressed earlier that I felt there might be a story behind Scrooge's recognition of Dick's attachment to him and his suggestion that he pitied Dick for some reason. I wondered if something bad happened to Dick that made Scrooge regret not treating him better. In Owen's version, the friendship is clearly mutual (no "poor Dick" here). So contrasting that with the other versions, I wonder if Scrooge's lack of attachment to Dick in those versions wasn't so much specifically about Dick as it was just about Scrooge's not being able to connect with people in general. Maybe his childhood experiences in school and with his father just made him withdraw. So "poor Dick" isn't necessarily about something specific that happened to Dick, but just symbolic of Scrooge's general remorse for not being able to connect to people at all. That's not the case in this version, but Scrooge's friendly relationship with Dick here helps make more clear what I think I've noticed in the others.

Since Fezziwig isn't throwing a party after work, his conversation with the boys goes a different direction. It's pretty much the opposite of Scrooge's earlier conversation when he closed up with Bob Cratchit. Like before, Fezziwig pretends to be serious as he says, "Now about tomorrow..."

The boys get very serious, too.

He wags a finger at them. "It's a holiday of course, but I shall expect you to spend part of it at least with me." He pauses for a beat to let them sweat. "Eating Christmas dinner!" They're overjoyed. We know that at least Scrooge's family lives in the countryside and the same may be true of Dick's. And Fezziwig says that if they eat too much to be any good the following day, "We'll make that a holiday, too."

I love this Fezziwig's sense of humor. It's a missed opportunity that Owen's Scrooge doesn't wait until after Christmas to reveal his change to Cratchit, because that scene (as Dickens wrote it) would suggest that Scrooge picked up his warped humor (pretending to be angry and then announcing that he isn't) from Fezziwig. But since this version had Scrooge fire Cratchit on Christmas Eve, Cratchit won't be going in to work at all on the 26th.

Fezziwig also tips the boys a gold sovereign each as a Christmas bonus before leaving, sparking the apprentices to praise him some more.

Outside, Old Scrooge is thoughtful, but he denies at first that anything particular is wrong when the Ghost questions him about it. She pulls out of him that experiencing Fezziwig's kindness again has bothered him, but that's all he's willing to offer. She points out gently, but bluntly that "perhaps you feel that you'd like to repay his kindness to you."

This makes Scrooge grumpy. "Well?"

"You have a clerk, Bob Cratchit. Old Fezziwig would have been very happy if you had shown your gratitude to him by showing kindness to others."

Scrooge is now very defensive, fussing about how he's a good business man. Apparently he's temporarily forgotten his earlier conversation with Marley about what constitutes "good business."

This is a sad, but realistic regression in Scrooge. I thought before that he was going to have an easy transformation. The early scenes showed him to be a lonely man who seems to be interested in human connection, but doesn't know how to appropriately ask for it. I noted that he may even think that he's putting signals out, but his abrasiveness keeps people away. I think that's what's going on here. Scrooge is thoughtful and wants to change, but he's got a lifetime of defenses that aren't going to be dismantled easily. That's probably why this Ghost doesn't rhetorically criticize Fezziwig in order to bait Scrooge into defending him. That tactic probably wouldn't work on this Scrooge.

There's a little more dialogue in this scene, but I'll save it for next year. Not only is Fezziwig's party absent, but the entire character of Belle is, too. Instead, the Ghost will crankily and impatiently sum up Scrooge's subsequent years for him.

Monday, December 16, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Seymour Hicks (1935)

As I mentioned last year, Henry Edwards' Scrooge skips both the schoolhouse scene and Fezziwig's warehouse and goes straight to breaking up with Belle. We'll catch up to it next year.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | The Stingiest Man in Town (1956)

I discovered this Christmas 1956 episode of the live anthology show The Alcoa Hour too late to include it in my annual Christmas Carol project, so I was excited when my wife picked it to talk about on this episode of Sleigh Bell Cinema. I cover the Rankin-Bass animated remake every year, but this is the original musical production starring Basil Rathbone as Ebenezer Scrooge. There's a lot to like about it.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Mark McDermott (1910)

In keeping with its limited budget and just general shortness (the whole film is less than 14 minutes long), Thomas Edison's silent Christmas Carol hits this scene quickly and all in Scrooge's room. The Spirit of Christmas (one ghost for all three time periods) simply calls up vignettes for Scrooge to look at. After the confusing (if you don't already know the story) schoolroom scene, Scrooge is despondent. But he perks back up again when the Spirit shows him visions of people getting ready for and then having a party.

Old Scrooge bounces and claps his hands throughout, but like the previous scene, there are no intertitles to explain what's going on. There's definitely one man supervising and moderating the activities, so those of us familiar with the tale know this is Fezziwig. He's a plump, jolly fellow, but he wears no wig of any type. And though there's a tall desk and a stool in the room, Fezziwig never sits at it.

Two young men do the cleaning up. One is shown more prominently than the other, sweeping the floor. This must be Young Scrooge. The other fellow (I almost said "unnamed" fellow, but they're both unnamed) is probably Dick. But without any dialogue, he's just another employee. No hint at a special attachment.

The young men are barely out of the way when the guests arrive. There are men and women of various ages, but of course we don't know if or how Fezziwig is related to any of them. A fiddler comes in and hops up on the desk and the party begins. The fellow who was probably Young Scrooge talks to a couple of women at the party, but partners up with the second one for the lone dance we get to see. As he and his partner follow the others offscreen, Young Scrooge gives her a quick kiss. So she could be Belle, though it's hard to tell in my print of the movie if she's the same woman who's in the next scene. I can't even 100% tell if it's the same actor playing Young Scrooge. It could even be Marc McDermott playing both Old and Young Scrooge. He was in his 30s when the film was made, so that would make sense. He's the only actor credited as playing Scrooge in the film.

So let's say that is Belle with Scrooge. Even though it's not what Dickens wrote, I feel like that's a pretty solid bet. The production doesn't seem like it has the scope to have two different characters in a relationship with Scrooge. The question then is: what's the point?

The last intertitle we got said that these were "incidents of [Scrooge's] youth and early manhood." There's not even a judgment about whether they're positive incidents or negative. The schoolhouse scene reminded him of his love for his sister and seeing her again made him first happy and then mournful, like he was in grief. He's happy all the way through the Fezziwig scene. So if nothing else, the Ghost is at least getting some emotion from Scrooge, which is at least progress. So far, Scrooge has mostly rejected the spirits' help and acted like their appearance was an inconvenience. Even at a very basic, broad level, we can tell that Scrooge has become engaged in what's going on. He's being reminded of past connections with other people.

My question about the next scene is what lesson Scrooge will take from it. Depending on how well the film communicates Scrooge and Belle's breakup, Scrooge could realize that his lack of current connection is all his fault. But if the reason for the breakup is unclear (meaning that Belle could possibly have instigated it through no fault of Scrooge's), then Scrooge could conceivably be justified in withdrawing further from other people. But that's next time. We'll see how it goes then.

Friday, December 13, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Jim Carrey (2009)

Robert Zemeckis continues to play a lot with the animated format. Sometimes that's good and sometimes... not so much. We see both in this scene.

The transition from the previous scene is great. The Ghost takes Scrooge's hand in the schoolroom and they zoom down the long room, through a large opening that was a painting of London a minute ago, and into the actual London. They soar over the icy Thames, under bridges, then to shore and through gaslit streets until they arrive at Fezziwig's warehouse in a quiet, industrial part of town.

Scrooge is overjoyed to see it again. He gives a deep chuckle as he recalls that he was apprenticed there. Jim Carrey's Scrooge is well on his way to transforming. He's been deeply affected by the ghosts so far, going from frightened to humbled and now - even as he gets used to this one - still respectful.

The scene changes around them and they're inside the warehouse. Fezziwig (played by Bob Hoskins) is jolly and fat, wears a powdered wig, and sits atop a ridiculously high ladder at a ridiculously high desk. I say, "ridiculous," but that's a good thing. Fezziwig should be ridiculous.

He calls Young Scrooge and Dick Wilkins by name, leading Old Scrooge to reminisce about Dick's attachment to him. There's nothing but fondness and happy memories when he talks about Dick. There's nothing about "poor Dick" and Scrooge clearly reciprocates the attachment. As he's talking, his young self and Dick are laughing with Fezziwig and trading playful punches with each other.

Fezziwig orders the shop closed and we see Young Scrooge and Dick cheerfully clear aside tables (passing through the ethereal Old Scrooge with one of them). The scene transitions to the party before they get to any shutters, though.

The fiddler's on the desk at the party and I like the sound of stomping feet to add percussion to the dance music. Unnamed guests (no explicit mention of any of their relationships to Fezziwig, either) twirl on the edges of the dance floor, but the center is reserved for Fezziwig and his wife. This is where I think Zemeckis goes overboard on the animation. Earlier he had Fezziwig dismount from his desk with an acrobatic flourish that seems unlikely for a man in Fezziwig's shape, but it was fairly easy to pass that by. Now though, the Fezziwigs positively defy gravity with the hang times of their jumps. It's a bit much even though it's all for laughs and ultimately punctuated by the fiddler falling off his perch and into the punch bowl.

Fezziwig boisterously announces the next dance: "Sir Roger de Coverley." Young Scrooge is as pleased as everyone else by it. Old Scrooge looks crestfallen. He knows what's about to happen. Belle is definitely in this scene.

She turns up as Scrooge's dance partner in the "Sir Roger" and frankly it's hard to tell if this is their first meeting or not. She's smiling warmly at him, but that could be polite dance etiquette or genuine fondness. He's captivated by her, but that could either be Love at First Sight or maybe he's just that smitten every time he's around her. I think it's probably their first meeting as that better explains why Old Scrooge immediately recognized the moment and had a strong reaction to it before it even happened.

Belle and Young Scrooge don't talk at all in this scene. It's all about beautiful, swelling strings and soaring emotions and time standing still while they're in each other's company. It really sells that Scrooge is falling in love. Belle is too elegant to reciprocate in any obvious way, which is too bad. It succeeds at developing Scrooge, but misses the opportunity to make Belle more than just a plot device. We'll see if the next scene does better.

Old Scrooge and the Ghost don't talk at all during this point. Scrooge just looks on sadly at the dancers and then the room grows dark and changes to Scrooge's office for the next scene. That means there's no attack on Fezziwig by the ghost or defense of him by Scrooge. And no connecting Fezziwig's treatment of his employees with Scrooge's treatment of Bob Cratchit. Even though Zemeckis included more of Fezziwig than Rankin-Bass did, he is - like they were - more concerned with introducing Belle and setting up the doomed romance.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Scrooge McDuck (1983)

Mickey's Christmas Carol has some things in common with Rankin-Bass' also very abbreviated version. They both skip the schoolhouse scene and have the Ghost take Scrooge directly to Fezziwig's where the party is already in full swing. Mickey's has Scrooge reminisce fondly about Fezziwig though (where Rankin-Bass all but ignored the character).

The sign on the building says Fezziwig Tea Company, which is a cool, added detail. And as Scrooge wipes some soot off a window to peek inside, he admits, "I couldn't have worked for a kinder man." Jiminy Cricket is too polite a Ghost to challenge Fezziwig's service, not even rhetorically, but Scrooge's confession does show that he hasn't forgotten what kindness is. And it's a surprise to hear him speak fondly about it as a character trait.

Fezziwig is played by Toad from Disney's adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, which is a lovely piece of casting. Toad's silly, fun-loving nature fits wonderfully with jolly old Fezziwig. He's up on his high desk wearing a powdered wig and in this version he himself is the fiddler.

But even though Mickey's pays more attention to Fezziwig than Rankin-Bass did, the focus of the scene is still on Young Scrooge and Belle (renamed Isabelle and played by Daisy Duck). Old Scrooge finds his younger self sitting alone in a corner. He mentions that he was a "shy lad," but he seems nothing but pleased to be reliving these memories so far. Isabelle pulls Young Scrooge under the mistletoe, but he's too awkward to follow through on what she clearly wants. They dance instead and she ends by planting a kiss on his cheek, sending him all a'flutter.

Old Scrooge isn't melancholy about this at all. He sighs heavily and says that he remembers how much he was in love with her. It's like he's willfully not thinking about how the relationship ended. He probably doesn't realize that the Ghost is going to take him there to witness that, too. Since this is Scrooge's first stop on his tour of the Past, he hasn't really picked up yet what the Ghost is trying to accomplish.

Mickey's Scrooge was frightened by Marley's warnings, but recovered quickly when the Ghost of Christmas Past showed up. He hasn't really shown the Ghost any respect so far. I get the feeling that he knows he needs to change, but he's testing to see just how little he can change and still be okay. There's even a line in this scene where the Ghost notes that Young Scrooge hasn't yet become "a miserable miser consumed by greed." To which Scrooge replies, "Well, nobody's perfect." He tosses that out so playfully that I don't know whether or not he even believes it, but maybe that's the point. He's still trying out these old attitudes to see what will fly and what won't anymore.

The Ghost never takes Scrooge's bait though. He simply announces that he's about to contrast what Scrooge had with what he eventually lost.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

FCA Invasion 15 | DC Superheroes Live Action Holiday Special

You know those DC Superhero Holiday Special comics? Wouldn't it be cool if they were a live action TV special? That's exactly what Evan Hanson, Lizzie Twachtman, Rob Graham, and I imagine on this episode of the Fourth Chair Army Invasion.

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Walter Matthau (1978)

Rankin-Bass' version skipped over the schoolhouse scene and had the Ghost fly Scrooge directly to Fezziwig's. The party is already in progress, so Dick Wilkins is not mentioned, nor are any of the partygoers named. Even Fezziwig himself is never named, though we see his name on a sign at one point. The old fellow is dancing at the party with his wife, but you already have to know who he is. He's jolly and fat and has white curly hair. He might be wearing a wig, but if he is it's neither Welsh nor one of those traditional pig-tailed wigs.

The fiddler is up on a desk in the background, but the focus of the scene isn't on the party at all and especially not on Fezzziwig. In fact, this could be any Christmas party. What the scene really cares about is Young Scrooge's relationship with Belle, whom he's dancing with. Old Scrooge remembers that he and Belle had gone outside to cool off after the vigorous dance and we get to hear their conversation. Belle wants to get married right away, but Scrooge wants to put it off until he's more financially secure. They sing a song about their dreams: hers of a humble little cottage and children; his (which we see represented onscreen) of a large, golden mansion and no kids.

Old Scrooge is very upset by all of this. He's been frightened since Marley and is willing to change; he just doesn't know how. He knows what's coming next and he dreads seeing it. He's really being torn down by this.

With all that going on, the Ghost doesn't bring up Fezziwig's relationship with Scrooge or lead Scrooge to compare it to his own relationship with Bob Cratchit. Scrooge's impetus to change so far hangs all on his putting money before love, but specifically romantic love. Which, if you're going to simplify the story, isn't a bad way to go. The money vs love choice is the heart of A Christmas Carol. Eventually Rankin-Bass will need to translate Scrooge's emotions about Belle to a more general love for humankind, but we'll see how (or whether) they succeed in that.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

Paxton Holley (Nerd Lunch, Hellbent for Letterbox, Cult Film Club, I Read Movies) and I kick off the first of three Sleigh Bell Cinema episodes this season covering Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. We talk about what makes Mickey's Christmas Carol a good adaptation, how it's different from other versions, and even how we might recast a character or two.

Monday, December 09, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Alastair Sim (1971)

Richard Williams' cartoon makes great use of animation to facilitate scene changes. The Ghost and Old Scrooge are looking at Boy Scrooge in the schoolhouse, then there's a rapid series of aging Scrooges. The scenery around him changes, but his posture stays the same. In the first several he's reading a book like he was at school, but then that changes into a book that he's writing in until the series settles on Scrooge writing in a ledger at Fezziwig's warehouse.

Old Scrooge - who's been remarkably humble and compliant since Marley's visit - is full of giddy wonder at seeing his old boss again. Fezziwig is fat, he does sit at a high desk, and he's wearing an old-fashioned brown wig (though not officially a Welsh one). He orders Dick and Young Scrooge to "clear away," but he doesn't specify how and we just see the apprentices move some books and chairs.

Old Scrooge never actually mentions Dick. He says the line about "he was very much attached to me," but he's referring to Fezziwig in this version. And that does seem to be the case. Fezziwig pays special attention to Young Scrooge. Since we don't know anything about Dick, I can only speculate why Fezziwig focused on Scrooge, but putting this together with Dickens' description of Fezziwig's compassion for outsiders, I imagine that Fezziwig saw that Scrooge - whom we know was a sad child - needed extra love and encouragement

The scene cuts from the clearing away to the fiddler on the desk as Fezziwig welcomes his guests. None of them are named, so we don't know how any of them are connected to Fezziwig, but Young Scrooge does dance with a young woman at one point. She has a different hair color than Belle will in the next scene, so it probably isn't her, but it's nice to see Scrooge enjoying himself.

Since Dick is hardly mentioned in this one, there's no scene where he and Young Scrooge praise Fezziwig for the party, so the Ghost just comments on what a "small matter" the party is while watching the celebration.

Old Scrooge defends Fezziwig as usual and I like how this version handles Scrooge's connecting Fezziwig's treatment of him with his own, abusive attitude toward Bob Cratchit (who also seems to be a monumentally sad person). Instead of having him get wistful and the Ghost asking him about it, Williams cuts from the gaiety of the party to a flashback of Scrooge leaving Cratchit as the office from earlier in the film. There's even an abrupt change of music from the merry fiddle to sinister woodwinds as the vision rushes into Scrooge's mind. It's quite effective. It's so quick that the Ghost doesn't even seem to notice. It just grabs Scrooge's wrist and tells him that they have to go, "Quick!," to their next scene.

Hellbent for Letterbox | Deadwood, Season 2

Deadwood December continues as the shadow of George Hearst arrives to threaten the camp. Continuing our streak of weekly episodes through the end of the year.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Teen Titans #13 (1968)

The Teen Titans Christmas Carol isn't an adaptation, but an adventure inspired by Dickens' story. The Titans have noticed similarities between Dickens' characters and the people involved with the Titans' current case, so they're using Christmas Carol tactics to try to redeem Ebenezer Scrounge.

Kid Flash poses as a makeshift Ghost of Christmas Past, but there's only one part of Scrounge's past that the speedster references and it doesn't have anything to do with the miser's first job. So what I'm saying is that the Titans version skips this year's scene.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics

Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor's version gives not quite three pages to Fezziwig's party. It's a very abridged version, so there aren't many details. Fezziwig isn't even at his desk when he tells Young Scrooge and Dick that it's time to quit working. He's nicely plump though and this may be the first version we've looked at so far that has the full-on white powdered wig. (It appears to be white in Classics Illustrated, but in that version all visions of the past are completely white, so it's impossible to tell what color Fezziwig's hair was originally.)

Old Scrooge notices Dick Wilkins and calls him by name, but he doesn't mention "poor Dick" or that Dick was "attached" to Scrooge. Dick is just another detail to make the vision that much more vivid.

With a festive wreath in hand, Fezziwig commands the boys to clear away and get ready for the party, but we don't get to see the preparations. The next panel after the command is a half-page of Fezziwig and his wife cutting a jig as others dance and celebrate around them. This is a smaller party than I'm used to, but the warmth of Farritor's color palette makes it a lovely, cozy affair. And the fiddler is there at Fezziwig's (sadly normal sized) desk; behind it rather than on it. None of the guests are called by name or their connections to Fezziwig mentioned. It's just a fun party.

No one praises Fezziwig in the scene, so when the Ghost criticizes the party as a "small matter," it seems uncalled for. Like he's goading Scrooge. Which is fine. Scrooge deserves to be pushed. And of course he defends his former boss with dialogue right from Dickens.

He genuinely feels it, too. Because this version is so shortened, Scrooge's transformation has started early and he's been quite emotional in Christmas Past so far. When he talks about the happiness that Fezziwig gave, he's got a lovely, gentle smile. And he looks profoundly pensive and then remorseful in the next panels as he thinks about his relationship with Bob Cratchit.

Friday, December 06, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)

Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar give almost two pages to Fezziwig's party. It begins with Old Scrooge and the Ghost appearing in the warehouse and Fezziwig's desk is elevated above everyone else. Dickens never says why this is so, but the way the office is laid out in this version makes me wonder if it's so Fezziwig can keep an eye on everything. Not in any kind of micro-managing way, naturally, but just so he can know what's going on at a glance if he's needed. And maybe so all the employees can know if he's available.

That's one thing different about this version: all the employees. It's not just Scrooge and Dick at work; there's a whole staff. I suppose that's to help explain the crowd at the party, but in Dickens the party-goers seem to be made up mostly of Fezziwig's household (maids, bakers, cooks, milkmen, etc.) and people who don't have anywhere else to celebrate. It's hard for adaptations to point out that social outsiders make up so much of the party, but this one obfuscates it even more by creating a whole other source of celebrants. It doesn't even specifically mention Fezziwig's family, though the crowd does grow when the party begins, so clearly it's not just employees.

We never get a great look at Fezziwig or his hair, but he does seem a bit plump and he's probably wearing some kind of old-fashioned, brown wig.

True to Dickens, Old Scrooge points out Dick Wilkins and mentions that "poor Dick" was "very much attached" to Young Scrooge without going into any more detail about what that means or whatever happened to Dick.

Fezziwig instructs Scrooge and Dick to put up the shutters, which is curious since there are so many other employees in the room as well. As Fezziwig's apprentices, maybe Scrooge and Dick have some kind of leadership responsibilities over the rest of the staff.

There's just one panel of the actual party and I couldn't pick out the fiddler in it. It's just a shot of people dancing with narrative text describing food and festivities of the evening. If Belle is there, she's not mentioned.

Scrooge watches most of this pensively, but there's a little smile on his face throughout. Text from Dickens tell us that "his heart and soul were in the scene," but he's not visually exuberant about it. Which is totally cool. The impression I get is that the scene is giving him some peace and I very much like that. I've been running a theory that this Scrooge's ghosts and visions may all be in his head and that his mind is working to heal itself after a lifetime of building unhealthy, perhaps even sociopathic walls between him and the rest of the world. He may or may not have supernatural assistance in this, but either way, Scrooge's brain would be trying to calm itself by recalling these scenes. And it seems to be working.

The text mentions Scrooge and Dick's "pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig," but it's during the party, not after. The party-goers don't even leave the warehouse until a couple of panels later as Scrooge is still defending Fezziwig's generosity.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (2008)

The Fezziwig scene gets five pages in Classical Comics' version by Sean Michael Wilson and Mike Collins, so there are a lot of details included that were missing from Classics Illustrated and Marvel's version. The first panel inside the warehouse has Scrooge and the Ghost looking up at Fezziwig from the floor below, so his desk is pretty high up there. And then later we see Fezziwig hopping down from it. He's wearing a wig, but it's not a Welsh wig and it's not powdered white either. It does look old-fashioned though. And Fezziwig is pleasantly plump.

Young Scrooge and Dick Wilkins look like preteens in this version, which isn't something I'd considered as a possibility. They're apprentices, so it makes sense; I'm just used to so many versions introducing Belle as a love interest at this point, so Scrooge is usually at romancing age: In his late teens or early twenties.

Scrooge refers to Dick as "poor Dick" and follows up with a "dear, dear," which is right out of Dickens. I didn't call attention to it when I reviewed Dickens' text, but "poor Dick" makes it sound like maybe something bad happened to young Mr Wilkins. Hard times or an untimely death? I don't think we ever find out, but Scrooge clearly feels sorry for his former friend. He also mentions that Dick "was very much attached to me," implying that maybe Scrooge didn't reciprocate Dick's attachment or appreciate the boy as much as Scrooge now feels he should have. It's another sign of growth, which is characteristic of Wilson and Collins' version. Their Scrooge is well on his way to becoming a better person.

Fezziwig calls for the boys to help close up the shop and clear away furniture for the party. And there's a panel showing them putting up the removable shutters. Another smaller panel has Young Scrooge sweeping up as Dick carries away a chair. And then the guests arrive.

There's a page-and-a-half dedicated just to dancing and fiddling and looking at food. The fiddler is never explicitly shown sitting at Fezziwig's desk, but there are a couple of close-up panels where he stops to mop his brow and then starts fiddling again, and behind him you can see the same bookshelf that was behind Fezziwig when he was at the desk. I like the attention to detail. The fiddler could have been stationed anywhere the way the panels are framed, but clearly Wilson and Collins are working to be as faithful as possible.

The party itself has no dialogue (except for some general merrymaking sound effects: "hurrah!" "whoop!" "hoho!" etc.) or even narrative text, so if you're not familiar with the story you don't know who everyone is. I spotted at least a couple of Fezziwig's daughters, but I didn't see any of their suitors and there's no way you'd know that any of the guests are people who've been marginalized by the rest of society. These just seem to be Fezziwig's friends and family.

Young Scrooge does have a dance partner in one panel, but she's not named and her hair appears to be a different shade from Belle's, once Belle appears in the following scene. I imagine that Scrooge's dance partner is just someone at the party - maybe even one of Fezziwig's daughters - and not someone he has a particular attachment to.

The narrative text reappears after the party to explain what Old Scrooge has been feeling during all of this (using Dickens' words, of course). And it fits with the expressions we've seen on Scrooge during the scene. He's wide-eyed and smiling; thoroughly taken in by the whole experience. And though there's no scene of Young Scrooge and Dick praising Fezziwig after the party, Old Scrooge of course gets to defend Fezziwig to the Ghost. And he looks sorrowfully thoughtful in the last panel as he expresses his desire to talk to Bob Cratchit just then.

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Noel Thingvall (Masters of Carpentry, Schumacast, Greystoked, Thundarr Road) and I take a sleigh ride to New England and spend the hunky-dunky holidays flippin' flapjacks with Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Una O'Connor, and SZ Sakall.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Essentiality of Magic

I've started reading Briana Saussy's book Making Magic. I'm not pagan, but my Celtic ancestors undoubtedly were and I increasingly share paganism's focus on and admiration of nature. What most attracted me to the book though was its promise to discuss "a way of directly engaging with the extraordinary in your everyday life." I'm skeptical by disposition, but like Fox Mulder, want to believe. And I do believe that there is much more in the universe than I'm aware of. Call it faith or magic or whatever you want, I love the idea that some things are best left mysterious and not fully knowable. And I paradoxically love that idea even as I can't help skeptically seeking to uncover those mysteries so that I can know and understand the truth behind them. It's a weird, inconsistent balance.

My hope for Saussy's book is that it'll help me embrace and celebrate and even seek out mysteries that I don't intend to solve. I'm encouraged by this passage early on:
"All mysteries, so we are told, have been discovered, named, bagged, and tagged. There is nothing unknown, nothing of wonder to find here, nothing to see. This conventional wisdom has been the greatest teacher in the present age, and it has taught us incorrectly. A world without wild things is greatly diminished; this we know. The same is true for lives lived without the touch of magic. In all places we look, magic is a mark carrying depth and scope, an essential ingredient for a life well lived."
I'm even more encouraged by this insightful and sensitive paragraph a couple of pages later. It begins with a warning about cultural appropriation and ends with reassurance that magic can be found wherever we live without stealing it from someone else:
"Many who seek magic look for it in faraway places and exotic lands, convinced that it has been housed and preserved in its pure form somewhere out there by indigenous peoples and tribes. The hard truth is that no culture exists in pristine form, unfractured, unfragmented. Further corrosion of these already damaged cultures takes place with each attempt to capture, cage, and smuggle out ways, traditions, and practices from their native lands, transplanting them, without thought to harm or health, into unfamiliar habitats that are not made to support them. Appropriation of indigenous cultural practices is often done in the belief that some people in some places have a deeper relationship to the things that matter than we are capable of in our wealthy, developed, formally educated societies. While it is true that there are tribes and communities of people who live within vast wilderness areas with a high diversity of wild creatures, it is also true that access to the wild animal that is magic has never been truly closed - even, sometimes especially, in the most urban concrete-and-asphalt streets or the most urbane boardrooms and classrooms, and even in such unlikely places as the digital realm. Our work is to see this and remember it. Furthermore, we shall come to realize that the intentional or unintentional theft of another person's or people's magic comes at great cost - the ignorance and neglect of our own deeper good and the harming of those we claim to hold in highest esteem."

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Deadwood, Season 1 (2004)

This month on Hellbent for Letterbox, Pax and I are celebrating Deadwood December, continuing our streak of weekly episodes through the end of the year and leading up to Hellbent's 75th episode! In this one, Pax and I start with the first season of the HBO series Deadwood from 2004.

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Marvel Classic Comics #36 (1978)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

Marvel gives two pages to Fezziwig's party in its adaptation. Weirdly (for Christmas Carol adaptations), Fezziwig appears to be just a normal, everyday businessman. He wears no wig of any kind, isn't even fat, and his desk is just the normal kind.

Dick Wilkins is named and Scrooge observes, "Look -- look what a good friend he was to me!" It's an odd exclamation, because at that moment Dick isn't really doing anything other than standing with Scrooge and receiving instructions from Fezziwig. But that doesn't really matter. Scrooge is feeling the emotion of his old friendship and it doesn't have to be because he's actually witnessing a particular act at the moment. Just seeing Young Scrooge and Dick together again is enough to trigger the memory.

Which makes me wonder now whatever happened to Dick. I don't think Dickens ever says and I've never thought about it before. Maybe he's dead by Scrooge's present?

Fezziwig instructs Scrooge and Dick to "have the shutters up" and "clear the room." We don't get to see them putting up the removable shutters, but there's a panel of them scooting desks and chairs away to make room for the food tables and dancing that will replace them.

As a crowd of people enter the room (the fiddler among them), a caption box lets us know about the guests. It mentions Fezziwig's three daughters and their "followers." The text also says that the other guests are made up of Fezziwig's other employees, both from the warehouse and in his household. There's no mention of anyone that makes Fezziwig sound like he's especially compassionate towards outsiders, though. He's very kind and generous towards his guests, but they're all already his people. Belle is not one of them either, but that's a) true to Dickens, and b) to be expected from a version that's already condensed for space.

So far Marvel's Scrooge has appeared to be seriously mentally ill. He had extreme mood swings and hallucinations in the opening scenes, but I found even more evidence at the schoolhouse flashback. That flashback may have been more therapeutic than I realized (in conjunction with the Ghost's possibly putting a healing touch on Scrooge's head), because Scrooge seems better at Fezziwig's. He enjoys watching the party and he defends Fezziwig's kindness when the Ghost facetiously questions it. And he looks appropriately remorseful when Fezziwig's kindness makes Scrooge think about his own treatment of Bob Cratchit. This is the first time I've actually felt any kind of hope for this Scrooge. I wonder if it'll continue to get better. Since most of my reading is based on trying to make sense of inconsistent art - which is a problem I doubt improves as the story progresses - I'm fearful that we're going to get a relapse at some point. Fingers crossed.

There's no scene of Young Scrooge and Dick praising Fezziwig after the party. As with the Classics Illustrated version, Old Scrooge's defense to the Ghost takes place during the party itself and then the Ghost whisks them both away to the next scene.

Monday, December 02, 2019

“Why, It’s Old Fezziwig!” | Classics Illustrated #53 (1948)

Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

The Classics Illustrated version is only a page-and-a-half, so as usual with this adaptation there's not much room for anything but laying out facts. And as with the schoolhouse scene, Fezziwig's warehouse and its inhabitants are just colorless, ghostly outlines: figures for Scrooge to observe, but there's no temptation to interact with them.

Fezziwig is a slightly overweight, jolly-looking man in an old-fashioned powdered wig. We see him at his desk, but only in close-up, so there's no telling how high the desk might be.

Dick Wilkins is named and a caption box identifies him as Scrooge's fellow apprentice (with a note to young readers that an apprentice is "one who is learning a trade"). There's no sense of Scrooge and Dick's relationship other than co-workers. Scrooge is excited to see him, but he's been enthusiastic about all of these visions so far. He might just be into the experience of seeing these memories brought to life. Although we did see signs of (supernaturally assisted) empathy at the schoolhouse, so maybe that's genuine pleasure Scrooge is feeling about seeing a former chum again.

Fezziwig instructs the boys to clear away the shop for the party, but we skip right past the preparations and go straight to a single panel of Scrooge watching ghostly people dancing. There's no mention of who any of them are and you can't even see the fiddler. Certainly there's no Belle.

There's also no sign of Fezziwig's being an especially kind person. He is kind and he certainly loves Christmas, but there are no signs that he takes a special interest in Scrooge or anyone else. There's not even a conversation between Scrooge and the Ghost about Fezziwig's effect on his employees. He's just a good, nice boss. 

Scrooge enjoys watching the party though and a caption tells us that "his heart and soul were in the scene." He's not necessarily learning any more empathy, but the Ghost is at least successful at lowering Scrooge's defenses and making him less mean. It's a small victory though and I still feel like this Scrooge has a long way to go before he sees a real need to change.

Of course there's no scene of Young Scrooge and Dick cleaning up after the party. Old Scrooge is still enjoying the scene when the Ghost says that they need to get moving. Time is growing short.


Related Posts with Thumbnails