Wednesday, December 30, 2020

AfterLUNCH | After Dinner Lounge - December 2020

Rob Graham, Evan Hanson, and I reconvene for another informal conversation about what we've been reading, watching, and thinking about lately.

Topics meander merrily, but start from:

  • Books like Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens' Christmas Books, The Devil’s Due by Bonnie MacBird, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and Becoming by Michelle Obama.
  • Comics like Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa
  • Movies like the original Black Christmas, this year's Fatman, and the documentary Pilgrims.
  • TV shows like Dicktown and Truth Seekers
  • And real talk on Holiday Traditions, Movie Theaters, and This Podcast.

Download or listen to the episode here.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Duel in the Sun (1946)

Shawn Robare returns to help Pax and I discuss the David O. Selznick mess, Duel in the Sun, featuring a legendary cast, but also six directors, a terrible script, and a central relationship that no one (including the movie) cares about. Happily, that makes for a great conversation anyway.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Merry Christmas! Mike Westfall (Advent Calendar House) joins me to wrap up not only this season of Sleigh Bell Cinema, but the whole podcast. Stay tuned to the end of the episode for details about why I'm ending the show, but I'll still be talking Christmas movies next year. Just in a different place.

For this one though, Mike (who was also the first guest on SBC) and I talk about the classic Miracle on 34th Street starring Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn, and John Payne. It's a beautiful movie and a great way to finish the year and the show. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Christmas Carol (2019), Chapter Three: A Bag of Gravel

All three of these posts have been spoiler filled, but since this one covers the end of the story, here's a BIG OL' SPOILER WARNING for it if you haven't seen this version and would like to.

Chapter Three opens where the previous episode left off. Bob Cratchit's wife Mary is walking through the streets of London on Christmas Morning to keep her appointment with Scrooge. She believes that she's going to have sex with him for the money she needs for Tiny Tim's operation, but that's not actually what Scrooge is interested in. 

As he mentioned in Chapter Two, this is an experiment. He doesn't have to actually sleep with her to prove his point. He just wants to see if she'll go through with it. And he does, letting her get naked before explaining that he's only concerned with proving that his world view is correct: that money is in fact the most important thing in the world; more valuable than even the virtue of a good wife and mother.

But there's a flaw in his calculation. He acknowledges that she wants the money for altruistic purposes, but he also dismisses that fact as unimportant. He's so focused on money as a goal in itself that he never considers that it's a secondary concern to Mary, nothing but a means to save her son.

At the end of the scene, Mary is humiliated and suggests that she has the power to call forth spirits to hold a mirror up to Scrooge so that he might one day see himself as he really is. She describes her power as innately feminine and I wish the miniseries dug into that more, but I accept that she has the power, wherever it comes from. It's a cool twist that this whole story has been instigated by her. (And there's an awesome suggestion at the end that she's ready to do it again for other people who need it.)

This pretty much wraps up the Christmas Past section and the chapter moves quickly through Christmases Present and Future. Present is represented by an older version of Scrooge's sister Lottie and Future is a creepy undertaker whose mouth is sewn shut to represent/explain his silence. I really dig Present's characterization of Future as a dark, terrible spirit and the final judge of Scrooge's fate that Scrooge's defenses and explanations will not sway. 

Both spirits take Scrooge to the Cratchit house as well as to see the survivors and family of the mine accident caused by his and Marley's negligent cost-cutting. Nephew Fred and his wife never appear again after the first chapter, which is too bad since they're a favorite part of Dickens' story for me, but this version is very honed in on the parts it's paying attention to.

Like with the previous chapters, everything is very explicit. Scrooge continues to actively resist the ghosts, which leads to a lot of conversations about the difference between him and the people he's observing. The ghosts also point out the exact moments when Scrooge makes steps towards feeling something for humanity. 

But as obvious as this stuff is, I was surprised not to miss the subtlety of Dickens' version. I like the conversations between Scrooge and Christmas Present, for example, when they're watching the Cratchits and the Ghost explains the advantages of having love instead of money. This adaptation is not about Scrooge having a quiet, gradual change. it's about the power of the ideas themselves. 

And that stays true through the end. At the end of Future's visit, when it's time for Scrooge to repent, he surprisingly refuses to, but not because he lacks remorse. His compassion has been awakened enough that he sees the value of love and wants to express it with other people. But he also stubbornly insists on not explaining or apologizing, because he doesn't want forgiveness. The things he's done are unforgivable. All he can do is try in the Present to be better in the Future. 

All in all, I really liked this version. It has a brand new approach to interpreting the story and I very much appreciate that about it. That's also why it can never be a definitive version for me, but I like what it adds to the discussion of Dickens' story and it's one I'll want to revisit from time to time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Christmas Carol (2019), Chapter Two: The Human Heart

There are a couple of big changes in Chapter Two of the FX Christmas Carol, but before I get to those, the biggest surprise was that it only covers part of the Ghost of Christmas Past, leaving the rest of that Ghost and the other two Ghosts for the third chapter. 

I guess that makes sense with Chapter One's having Marley receive his orders from Christmas Past. That spirit seems to be running the show here. I'm curious how big a part the other two spirits will even play. All three are needed in Dickens' story, but this one seems to have Past doing the heaviest lifting.

And heavy lifting is needed. Scrooge is openly defiant of the spirits in this version, literally challenging them to change him as he actively resists. It's a little weird, but I don't hate it. His openness about what he's thinking and feeling should make it easy to see where the most powerful transitions come.

The huge change in the schoolhouse scene is that Scrooge's father hasn't just neglected his son, he's prostituted him to the schoolmaster in exchange for free tuition. Scrooge's dad has gone bankrupt and sounds like he was a pretty awful person even before the stress of losing all his money. Instead of allowing Scrooge to come home for the holidays, he has Scrooge stay at school where the schoolmaster can abuse him. 

So when Scrooge's sister (renamed Lottie in this version for some reason) comes to bring Scrooge home, she comes with a gun. Dad isn't kinder than he used to be, he's dead, opening the door for Lottie to mount a literal, heroic rescue. Young Scrooge doesn't see all of this though. He knows about how evil his Dad was, but doesn't realize just how much risk his sister took because she loved him.

The lesson Young Scrooge took from this fits with what Belle tells him in Dickens' book. She says that he "fears the world too much" and here we see why. In the book, we see his loneliness and there's a light connection between that and poverty. Old Scrooge pursues wealth as a way of gaining control over his life, though, ironically, it makes him just as lonely as he was back at the school. For better or worse, the FX version is less subtle, closely tying Scrooge's fear to the powerlessness of being poor in a horrible, dramatic way.

This version skips Fezziwig entirely to focus on Scrooge and Marley's heartless acquisition of businesses to either dismantle and sell them for a profit or to cut expenditures to the point that they endanger the lives of their workers. It's all very timely stuff and also very on-the-nose, which are also both descriptions of this adaptation as a whole. Again, for better or worse. I feel like it works in some instances and doesn't in others, but I can definitely see why viewers are divided about whether or not they like it.

The chapter ends with the revelation of where Mary Cratchit got that money she needed for Tiny Tim's operation seven years ago. Bob was too proud to ask Scrooge for it, so Mary went privately with a proposal to garnish Bob's wages until they were able to pay Scrooge back. Scrooge rejected that plan, but proposed one of his own, which would prostitute Mary for the money. He claims that it's an experiment in morality; he wants to see which is worth more to her: her fidelity to Bob or the life of her son. As the chapter ends, she's agreed to Scrooge's indecent proposal, but we'll have to wait until Chapter Three to find out exactly what happened (though we know that she did get the money). 

I'm curious to see how this all wraps up. Scrooge is a monster in this one. That's tempered by his love for animals, but I've never seen a version of him this nasty or resistant to change. I truly don't know what to expect from his transformation and wonder how complete it will even be. 

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Elf (2003)

My wife Diane joins me to talk about the modern Christmas classic Elf, why it hasn't been a part of our annual Christmas watching, and how it maybe should be.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Christmas Carol (2019), Chapter One: The Human Beast

I'm usually a year behind on new Christmas movies, so I didn't see the FX mini-series adaptation of A Christmas Carol until this year. I've heard that it's especially odd and several people have asked what I think of it, so I'm going to watch it in its three parts and comment on each of them separately. With each episode taking an hour to tell only a fraction of the story, I'm curious to see what events they expand on.

Chapter One covers everything up through Marley's visit and spends its extra time in three areas. One is Scrooge and Cratchit's workday on Christmas Eve. I was surprised to see Scrooge lay out four pieces of coal for Cratchit's use before Cratchit even arrived. Scrooge also stains his shirt on that fourth piece, which he humorously regrets as just payment for trying to do something nice. There's another moment later in the episode where Scrooge is kind to a couple of chilly horses, so this version is going out of its way not only to humanize Scrooge, but to show that he's not yet irredeemable. 

Once Cratchit arrives, he and Scrooge argue about the appropriate time for Cratchit to go home. Cratchit's asking for an hour early, but Scrooge has an assignment that he thinks will take Cratchit all day to complete. When Cratchit finishes it early (and perfectly), Scrooge points out the humor in Cratchit's doing it to spite Scrooge, when Scrooge has no reason to be anything other than pleased. Cratchit is a smart, capable, funny guy who doesn't mind letting Scrooge know what he really thinks of him. Scrooge points out the precariousness of Cratchit's situation, but Cratchit seems to think that if Scrooge were going to fire him, he'd have done it by now.

During all of this, Scrooge's nephew Fred comes to visit and I don't like that he says this is his last year inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner. Fred says that the ultimatum is his wife's idea, but that doesn't soften it for me. Part of what I love about Fred is his relentlessness in reaching out to his uncle. Scrooge continually slaps the hand away and Fred keeps on extending it. It's uncharacteristic to have Fred reach his limit.

The charitable solicitors also appear in the episode, but they're just on the street collecting like the Salvation Army and Scrooge starts an argument with them.

The second thing Chapter One expands on is Cratchit's family, which is ironic considering that the number of people in it has shrunk considerably. Gone are Peter, Martha, and the two younger siblings, so that Belinda and Tiny Tim are the only kids left. I guess that Martha could show up on Christmas Day, since she doesn't live with them even in the book, but no one mentions her. 

The big addition here is that someone once gave the family some money that helped them through a crisis with Tiny Tim's health. Mary Cratchit claims that it was an American cousin, but there's a lot of reason to disbelieve that story. She questions why Tim continues to write thank you notes, claiming that they're not necessary. Bob doesn't understand why not since the help saved Tim's life. Mary is also inconsistent with the spelling of her alleged cousin's name. And when she offers to post the thank you letter, she ultimately burns it. I've heard some spoilers about what might actually be going on here, but I don't know for sure and would rather pretend I don't know anything at all until the mini-series unfolds it for me.

Finally, and I've saved the biggest for last, Chapter One expands on Jacob Marley and his journey towards becoming Scrooge's door-knocker (and hopeful savior). I love the idea of building out this part of the story, because the book is pretty vague about it outside of a couple of lines of dialogue. And I'm intrigued by how it plays out here. Marley has apparently been kept conscious in his coffin for the last seven years, but is finally taken to Purgatory this year where he's presented with his chains (by a blacksmith who is also the spirit of a man who died in one of Marley and Scrooge's factories). Marley also has a pre-Scrooge meeting with the Ghost of Christmas Past that I don't totally understand, but that might become more clear once I've seen the rest.

The thing I don't like about all of this is how - like with Fred - the adaptation changes Marley's character. In Dickens, Marley tells Scrooge that he himself procured Scrooge's chance and hope of escaping Marley's fate. In other words, it was his idea to return and warn Scrooge. In this adaptation, the spirits explain to Marley that his fate is tied to Scrooge's. Since they were partners in so much evil, they both need to repent of it. Marley has repented, but Scrooge hasn't. And unless Scrooge does, the two of them will be doomed together. This makes Marley's actions selfish. Instead of begging year after year for the chance to go and save his only friend and finally being given permission to do so, he's roped into it in service to his own self-interest. I'm not into it.

The look of the series is pretty great though - dark and spooky - and I like Guy Pearce's not young, but younger, more vital Scrooge. He's an fascinating character that I'm interested in exploring with the series. Some glitches in Fred and Marley's characterizations notwithstanding, I'm liking it so far.

Monday, December 21, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Patrick Stewart (1999)

The TNT adaptation of this scene opens with Old Scrooge and the Ghost in the foreground of a park, watching as Young Scrooge and Belle walk towards them along a wet, leafy path. Old Scrooge knows what's coming. "The years change people," he says. "I don't wish to look, sir."

He turns to walk away, but the Spirit grabs him by his clothing and physically turns him back towards the couple. "You must," the Ghost says. It's not quite the manhandling that Dickens describes when the Ghost forces Scrooge to look at the vision of Belle's family, but it's reminiscent of that. And since that second vision doesn't appear in this version, I like the reference.

We cut to Young Scrooge and Belle who are already mid-conversation. She's not wearing mourning clothes, so the conversation hasn't started because of a change in her fortunes. Scrooge is making his "There's nothing the world is so hard on as poverty" speech and Belle tells him that he fears the world too much. We don't know what any of this is in reference to, but I can imagine that it's just a philosophical disagreement so far. She may not have accused him of anything yet. 

But she soon does. She crosses the path to a little bench and sits down, explaining that his current philosophy is indicative of his changed attitude about wealth. She's clearly given this a lot of thought - in fact, she says so outright - and is pained by the conclusion she's reached. From her face, she's also rather disgusted by it. Not by him specifically, perhaps, but by his attitude and what it's done to the person she fell in love with. 

Young Scrooge is engaged in the conversation. He thinks they're having an argument that he can talk his way out of. But Belle has already made up her mind. The camera keeps cutting back to Old Scrooge who watches all of this with distress. When Belle says that she can finally release Scrooge, his older self cries, "No! No!"

She asks him if he would seek her out and try to win her now if he had it to do over again. He can't answer and looks away from her, but it bothers him that he can't. He realizes that she's probably right, but I don't think he's ever thought about it before. She looks sad as she sighs and nods in understanding. She answers for him. "No."

He still can't look at her, but makes a face and shakes his head. "You think not?" It's a feeble answer.

"I know you wouldn't, my love." There's such compassion in her face and this isn't the last time she'll call him "my love" in the conversation. She really wants this to be going differently.

So does Old Scrooge. He steps forward and pleads with his younger self. "Speak to her!" He looks desperately at the Ghost. "Why doesn't he speak to her?!" Oh, to be able to go back and change this moment.

But Young Scrooge is finally starting to see himself through Belle's eyes and it's awakening him to the person he's become. He scowls thoughtfully, but doesn't argue with her anymore.

She finishes her goodbyes and leaves. Old Scrooge tells his young self to go after her and - surprisingly - the young man leans forward to stand up. But he catches himself and sits back. 

"Don't be afraid!" Old Scrooge cries, literally. "Go after her!

Belle even looks back at Young Scrooge a couple of times to see if he'll come, but he's made up his mind now. She eventually disappears into the fog and snow.

Old Scrooge has now had enough and demands to be taken home. Which, surprisingly, the Ghost immediately does. They're immediately back in Scrooge's house and he's climbing the stairs as the Ghost stands at the bottom and watches Scrooge walk away.

I've loved the emotion in this version and the performances are excellent all around, but the scene ends in a weird way that I don't care for. Scrooge is headed back to bed and the Ghost is just letting him go, but Scrooge stops on the stairs and turns back around. "Haunt me no longer!" he screams. It's weird, because I get the impression that the Ghost is already done haunting him. The visions are over and Scrooge is free. Why the outburst?

The Ghost, cryptically, just shakes his head. He could be saying, "No, I won't bother you anymore," or, "No, I'm not listening to you; there's more to come." I don't know that Scrooge even understands, but apparently what's bothering him is that the Ghost is even still there. He hurries back down the stairs, grabs the Ghost's extinguisher cap, and forces it down over the Ghost's head. 

It's a struggle for Scrooge. The Ghost isn't visibly resisting, but Scrooge still has to put a lot of effort into getting that cap to the floor. And even when it's there - like in Dickens - light still spills brightly out from around the base. It's so much light that Scrooge even has to put up his hands to shield his face from it. 

He's still doing that when the shot fades to black (for a commercial break, I assume). When we come back, Scrooge will be asleep in his own bed.

AfterLUNCH | Christmas TV Episodes

Christian Nielsen and new guest Karen Flieger join Rob and I to talk about our favorite Christmas episodes of TV shows. In discussions of The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Friends, and Justice League, the Clampetts learn about the politics of gift-giving, the Stephens' help an orphan boy discover the spirit of the season, Ross tries to teach his son about Hanukkah after a lifetime of Santa, and Superman invites Martian Manhunter home for the holidays. 

Featuring music by Straight No Chaser. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Michael Caine (1992)

Like so many other versions, The Muppet Christmas Carol introduced Belle at Fezziwig's (I'm sorry, "Fozziwig's") party and has the breakup scene out of doors. As introduced at the party, this Young Scrooge 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. Fozziwig called him "the finest young financial mind in the city" and I sense that this version of Scrooge is sort of a prodigy when it comes to business. So much so that he wasn't able to fully enjoy Fozziwig's party because he saw all the red it put in the accounting books. Now that same business genius is going to keep him from fully enjoying or appreciating Belle.

When this scene opens, Belle is complaining that he's put off their wedding for another year. And we'll find out during the conversation that it's not the first time. She's not wearing mourning clothes, so instead of her parents' recently dying, it sounds like this new delay is the reason for her deciding finally to end things.

Young Scrooge is pretty patronizing when he tells her that the delay can't be helped, like he's explaining it to a child. They don't have enough money saved away for a decent home; his investments haven't paid out like he hoped. But she's heard all of this before.

She points out the progress that they've made. He's a partner in his own firm now. But he claims that they're barely clearing expenses. She thought the partnership was the goal, but he keeps coming up with extra reasons to hold off the marriage. He claims that he loves her and that he's doing it for her, but she's run out of patience.

This is a serendipitous year to be talking about this scene, because the Muppet version of it has a complicated story. As originally shot, Muppet Christmas Carol included a song called "When Love Is Gone" in this scene. After Young Scrooge insists that he does love Belle, she says, "You did once," and begins to sing:
There was a time when I was sure
That you and I were truly one
That our future was forever
And would never come undone
And we came so close to being close
And though you cared for me
There's distance in your eyes tonight
So we're not meant to be

The love is gone
The love is gone
The sweetest dream
That we have ever known
The love is gone
The love is gone
I wish you well
But I must leave you now alone

There comes a moment in your life
Like a window and you see
Your future there before you
And how perfect life can be
But adventure calls with unknown voices
Pulling you away
Be careful or you may regret
The choice you make someday
During all of this, she gets up and moves away from him. He follows her a couple of times, but finally she moves away again and he stays put, ultimately turning and walking away to leave her alone to finish the song.
When love is gone
When love is gone
The sweetest dream
That we have ever known
When love is gone
When love is gone
I wish you well
But I must leave you now alone
At this point, Old Scrooges walks into the frame behind her to join her in a duet.
It was almost love
It was almost always
It was like a fairytale we'd live out you and I
And yes, some dreams come true
And yes, some dreams fall through
And yes, the time has come for us to say goodbye
Yes, some dreams come true
And yes, some dreams fall through
Yes, the time has come for us to say goodbye
Or he tries to, anyway. He breaks down about halfway through, weeping openly as she finishes alone, looks back at the direction Young Scrooge has gone, then walks away herself. It's super emotional and gets me every time. And it's no wonder that when Belle passes Gonzo and Rizzo, Rizzo is sobbing his tiny little eyes out.

The problem was that Disney's Studio Chairman at the time, Jeffrey Katzenberg, thought the scene was too emotional and adult for kids to sit through, so he had it cut from the theatrical release. It was added back in for the VHS release, but the footage was lost shortly after that. So on my DVD copy, I have the choice of either watching the widescreen theatrical release without the song, or a crappy pan-and-scan VHS transfer with the song. Frankly, I usually choose the widescreen version, but it's always jarring to go from Belle's "You did (love me) once" to Rizzo's passionate bawling. It's still a sad scene without the song, but it's so much more powerful with it.

And that's before we even bring up the reprise/sequel of "When Love Is Gone" at the end of the movie, retitled "When Love Is Found." Again, it works just fine without knowing that there was an earlier version of the song that the finale is mirroring, but it's way more effective with that balance intact.

Happily, this year the scene (like Love) was found and is going to be added back into the movie for its 4K remaster release.

Getting back to the movie, the Ghost doesn't show Scrooge a final vision of Belle's family without him. He still has tears in his eyes as he pleads, "Spirit, show me no more." And he adds, "Why do you delight in torturing me?"

He resents it when she reminds him that these visions are what they are because of his own decisions. "Leave me!" he says, angrily. And she does without argument or his having to attack or extinguish her. She just disappears as the vision darkens and he's returned to his bedroom.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | George C Scott (1984)

Clive Donner's version is another that places this scene outside in a park. It follows the end of the Fezziwig scene where Dick Wilkins and Young Scrooge mused that the party was a night "never to be forgotten." But, as the Spirit said, "You did forget. Often." And she shows him another Christmas Eve where he was "delayed by the pressures of business."

Young Scrooge is walking quickly through the park to meet Belle who's waiting for him on a bench. He apologizes for being late, but she's too upset to forgive him. "I thought you might not come," she says. "I know how busy you are."

He sits and agrees with her that he is very busy. She can't even look at him when she says, "Another idol has displaced me," and she comes across as jealous. When she talks about how money engrosses him, she's disgusted. He tries to blow it off. "Perhaps I've become wiser, but I have not changed towards you." And he seems to mean it. He doesn't deny what she's saying about his shifting priorities, but he wants her to be a part of them.

After a quick look at Old Scrooge watching sadly, we cut back to the couple who are now up and walking. She asks if he would still be interested in her if he was able to do it all over again. She's not wearing mourning clothes, but she refers to herself as "a dowerless girl with nothing but myself to bring to a marriage." She's sure she knows the answer and is angry with him for it.

He doesn't answer right away, but just looks ashamed. "You have no answer," she presses.

He thinks about it some more, but can't bring himself to protest. "You think I would not then?" 

I love her disgusted response. "Oh, Ebenezer, what a safe and terrible answer!" And she breaks up with him and walks away.

He stands there and watches her go. He has a stunned look on his face and he plays with his cane as if he's about to follow her, but can't bring himself to do it. "I almost went after her," Old Scrooge confesses.

The Spirit acknowledges that Young Scrooge wasn't yet heartless at the time and she asks him why he didn't go after her. Old Scrooge explains that on his father's death, he was left a small inheritance that Scrooge and Belle apparently disagreed about how to spend. Belle wanted to get married right away and live on the inheritance, but Scrooge insisted on investing it. And, he points out, those investments paid off and he's become a wealthy man.

The Ghost sneers at this. "You have explained what you gained. Now I will show you what you have lost."

She doesn't have to forcibly restrain Scrooge to make him watch the vision of Belle's family. He doesn't seem to know what's coming, so he doesn't protest. In fact, he seems delighted at first by seeing all her kids.

It's another outdoor scene, this time with Belle and her children waiting in front of their house for Belle's husband to come home. Belle is holding a baby and there are a bunch of kids playing in the snowy yard. I count about ten with a couple of servants helping build a snowman or pull one of the children in a little sled. Even though there are a lot of kids though, they're well behaved and orderly; not nearly the chaotic herd that Dickens describes.

A carriage arrives and Father gets out. He's carrying presents, but leaves them in the carriage to greet his quietly gathering family. No one attacks him for gifts and the closest anyone comes is when one of the girls asks politely where her present is. Father kindly insists that she and all the rest will have to wait until that night "as usual."

Old Scrooge spells out the point of the scene. "Fancy, they might have been mine." It's an unnecessary observation, but at least it lets us know that he gets it. He doesn't seem upset about it though. It's the tradeoff the Ghost mentioned. This is what he lost to gain his financial success. He understands, but seems okay with the sacrifice.

His tune changes though when Belle's husband tells her about seeing Scrooge "quite alone in the world" with Marley's dying. Belle turns very sad. "Poor Ebenezer," she says. "Poor, wretched man."

"Spare me your pity!" Scrooge commands. "I have no need of it!"

The Ghost's tactics have backfired in this version, I think. This Spirit has been haughty and condescending with Scrooge and he hasn't reacted well. He enjoyed the party and he was reminded of his love for Belle, but he's also accepted that giving her up was a reasonable sacrifice. This Scrooge has always been presented as confident and comfortable with his stinginess, never miserable. He may have feared the world when he was younger, but he's taken control and conquered that fear. He doesn't yet see the need for love.

And he definitely doesn't want to be felt sorry for. He's too proud for that and has had enough of the Spirit. He demands that she leave him and haunt him no longer and when she just grins impudently at him, he grabs her cap and forces it down over her.

She doesn't resist, but simply says over and over again, "Truth lives!" There's a bright ring of light where the cap meets the floor, but even that goes out as Scrooge keeps pressing down. And then he's in his bedroom, on the floor, twisting and pressing a rug.

Friday, December 18, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Albert Finney (1970)

I cut off the Fezziwig scene a bit too early last year while talking about the musical Scrooge. Old Scrooge was sitting with the Ghost out of the way on a storage mezzanine, singing a melancholy ode to Isabelle as he watched his younger self dance with her. As the couple danced, the scene dissolved into a montage of other occasions during their courtship. They go boating on a little river, compete in an archery contest (she's better at it than he is), and go riding through the countryside in a little carriage (which is where Scrooge proposes to her). 

During all of this, Isabelle sings a song called "Happiness" in which she declares that the feeling isn't as intangible as people say, because it's incarnated itself in the young man she's with, Ebenezer Scrooge. Another constant during the montage is that Isabelle and Scrooge are always accompanied by her parents, Mr and Mrs Fezziwig. 

Young Scrooge keeps looking at the older couple and it took me a while to figure out why that was. I finally decided that he wasn't irritated at their constant presence. They always maintain a discreet distance from the younger couple, for one thing, but also, Scrooge doesn't look irritated. Instead, I think he's captivated by the older couple's relationship. I think he's seeing it as something he wants for himself. It's easy to understand why considering his lonely childhood.

When the montage ends, it doesn't lead directly into the break-up scene. It goes back to Fezziwig's party where Old Scrooge and the Ghost are still sitting and watching the dance. The montage, it turns out, wasn't a move forward in time, but most likely a flashback to events before the party. It's hard to tell, but I believe I spot an engagement ring on Isabelle's finger during the party.

Isabelle's "Happiness" fades back into Old Scrooge's sad song that he was singing earlier:

You, you were good for me.
You were my day.
You did all you could for me.
I let you go away.

"I did love her, you know," he tells the Ghost.

"Did you?" she wonders. "Then why did you let her go?"

He doesn't take his eyes off the dancers. "I've never been quite sure."

"Then let us go and see," she says.

Now we're in Scrooge's office as Belle comes in. She's wearing a fancy, sort of copper-colored dress with white fur trim. Definitely not in mourning, but she announces that she's come to say, "Goodbye." "I'm going away, Ebenezer. You will not see me again."

She's calm and collected about it, but Young Scrooge is utterly confused. I like how she uses visual aides to explain. When she talks about the "lady" who's replaced her in his heart, she picks up some coins from a little chest on his desk and shows them to him. Later in the conversation, she'll put her engagement ring on a scale with a couple of coins and show them to weigh heavier in terms of material gain.

Scrooge is upset and launches into his "there is nothing on which the world is so hard as poverty" defense. The conversation goes for a while as Dickens scripted it, emphasizing Scrooge's fear of hardship and suffering. In all of this though, Scrooge is emphatic that he still loves and wants to marry Isabelle and I believe him. As with the moments at Fezziwig's dance, this is an especially heartbreaking version of this scene. Isabelle can't follow Scrooge down the path he's chosen, but he desperately wants her to. 

Old Scrooge takes it particularly hard. Young Scrooge has gotten up from his desk and is moving around the office. I think he's partly just keeping busy and mellowing out the emotions of the conversation with at least the appearance of work. He throws Isabelle a glance every now and then, but mostly he just lets her talk. But at one point he says that he finds it impossible to talk about personal affairs during business hours, so maybe he just really is that distracted by the pressures of the workday and wants to take up this conversation with Isabelle later when he can focus on it.

Old Scrooge argues with her though, even if she can't hear him. He did love her, he insists. He still does. The Ghost shushes him though. "I'm trying to listen!" But Old Scrooge is very emotional. As his younger self sits back at the desk and listens to the rest of Isabelle's speech, Old Scrooge screams at him to say something. Young Scrooge is clearly hurt, he's even covering his mouth with a fist, holding back his emotions, but he remains silent. He wants to say something, but the only thing that will have an effect on her is for him to change something that has become fundamental to himself. And he's just too terrified to do that. He loves her, but his fear is stronger.

Old Scrooge pleads with Isabelle not to go. "It's a mistake!" But she leaves and only then does Young Scrooge call out her name. He even goes to the door to maybe try to catch her, but she's gone and he doesn't pursue any further. He sits back at the desk and looks thoughtfully at the door. He doesn't like what's happening, but he lets it happen. The alternative is too big a sacrifice.

"You fool!" Old Scrooge shouts at him. Then more quietly, "You fool." He walks over to the window and sees Isabelle walking alone through the snowy street. He picks up the sad song he was singing earlier.

I let you go away
And now I can see.
Now you're a dream gone by.
For how could there be
Such a fool as I?

I who must travel on,
What hope for me?
Dream where my past has gone;
Live with the memory.

You, my only hope.
You, my only love.
You, you, you...

He is utterly wrecked, just staring out the window like he's in shock as he humbly requests, "Spirit, remove me from this place. I can bear it no more."

And mercifully, she does. He's immediately back in his bed, holding his pillow and weeping. 

AfterLUNCH | Fantastic Four Films

With Disney's recent announcement that there's a new Fantastic Four movie coming that will be part of the MCU, it's a great time to discover a lost podcast episode about the four FF films so far. From the no-longer-with-us Geek Fallout: The Comic Book Episodes, host Erik Johnson leads a discussion with Nerd Lunch/AfterLUNCH regulars Paxton Holley and Evan Hanson about Fantastic Four (2015), Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and The Fantastic Four (1994).

Thursday, December 17, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Fredric March (1954)

I forgot to mention something last year about the Shower of Stars adaptation that's pretty important. When Scrooge first met the Ghost of Christmas Past, he remarked that "You resemble her so much." When Belle is introduced at Fezziwig's party, it's confirmation that Scrooge was referring to her. Sally Fraser plays both roles and there's even a moment at the party where Old Scrooge looks at the vision of Belle, then stares closely at the Ghost to make sure he's not imagining it. Having the Ghost resemble someone from the Ghost's time period is a gimmick that this version will come back to, too.

As noted last year, this version takes big liberties with the Fezziwig scene, not only by introducing Belle during it (which a lot of adaptations do), but also by turning Fezziwig into a wealthy man with the ball taking place at his mansion. He's not snobbish about his guest list though and has invited his employee Scrooge as well as Belle, whom we learned last year is a clerk in a shop. I didn't think of it at the time, but maybe it's a shop that Fezziwig owns, making her another of his employees. That would explain her presence at the party. Though she could also be a family friend of some kind.

Anyway, this version continues the changes by setting the break-up scene at Fezziwig's party. Belle certainly isn't in mourning as we intrude mid-discussion on an argument she's having with Young Scrooge. "But that is not what I meant," he's saying, suggesting that their disagreement is over something that he thoughtlessly said.

She goes right into, "Oh, Ebenezer, I've seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one." So apparently whatever he said betrayed some kind of greedy or miserly sentiment. They have an extremely abbreviated version of the traditional conversation, ending with her saying, "You'd never choose a dowerless girl. Perhaps you'll never choose any." That last observation of course turns out to be true, but I don't understand why she says it. And she runs off to another room before Scrooge can ask her any questions. He doesn't follow her, but just marches off to a different part of the house.

This is all even more awkward being set at Fezziwig's party. Earlier, Young Scrooge was looking forward to seeing Belle and dancing with her. And when she came in late, she also seemed happy and eager to see him. They smiled all through their song together. So it doesn't at all look like Scrooge's feelings toward her have grown cold. Instead, what it looks like is that she showed up at the party already feeling bad about their relationship, but was good at hiding it. Scrooge probably has become more greedy and clutching recently and it's made her unhappy, but she's put a brave face on it until he said whatever he said to set her off. That's a believable scenario to me and especially heartbreaking because it takes Scrooge by such surprise. I mean, seconds ago they were singing together about their dreams for the future and now... they have no future. 

As Old Scrooge watches, the Ghost disappears from his side, which makes it weird that he waits until then to shout, "No more!" and back his way through the doors that he and Ghost had come through. This leads Scrooge into his apartment and we cut to the street below his window where a town crier is calling the two o'clock hour.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Alastair Sim (1951)

It's funny to me that after the Reginald Owen Christmas Carol skips this scene altogether, Alastair Sim's classic version more than compensates with a super extended look at not just Scrooge's fiancée, but a bunch of other stuff from Scrooge's past, none of which is in the book.

I remember the first time I watched this version. I was entranced by all of these apocryphal scenes. I'll run through them in a minute, but I loved the additional backstory and how it fleshed out Scrooge's descent into greed and misery. These days, having seen this version so many time, I get a little impatient with the extra material, but I'm still glad that someone decided to go there and fill all that in. (Although, like with the animated Sim version, it's hard to believe that all of these scenes take place at Christmas, so the Ghost feels out of bounds showing it.)

Before we get to the break-up scene, the Spirit shows Scrooge the following things:
  • Fezziwig's refusing to sell his old-fashioned, family business to an industrialist named Mr Jorkin who wants to modernize it. Jorkin is understanding, but patronizing. And Fezziwig seems to know that his way of doing business is probably doomed, but he's ready to die on that hill as a matter of principle. Young Scrooge is in the office, too, and eavesdrops on the conversation with interest. He then has his own discussion with Jorkin when Fezziwig is called away to deal with something in the shop. Scrooge attempts to defend Fezziwig's ideals, but Jorkin tests him by offering him a job in a new factory that will offer much higher wages.
  • Fan dies after giving birth to Fred. Scrooge is at her bedside and is furious at the baby (and Fan's husband) for killing her. He leaves when she goes unconscious and isn't there when she wakes up long enough to request deliriously that Scrooge take care of her boy. Old Scrooge hears her though, getting this information for the first time in his life, and he breaks down, begging her forgiveness. 
  • Scrooge starts work as an accountant with Jorkin's new factory and meets the other clerk, Jacob Marley. Scrooge confides to Marley that he thinks the world has become a hard and cruel place and that people must become hard to survive it. While he admired Fezziwig's philosophy, Scrooge also saw that it was leading his former employer to ruin.
  • Jorkin's company has bought out Fezziwig's and the new management is moving in. Scrooge agrees to let one of Fezziwig's employees stay on at a reduced salary, but can't bring himself to talk with Fezziwig himself when he has the chance.
Doing this project, I feel like I'm finally getting a handle on the Spirits' tactics and why they're effective on Scrooge. It has to do with his abandonment and neglect as a child and his fear of ending up like that again. His accumulation of wealth is all about control, which is why he's a miser with it (and also why you'll never catch Scrooge sliding on ice - voluntarily giving up control - the way other characters do in the various versions). Scrooge doesn't crave money so that he can spend it. He needs it so that he can feel secure. And he's instinctively suspicious (and I think, deep down, extremely jealous) of people like Fred who are willing to give up that safety net for love. 

Dickens is pretty subtle with his clues though, so I understand the desire for a movie like this to try to spell things out a little more clearly. Instead of Scrooge's dislike of Fred being out of jealousy for Fred's loving marriage, it's because of a side plot about Fan's death. The stuff about Jorkin and Fezziwig stays on point though and I think gets across the idea that Scrooge is making these decisions out of fear.

At this point, we see Alice (this movie's version of Belle) break up with Scrooge. The vision opens with her staring out a window in a house as the Spirit declares that "she is not changed by the harshness of the world." She's chosen love over fear.

She's not wearing black and doesn't appear to be in mourning, but one of the nice things about this version is that we've actually got to see Scrooge's gradual change in his attitude towards the world. Their conversation makes even more sense in the context of the preceding scenes.

There's a big change in the dialogue that continues the adaptation's trend of humanizing Scrooge. When Alice asks if he'd still propose to her today if he hadn't already agreed to it in the past, he hesitates, but declares, "Of course I would." That's much different from his non-answer in the book where he puts it back on her with, "You think not." 

She doesn't believe him though and releases him. He angrily snatches up her ring where she's left it on a table, saying that he must bow to her conviction. He's ticked at her for breaking up with him and I don't think it's just wounded pride. I think he still loves her and wants to make it work, but she's forcing the issue because he's going down a path she can't accompany him on. Some of the other versions suggest that she's presenting him with a choice: money or me. And he chooses money. This feels more real than that. She's not offering him a choice, she's just breaking it off and he can't do anything but accept it, which is super painful. 

This is apparently her house, because he storms out and leaves her there by herself where she breaks down. This is another aftermath that Young Scrooge never witnessed, but Old Scrooge has to. Like in the book, he tries to get out of seeing any more, but the Ghost declares that they're not done yet. Instead of peeking in on what happened to Alice though, we have some more scenes from Scrooge's life:
  • Jorkin is accused of embezzling company funds and is being threatened with criminal prosecution by his partners. Scrooge (played by Alastair Sim from this point on) and Marley offer to pay off the discrepancy and save the company, but under the condition that they be given enough shares to control the company when all is done. They're now shrewd, cold businessmen.
  • Marley's housekeeper Mrs Dilber arrives at the office to let Cratchit know that Marley is on his deathbed. If Scrooge wants to say goodbye before Marley dies, he'd better get over there now. Cratchit delivers the message, but Scrooge refuses to leave until the office has officially closed in another couple of hours. Mrs Dilber, who is completely awesome in this version, says that she'll "try and get Mr Marley to hold out 'til then, I'm sure."
  • Scrooge leaves at the close of business, as promised. Cratchit tries to offer condolences, but Scrooge is completely cold and not having it. They have the same conversation about Cratchit's wanting all of Christmas Day off work that they will seven years from now in the main story, implying that this is an annual discussion that gets no easier for either one of them. "Every Christmas you say the same thing," Scrooge says. "And every Christmas it's just as inconvenient as it was the Christmas before."
  • Scrooge arrives at Marley's, which is the same house that Scrooge inhabits in the present day. Mrs Dilber and the undertaker are waiting for him at the top of the stairs. Scrooge mocks the undertaker for being there so promptly and the undertaker explains that his "is a highly competitive business." I like how that plays into the scene in Christmas Future where both he and Mrs Dilber will sell items to Old Joe that they've pilfered from the dead Scrooge. 
  • Scrooge goes into Marley's bedroom (same as Scrooge's bedroom later) and Marley is still barely alive. He can barely talk, but he looks miserable and desperate. "We were wrong," he manages to get out. "Save yourself." It's horrible and wonderful. Marley dies before he can explain further.
  • Scrooge signs the death register at Marley's funeral as the Ghost explains that Scrooge also inherited Marley's wealth and house as well as his half of their business. The Ghost points out that Scrooge was emotionless during this scene, except for the greed he felt over Marley's possessions.
With this last vision, the scene dissolves back to Scrooge's bed where Scrooge is now lying and moaning in his sleep, "No no no no no..."

Advent Calendar House | The Little Drummer Boy

My friend Mike Westfall has an excellent podcast called Advent Calendar House that's all about TV Christmas specials. He was an inspiration for Sleigh Bell Cinema as well as the first guest on it. And he'll be a guest on it again before this year is done. 

Anyway, I've been thrilled to be on a few episodes of ACH and the most recent one releases today where Mike, Brandon Medley, and I talk about the Rankin-Bass special based on "The Little Drummer Boy." It's a weird adaptation with some lovely music and Mike leads a great discussion.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Reginald Owen (1938)

The 1938 Christmas Carol cuts Belle out of the story altogether. It also heavily modified the Fezziwig scene to eliminate the party while still showing Fezziwig's loving management of his employees. This version added some extra story at the beginning with Scrooge's nephew running into Bob Cratchit's kids and then having a visit with Bob, and eventually with Bob's getting fired for accidentally ruining Scrooge's hat with a snowball. We've apparently got to make that time up somewhere, so this is where the adaptation cuts a couple of corners. When the Ghost declares at the end of the Fezziwig scene that her time is running short, she's not kidding.

Scrooge was already cranky at the end of the Fezziwig conversation, regressing a little in the progress of his transformation and getting defensive about how he's a good business man. The Spirit loses patience with him about that and sums up the rest of what she was planning to show him: "I've yet to show you the black years of your life: your gradual enslavement to greed, your ruthlessness, your ingratitude, your wretched thirst for gold!"

Scrooge protests through all of this and shouts for her to leave him. He's been confronted - and I think convinced - that he needs to change, but this is a big step backward. The Ghost of Christmas Present in this version is going to have more work to do than his counterparts in other adaptations where Scrooge made more progress in the Past. 

This Spirit of Christmas Past hasn't carried an extinguisher cap, but Scrooge is so angry and desperate that he grabs her skirt and throws it over her head. It's super awkward, but thankfully the camera stays on Scrooge and we don't actually see the Ghost as she's assaulted. Scrooge simply yells that he can't stand any more as the scene dissolves from his clutching the Ghost's clothing to him in his bed trying to strangle his own bedsheets.

Monday, December 14, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Seymour Hicks (1935)

In Henry Edwards' Scrooge, Belle walks into Scrooge's office just as he's sending a couple to the workhouse for not paying their debt. The couple pleads, but Scrooge is resolute and Belle hears the whole thing. 

Once the couple leaves, Belle confronts Scrooge. "So it is true." She's been hearing rumors about Scrooge's ruthlessness, but has apparently resisted believing it. Rather than any recent bereavement of her own, this Belle is facing sudden, hard truth about the man she's engaged to. She's ticked off in the early part of the scene and can't even look at him for a good, long while.

He tries to explain himself and he's very logical about it. This is just the way he does business and he insists on leaving sentiment out of it. Belle points out the harshness of his refusal to offer the couple even "a little breathing space," but Scrooge puts his own foot down. He sees her compassion as feminine weakness and asks that she leave his business concerns alone. He says that he'll be even more insistent about it once they're married, but by this point she's already removed her engagement ring and set it on his fireplace mantle. Scrooge can't believe what's happening, but he still talks to her formally and with what he believes is authority. Belle softens, no longer angry, but she's resigned and sad.

She never mentions fear in the scene, but I think that element comes through in other parts of the dialogue and in Hicks' performance. He's struggling hard to conduct business in what he thinks is the smartest way while resisting the influence of Belle's merciful attitude. While he never lets up or changes his demeanor, he's clearly shaken by her and I believed frightened by the effect she could potentially have on him.

Looking on, Old Scrooge continues to be passive and weak. He doesn't argue with the Spirit or demand anything, he just looks defeated. But the Ghost isn't done with him and we do get to see the scene of Belle and her family.

It's a pretty great version of this scene. I tried to add up the number of children running around the parlor and counted almost 20. They're a big enough group to have formed two circles for running and singing "Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May." Belle leads seven kids around the Christmas tree and her oldest daughter leads five more near a table where another five kids are banging and playing musical instruments. It's the definition of large and boisterous, if slightly more organized than what Dickens described.

Dad comes in and he's alone in this version, instead of accompanied by a porter. That's because his presents for the kids are small and tucked into his coat pockets, but the children know what's what and rush him anyway to collect their gifts.

After that, Belle and her husband have their conversation as Dickens wrote it, but rather than cut immediately to Scrooge, the camera lingers on the couple long enough for Belle to kiss her husband and hug her children appreciatively. Dickens doesn't really say what her reaction is to the news that Scrooge is alone and about to lose his remaining friend, but I love seeing that it makes her even more grateful for the people in her own life.

Still passive, Old Scrooge looks exhausted as he asks the Ghost to haunt him no more. But when the Spirit declares that these visions are Scrooge's own fault, Scrooge is angry enough to raise a fist and shout something. I'd like to know what he shouts, but in my print of the film, it's cut off and the scene immediately cuts to Scrooge asleep in his bed. This Ghost carried no extinguisher cap, so we wouldn't have had that part of it at any rate. I bet the intention was always to smash cut from the vision to Scrooge's room. But I'd like to know what Scrooge was yelling and if it suggested that he was finally getting a backbone about what's happening to him. I want to put a pin in this and see if he's more engaged with the next Spirit.

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Dan Taylor joins me for a Christmas turkey of a movie featuring young Pia Zadora, a killer robot, and more stock footage than you can shake a fake polar bear at. But is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as bad as its reputation? What would it take to fix it? Dan and I figure it out in the most serious discussion ever of the silliest Christmas film.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Mark McDermott (1910)

Thomas Edison's silent film puts this scene in with other "incidents of [Scrooge's] youth and early manhood" that it doesn't spend any time explaining or even providing context for. I'm pretty sure that Belle (unnamed in the film) is the same character that Scrooge kissed in the party vision, but it doesn't make much difference either way. 

There are no intertitle cards to explain even the broadest strokes of why the couple is breaking up, much less any specific details about mourning or something that Scrooge has done. Belle is wearing a darkly colored shaw, but that's not enough to suggest that she's a recent orphan.

Old Scrooge was dancing and enjoying the party scene, but after some unheard (by us) words from the Spirit, Scrooge is already depressed and not looking forward to whatever's coming next. He shakes his fist a little in defiance and tries to turn his back on the next scene, but the Ghost insists that he watch.

Belle and Young Scrooge appear just as she's trying to hand him something small, presumably a ring. He tries to refuse it by standing rigid and facing the other direction, but she slips it into his hand and slinks away. He looks at it and turns to reach out to her, but she's already gone. He puts the ring into a coat pocket and pretends not to be bothered, then he too fades from Old Scrooge's view.

Belle looked upset during the vision, so combined with Young Scrooge's haughty posture, it's clear that the break-up is his fault even though she's the one instigating and insisting on it. Like everything else in these Christmas Past incidents, it's a fair representation of what happens in the book, but I hate to think that this was ever anyone's first exposure to the story and their trying to figure out what's going on.

The scene ends with Old Scrooge being even more disturbed and angry as the Spirit raises it's arm to announce the next vision. In this version, there's only one Spirit of Christmas, showing Scrooge images from the Past, Present, and Future. Scrooge doesn't even get to go back to bed before the next section starts up. We just get a new intertitle card specifying that Scrooge is now going to see "visions of the present."

Saturday, December 12, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Jim Carrey (2009)

Like in Mickey's Christmas Carol, Robert Zemeckis sets this scene at Scrooge's office. Which, I think, it probably the best place for it. I like the outdoor versions just from an aesthetic standpoint, but what better place to talk about Scrooge's changing priorities than in the place that symbolizes his new idol?

Belle is wearing a black dress and bonnet and even mentions during the coming conversation that she's been left penniless by the death of her parents (as Dickens intended, but didn't specify). Robin Wright plays Belle (she was also Fan in the schoolhouse scene) and she and Carrey both do phenomenal acting work here. The blocking is exceptional too and helps bring this conversation to powerful life. Young Scrooge appears to be terrified of poverty, giving a lot of weight to Belle's observation that he fears the world too much. He doesn't actually want to let her go, but he feels trapped between his still real love for her and his powerful anxiety about financial want. I believe that the battle between love and fear is the great human struggle and I love that it's demonstrated so clearly and powerfully in Scrooge with this version.

When Belle claims that Scrooge was another man when they were first engaged, clearly preferring that one to his current self, he gets angry. "I was a boy!" he shouts, and slams his fists on his desk, startling not just Belle, but even the older version of himself watching on.

Belle takes a few seconds before saying resignedly, "I release you, Ebenezer." She gets up to go.

But Young Scrooge isn't done. He rushes to her grabs her roughly by the arm. "Have I ever sought release?" 

The conversation continues on in the usual way, but filled with the pain of both participants. He eventually lets go of her arm and by the end of their talk he's standing apart from her, not looking at her. "I release you," she says again and her wishes for his happiness in the future are heartfelt.

Old Scrooge is still humble and respectful, as he was with Marley and the previous Christmas Past scenes. When he demands to be removed from the memory, it's a request, not an order. He phrases it like an order, just as Dickens wrote it, but he's clearly uncomfortable and not even looking at the Spirit.

He does look at the Ghost when it insists that these memories are the way they are because of Scrooge, but even then Scrooge looks frightened. He freaks out even more when the Spirit's face starts to morph into various other faces from Scrooge's past. The music turns ominous during this part, too. Scrooge wants to be let go, but the Spirit only forces him to relive everything yet again in the faces of these people.

Scrooge's mouth is quivering when he utters his final, "Leave me! Take me back!" He grabs the extinguisher cap in desperation, shouting, "Haunt me no longer!" as he forces it down on the Ghost.

There's resistance from the Ghost and the bright light even flares into flame at one point, but Scrooge finally manages, with a great deal of effort, to get the cone all the way to the floor. There's no light spilling out around the bottom edge, but Zemeckis will communicate the Ghost's final victory another way.

Obviously we're not going to see Belle's life after Scrooge in this scene, but what Zemeckis replaces it with is unfortunate. As I've mentioned before, my big complaint about this film is that Zemeckis tends to go overboard with the lack of limitations that animation has allowed him. Fezziwig's gravity-defying dance in the previous scene, for example. And in this scene, Scrooge has the extinguisher cap all the way to the ground and appears to have overcome the Ghost when the cap explodes and shoots into the air like a rocket, with Scrooge still clinging to it.

It takes him high into the atmosphere before sputtering out and then disappearing in Scrooge's clutches, leaving him alone above the clouds to plummet to Earth. There's no reason for any of this except to further terrify and torture Scrooge. But instead of the psychological agony of having to confront his past, this is easy, physical terror for it's own sake. It has nothing to do with redeeming Scrooge that I can tell; merely with punishing him. It feels extreme and unnecessary, both on the part of the Ghost and of Zemeckis himself.

Scrooge lands in his own room, not with the deadly splat that physics would demand if he actually had fallen from the upper atmosphere, but it's still hard enough to look like it hurt. And when the camera pulls back, it's apparent that Scrooge has fallen out of bed. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Scrooge McDuck (1983)

Mickey's Christmas Carol is so short that it's quite abridged and even left out the scene of Scrooge at school. Instead, the Ghost of Christmas Past took Scrooge directly to Fezziwig's which ended up being mostly about Scrooge's good days with Belle (or Isabelle, as she's called here). Watching this, Old Scrooge had sighed heavily and said that he remembered how much he was in love with her, almost willfully not thinking about how the relationship ended. Scrooge hadn't taken the Ghost very seriously, so maybe he didn't expect to have to watch the break-up scene. But the visit to the past is all about the one-two punch of Scrooge-in-love and then the break-up.

He still doesn't realize what's coming when the Ghost shows him his own office and says, "In ten years' time, you learned to love something else." Young Scrooge is at his desk, not even visible behind the huge stacks of gold coins that he's counting. Isabelle is there too, dressed warmly as if she's just come from outside. It's a colorful outfit and not suitable for mourning, but this very condensed version will provide a different, quick, clear reason for the break-up.

Isabelle talks about this little honeymoon cottage she has and wonders if Scrooge is going to keep his promise to marry her. She says, "Now I must know," which raises the question of why it's suddenly so important. Has she just run out of patience? If so, she's very sweet and humble about it. Or is there a material reason that she needs to know now? Maybe a financial one?

Scrooge's answer might be a clue. "Your last payment on the cottage was an hour late. I'm foreclosing the mortgage!" It's a ridiculous, comedic reason appropriate to this outlandish Scrooge, but Isabelle's being late with the payment might indicate that the cottage is a financial burden to her. Maybe she has a buyer who's interested in taking it off her hands and that's why she needs to know if she and Scrooge are ever going to use it. These details clearly aren't important to the story; they're just fun to speculate about. What is important is that we're seeing in action Scrooge's change in attitude toward money and toward Isabelle. It's a great example of showing instead of telling and it's played for laughs in a really effective way.

Old Scrooge does look upset about watching this, so it's effective when the Spirit piles on a little more guilt. "You loved your gold more than that precious creature, and you lost her forever." Scrooge pleads that he can no longer bear these memories and asks to be taken home. He's not super emotional about it like in Dickens and other adaptations, but any amount of regret from this Scrooge is a milestone.

After one last dig from the Ghost that Scrooge fashioned these memories himself, the scene dissolves back into Scrooge's bedroom where his bedside clock is chiming two.

Seriously Felicity | Hot Objects

Kristi and I discuss disco lights, Meisner exercises, and being "okay" with grumpy professors.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Walter Matthau (1978)

In Rankin-Bass' version of The Stingiest Man in Town, we've already met Belle at Fezziwig's party. In fact, the party was mostly about her and Scrooge's relationship and we got a whole song revealing their very different dreams for their future together. They didn't seem to mind and ended that song in a kiss, but Old Scrooge looking on wept openly and said that he shouldn't have remembered.

But, as the Spirit says, "There is another Christmas." He takes Scrooge forward to when he'd just formed his partnership with Jacob Marley. "Your business was new," the Ghost says, "but your ways were set." 

Scrooge begs, "Oh, Ghost, spare me the rest!"

But the Ghost is unrelenting. "You must drain the cup to the dregs." I like that image.

They materialize at Scrooge and Marley's office and Scrooge moans pitifully as he realizes what he's about to see. Inside, Belle (in a bright, blue dress, not mourning black) complains about "another idol" and this version quickly deviates from Dickens by having Young Scrooge scoff that she's being overly dramatic. He's working and is more interested in complaining about how he's losing money than he is in listening to her.

Belle tries to get him to lighten up about some potentially defaulting loans by reminding him that it's Christmas. Scrooge goes nuts and rants about Christmas, finally declaring that it's a humbug (and suggesting that this incident is the origin of that expression).

That's when Belle declares that she's breaking up their engagement. It makes it sound a little like it's his attack on Christmas that finally does it for her, but you can also read the scene as she came here to break up and his Christmas rant is the excuse she needs to finally come out with it. "You have become someone I do not know. Someone I do not wish to know."

She breaks into another song, "It Might Have Been," to spell out what he's giving up. And as she sings, we see images of their potential life together: hanging out in a cozy room decorated for Christmas and with a fire blazing in the fireplace as their two children rush in for hugs, presents, and kisses. 

As Belle runs crying out of Scrooge's office, he picks up the song in a voiceover. The actual Young Scrooge doesn't know what he's missed, but in the language of the musical it's clear that he'll eventually come to regret this night.

The image goes split-screen with Scrooge continuing to work in his office and Belle running through the empty streets of London. Both characters age before our eyes (with dramatic, crashing waves indicating time jumps) and the song closes with Old Walter Matthau Scrooge alone in his office like at the beginning of the story while Belle - also old and alone - wanders the streets without any purpose. No happy ending for Belle this time. This evening has ruined them both.

The Old Scrooge with the Ghost sobs that he cannot bear any more and grabs the extinguisher cap. He quickly jams it over the Spirit's head before the Spirit can even react and then the scene cuts to Scrooge in bed snuffing out a small candle with a little extinguisher.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Alastair Sim (1971)

Richard Williams' cartoon places this scene outside, which I like better than the indoor versions. Outside always feels like neutral territory to me and that's a natural vibe for a break-up scene. What's weird about this version is that it takes place in a very green, lush park. It's clearly not winter time, so the Ghost of Christmas Past seems out of its jurisdiction showing this to Scrooge. (Incidentally, the live-action version with Alastair Sim from the '50s also has the Past Ghost showing Scrooge things that didn't take place at Christmas, which also bothers me about that one.)

Belle is wearing a black dress and hood, so she could definitely be in mourning, though she never mentions it in dialogue. Her lines are an abridged version of Dickens' text, so she also doesn't bring up any specific thing that Scrooge has done to make her leave him. He rolls his eyes at her though when she talks about his master passion Gain having engrossed him. If he does that a lot with her, I don't blame her for getting tired of him. And it's clear from his own dialogue that he doesn't disagree about the change in his attitude; he just doesn't see what the big deal is.

Young Scrooge seems mostly annoyed by her. This is inconvenient to him. For her part, she's hunched over in a submissive posture, but she's not backing down. It seems like it's taking a lot out of her to confront him like this, but she's determined to go through with it.

Like in the earlier scenes of Christmas Past, this Old Scrooge continues to be humble and compliant even as he asks why the Ghost wants to torture him. And when the Spirit throws the responsibility back on Scrooge, Scrooge's grabbing the extinguisher cap is an act of desperation, not anger. He puts it over the Ghost's head and the cap disappears along with the Spirit. There's no final flurry of other faces, the park simply transforms into Scrooge's bedroom, having completely skipped the final vision of Belle's married life.

Sleigh Bell Cinema | Scrooged (1988)

I spend some holiday time with my brother Mark May talking about Bill Murray getting whacked in the head by Carol Kane in Richard Donner's irreverent riff on A Christmas Carol.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | 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 only chooses one scene from Scrounge's past to show him, via an old photo. It's a picture of Scrounge with someone named Alice (instead of Belle). 

What's weird - and there's plenty weird about this version - is that Scrounge says that Alice jilted him and married someone else. He doesn't say who she left him for or why. And there's no way for Kid Flash to know any of those details either. I'm not even sure how Kid Flash found the photograph. Does Scrounge just have it on his desk? The Titans haven't had a lot of prep time for this.

As far as I can tell, Kid Flash is simply making deductions based on what he sees in the picture. He claims that Scrounge was young, handsome, popular, and loved by a beautiful girl, but if Scrounge is accurate, then maybe Alice just dumped him because he was socially awkward or had bad breath.

Whatever the real background, it's impossible to predict what effect this is going to have on Scrounge. He's terrified of the Spirit and wants to get away, but Kid Flash hasn't really confronted him with anything about his past that explicitly needs changing. With this pretty sad attempt done, Kid Flash leaves Scrounge and allows him to escape his office.

Hellbent for Letterbox | Death Rides a Horse (1967)

Pax and I are joined by our good friend Shawn Robare to discuss the influential Spaghetti Western starring Lee Van Cleef and John Phillip Law.

Monday, December 07, 2020

“Another Idol Has Displaced Me” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics

Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor's version stages this scene interestingly. It's in a room, but it's large and mostly empty except for a couple of chairs and a fireplace. The chairs are simple and wooden, so the spartan furnishings of this room contradict its sheer size. I wonder if this is a new house that Scrooge has invested in, but doesn't yet have the money (or even the desire, if he's already a miser) to decorate.

The chairs are also back to back for some reason, which creates tension when Belle and Scrooge are both seated in them. As the scene opens though, Scrooge is seated in the chair facing the fire and Belle is standing nearby.

She's dressed in black and wearing a veil appropriate for mourning, which leads me to another possibility about the room. Maybe it's her parents' house and everything has been moved out with their death except these two chairs. I like the ambiguity and that - like the mourning dress - there are just enough details to suggest some possibilities for why Belle is choosing this particular time to break up.

It's an abridged conversation that has her sit in the other chair for a bit before getting up and leaving Scrooge in the room. Young Scrooge looks sad and alone, but makes no move to stop her. Old Scrooge looks pitiful when he begs the Spirit to show him no more.

There's no further argument though as the Spirit rushes through a few more visions, each just taking a panel. We see Belle and a man holding a baby together in a room that's decorated for Christmas. They aren't named and there's no dialogue, so I'd be curious to show this to someone who isn't so familiar with the story and see if it's clear that this is Belle's future.

The Spirit then shows Scrooge a couple of visions that aren't directly in the book. Dickens refers to them through Belle's husband, but here we actually see Scrooge working in his office as an undertaker walks by, and then Scrooge in the graveyard at Marley's funeral. What's interesting about this is that it isn't until the graveyard vision that Old Scrooge freaks out again and demands to be removed from this place. 

So in this version, it isn't seeing Belle happy without him that's distressing; it's reliving Marley's death. Belle is a part of it, but the bigger deal seems to be that Scrooge has been left alone. First by Belle and then by Marley. Well, and I guess by Fan before that. Belle was his fault, but Fan and Marley weren't. And making Scrooge's loneliness the real issue supports what I think Dickens is doing in the text: having the Spirit remind Scrooge through these memories that he was abandoned and alone for much of his life, but had seasons of happiness in his relationships at Fezziwig's, with Belle, and even with Marley.

I think it's easy sometimes to assume that Scrooge and Marley had a cutthroat, competitive relationship. And maybe there was an element of that. But we shouldn't forget that Marley cared enough about Scrooge to petition for a chance to warn him. And that even though Scrooge was frightened of Marley's Ghost, he was also oddly comforted by it.

When Scrooge insists on seeing no more, the Spirit simply complies. There's no struggle, no vision of other faces, and no need for Scrooge to extinguish the Ghost with its own cap. Scrooge simply finds himself alone in his own apartment, climbs into bed, and goes to sleep.


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