Canon of Film

December 20, 2017
 

CANON OF FILM: ‘A Christmas Story’

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Written by: David Baruffi
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a christmas story

In this edition of CANON OF FILM, we take a look at Bob Clark‘s holiday classic, ‘A Christmas Story‘. For the story behind the genesis of the Canon, you can click here.

‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ (1983)

Director: Bob Clark

Screenplay: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown & Bob Clark based on the novel ‘In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,’ by Jean Shepherd

I know there’s a lot of people out there who regret the commercialization of ‘A Christmas Story‘ and sure, it’s totally out-of-hand. There’s a live televised version of ‘A Christmas Story‘ that happened on TV recently, which is one of the more benign examples to occur. I’d be remissed if I didn’t bring up the egregious straight-to-DVD sequel they made a couple years ago to widespread scorn; if for no other reason than the fact that there already was a sequel to ‘A Christmas Story‘ out there! (Look it up if you’re interested, it’s was originally titled ‘It Runs in the Family’ but it’s usually titled ‘My Summer Story’ these days.) That said, I really knew about this movie before it got overcome with popularity. Since my family ran a video store in the mid-’80s, we watched all the VHS tapes that came in and ‘A Christmas Story‘ was a personal favorite of my Grandmother’s and she kept a copy for herself. It wasn’t one I watched regularly, in fact, I’m fairly certain my Grandma probably hid it for herself for awhile before finally deciding to show us her copy; I’m not sure she figured we’d appreciate it. I mean, it was PG at the time, and you know, it had naughty language in it. (Shrugs)

Yeah, you’re thinking of the scene too, now. The movie has a lot of iconic images and ideas. If this came up in a game or Taboo or something, all I’d have to say is “Leg-shaped lamp”, and you’d get it.

a christmas story

Yeah, I remember watching it, when I was young, right before it really broke out, and even remembered introducing it to a few people, and then suddenly, it was playing for 24 hours on TBS every Christmas. Now, of course, the backlash has started and I’m betting there’s quite a few out there who are sick of ‘A Christmas Story‘. I’m not sure I’m one of those guys or not, but I must confess, this one’s popularity and continued relevance has always seemed a bit peculiar to me.

I mean, this is a film where people tend to struggle if they get asked why it’s so great. Myself included, although, personally I’ve never once felt the desire to own a BB Gun, of any kind, much less a Red Ryder BB gun. That’s clearly why I think the movie garnered it’s original appeal, nostalgia, not for the film, but for the time period and for the innocence of it. Based on a novel by humorist Jean Shepherd, who also co-wrote the screenplay and does the film’s narration, what this movie is really about is how kids, particularly Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) sees this adult-based world, like how it seems like an entirely different planet from the adults. Notice for instance, Ralphie’s narration when he’s getting punished with Lifebouy soap after accidentally saying an F-word that wasn’t “fudge.” His mother (Melinda Dillon) asks him where he heard the word from, and he recollects that his father had said the word dozens a times a day, and how masterful he was at the art of profanity. Nowadays, this conversation would be where the kids got the drugs, when it’s from his parents’ secret stash in the back of mom’s “goodies,” drawer in her nightstand, or some other bullshit like that. Come to think of it, this movie was made in 1983, but can you tell that? Director Bob Clark won two Genie Awards, (The Canadian Oscar) for this film, including for directing where he tied with David Cronenberg for ‘Videodrome‘. I know they’re completely different genres and whatnot, but this movie came out the same year as ‘Videodrome‘ and while that film’s a masterpiece, it’s also clearly dated. There’s not much in this movie that indicates the time the film was shot, and sure it was a period piece, but it’s one of the least distinctive popular ’80s films out there.

That actually is probably what made Bob Clark the perfect director for this material, the man who previously was famous for ‘Porky’s‘ of all things. He’d previously mostly done more exploitative fair previously, although he did direct Jack Lemmon to an Oscar nomination for ‘Tribute‘, but about the one thing that Porky’s‘ does have going for it, is how it captured a youthful perspective and a time period pretty meaningfully. I suspect some at the time, found a nostalgic feeling in that film, about being a horny teenager and the adventures surrounding they’re attempted sexual escapades. Transfer that energy to an earlier time period and a younger perspective, and yeah, if you weren’t old enough to want sex, than, I guess you’d want a BB gun, at least back then.

a christmas story

Actually, say whatever else you want about the movie, that is an original story. I can’t think of too many movies previously about kids, just wanting a toy, at all, Imagine pitching this? A kid wants a toy gun for Christmas, already we’re on shaky ground there, he’s constantly told that he’ll “Shoot his eye out,” which, sound about right, and then, he gets the toy gun, and almost shoots his eye out! Take the nostalgia  and the slice-of-life feeling out of the story, and this is one sick joke. But it’s charming, somehow, ’cause it’s the perspective that it takes. From a child’s eye view, it’s perfectly natural to think he’s being reasonable and is just confused by how the rest of the world seems so against him. He’s always looking up at them, they’re often portrayed in exaggerated and garish demeanor, except for his parents, who he’s most afraid of disappointing. One of my favorite scenes is the fantasy sequence where he somehow convinces himself that if he writes a perfect paper on wanting the bb gun that somehow, he’d get the respect and accolades of his teacher and the other students, and they’d carry him around the room.

The fantasy scenes are actually kinda interesting in this movie. There’s several of them, more than people remember and they all cover a wide-arrange of stories and emotions. I wouldn’t at all be shocked if this movie greatly influenced stuff like ‘Family Guy‘ or even ‘Scrubs‘ heavily, although the way it’s done here, I always compared it to the old Nickelodeon cartoon ‘Doug‘, another story about a relatively average kid who’s constantly imagining a more ideal life for himself. I have to believe that was somewhat inspired by ‘A Christmas Story‘; there’s quite a few parallels actually between those two. I can’t imagine anybody in the ‘Doug‘ universe sticking their tongue on a pole, but I definitely remember characters doing stupid things ’cause of a “Dare” that went out of control, even if it wasn’t a Triple Dog Dare.

I think what it also captures that few other things do is that incessant desire for kids to seek out more importance in their life. Everything feels like, they’re not let in on what’s really going on, and so they create fantasies in their mind where they are the center of attention and the most important person around. That’s way, Ralphie’s disappointment is so tantamount when he realizes that the Little Orphan Annie decoder just let to an advertisement for Ovaltime. A private, secret message that was for them and them alone, should be a secret worth having; they need to feel important and like they have the ear of those adults around them.

I think that’s really what keeps this film around; why it does hold up so well long after most of the audience who appreciated the nostalgia trip the movie brings them has mostly faded away. I can’t imagine a kid wanting a gun for a present anymore, unless it had a wire that connected it to a video game console, but there is something for everybody in this film. The moments at the edge of the screen involving the parents and their behavior rings true, the reflections of a simpler time, the smaller emotions and memories that kids have and how they’re often struggling more than most to live their fantasies and dreams, especially since, for the most part, that’s really all they even know. Not sure how it’s gotten so played-to-death even for traditional, or new traditional Christmas fare, (I mean, even with it being in the Public Domain, we tend to only see a couple airings of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ a year, not that I’m asking for more, that’s plenty, and this movie has far more to do with Christmas anyway.) but no, it really does deserve it’s place in the Christmas canon. It’s a unique film, with a completely original tone and story, similar to how it took years for people to really recognize how seminal ‘Groundhog Day‘ is, ‘A Christmas Story,’ worked the same way ultimately, and unlike say, my favorite Christmas film, ‘Love, Actually‘ there weren’t too many people out there trying to remake or copy the formula of it’s success, and I’m not sure you could’ve if you tried  It’s too personal; any attempt to recreate it would feel like someone’s trying to implement a false memory into you. Yeah, that purity the film has, that’s not going away no matter how much of a stranglehold it has on the pop culture.

a christmas story



About the Author

David Baruffi
David Baruffi
David Baruffi has been a successful unemployed screenwriter for, let's be vague and call it "years". He's got a B.A. in Film Studies from UNLV, is a certified script supervisor and has done a little bit of everything in film, but mostly is a writer. Personally on his own blog "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews" which is at www.davidbaruffi.blogspot.com,and professionally has written several scripts and stories, for himself, and for others and as a ghostwriter. When he's not doing that he watches his autistic brother most days and he looks like two old puppets.



 
 

 
a christmas story

CANON OF FILM: ‘A Christmas Story’

In this edition of CANON OF FILM, we take a look at Bob Clark‘s holiday classic, ‘A Christmas Story‘. For the story behind the genesis of the Canon, you can click here. ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ (1983) ...
by David Baruffi
 

 



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