Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmarathon Day 9: A Christmas Story

I finally have a reason to wear this shirt
I'm not going to go into too much detail about this one, because everybody's seen it, everybody loves it, and if you run to your TV and put on TBS, it's probably on right now, perhaps as a part of one of their annual 24 hour marathons. I can only think of maybe four or five films so have become so enduringly beloved that a TV channel would show it over and over again for 24 hours straight. This is an absolute classic, and perhaps the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

It's a period piece that takes place during some nebulous time in America that could be anywhere from the late 30s to the mid 50s. If any specific times or dates are mentioned, I certainly can't remember them, I don't think there are because part of the film's charm is how timeless it feels. As a kid, I didn't even realize that it was a period piece at all. It's so authentic -- and the themes and experiences shown are so universal -- that it just seemed like it could've taken place in Connecticut during the early 80s. Obviously, that would be a bad thing to say about a period piece that took place during, say, the Renaissance, but for a Christmas story about an American kid, it couldn't have worked better. Even the setting of the film is mostly nebulous, since it was ostensibly set in Indiana even though it was actually filmed in Cleveland, Ohio. It's just every city, and there's enough thrown in that everybody who watches it can relate to something.

The story is based on the stories and radio show anecdotes of Jean Shepherd, who also narrates the film. I've neither read his stories nor listened to his radio show, but is voice has become iconic and indelible, and his sense of humor and sensibilities are what make this movie so perfect. There was actually a sequel called My Summer Story, but nobody ever saw it. It's not a bad film, since it is also directed by Bob Clark and is written and narrates by Jean Shepherd, but it's just not the same. It's jarring to see the same characters all acted by new actors, even though they are all fine. Charles Grodin plays the father, doing a perfectly fine impression of Darren McGavin from the original film, while Mary Steenburgeon plays the mom and some Culkin plays Ralphie. It's ok, but it's a little less charming, a little less timeless, and certainly not a classic.

It also seemingly served as the inspiration for the classic TV the Wonder Years, what with the early Americana time period and the voice overs of an adult narrating his memories as a child. Although, The Wonder Years was as much inspired by Stand By Me as well, but I think both tales owe a certain debt to A Christmas Story. 

But A Christmas Story is brilliant. If you've already seen it, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen it, I envy the pleasure you'll have on your first viewing. It's so good, you might even watch 24 hours of it.


tep said...

it's the quintessential christmas movie.

Eugene B. Bergmann said...

To say that Jean Shepherd's voice is perfect and iconic, and to enjoy his humor, but never to have heard his radio show is your great loss. He improvised on the radio--mostly 45 minutes a night, 5 days a week--for over two decades. He tickled the better parts of many minds. Among them Don Imus, Hugh Hefner, Billy Collins, Andy Kaufman, Dee Snider, Donald Fagen, Keith Olbermann, and Jerry Seinfeld, who said, "He formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd." Seinfeld, in 2005, named his new baby Shepherd Kellen Seinfeld. Many hundreds of Shepherd's broadcasts are available free or at little cost. Try and Should you become hooked, try my book, EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD.

Donald said...

Did I just get dissed?

But thanks for the suggestions. I'll check 'em out!

tep said...

i wouldn't call that a diss. i'd call it a recommendation.

plus, when did you get that t-shirt?

Justin Garrett Blum said...

You never heard his radio show? LOSER! Just exactly how far must your head be up your ass that you've never sought these out?

Now that's a diss.