Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cinematic Advent Calendar - Day 22

A Christmas Story (1983) - Dir. Bob Clark

A Christmas Story (1983) has become something of a phenomenon in American popular culture over the last twenty years. It is a contemporary classic with a nostalgic feel that speaks to the child in all of us. Everybody, when they were a kid, had that one ideal dream gift. The one that kept you on good behavior even after the threat of Santa's watchful eye was poked out by schoolyard reality. In the case of A Christmas Story we follow young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) as he recounts his holiday quest for, "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time (a sundial)." Ralphie's tenacious pursuit of the famed BB gun is the one through line in the film, which is composed of a series of comedic anecdotal vignettes surrounding his family during the Christmas of 1940. The film is actually narrated by the author of the semi-autobiographical story, Jean Shepherd, whose cynical witticisms give the movie a more genuine feel, as though it is being told by your grandfather, or great-grandfather. 

Based on Shepherd's collection of short stories, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (Doubleday 1966), the director, Bob Clark, worked with Shepherd and Leigh Brown to fit the stories together within the setting of Christmas. The film had been in the works for many years prior to being filmed, but Clark had trouble securing financing for the film. It wasn't until the success of his teen sex comedy, Porky's (1982), that Clark was able to secure financing for A Christmas Story. Clark had previously directed the original slasher Christmas classic, Black Christmas (1974), a sharp contrast to the light-hearted A Christmas Story

When the film was originally released in the fall of 1983 it was not the runaway success that many people believe it to be. In fact, it was pulled from most theaters before Christmas had even arrived. Suffering the same delayed fate as It's A Wonderful Life (1946), A Christmas Story found its audience on home video and television broadcasts. Most of the fans only know the film from the annual 24 hour marathons on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. This newfound legacy for the film has inspired a musical adaptation (produced by original star, Peter Billingsley), a museum in the original house used for  the exterior shots in the film, and countless forms of merchandise, including the atrociously gaudy "Major Award" leg lamp, cherished in the film by The Old Man (Darren McGavin).

All of these components still wouldn't mean anything without Shepherd's timeless words to bring them together. His narration is easily the most delightful part of the film because it complements the action and character's responses so well. To remove the narration would completely alter the film and turn the character of Ralphie into a quiet kid, who only really talks about getting a gun, and violently lashes out at people who pick on him. As it is the film paints an authentic picture of Christmas that spans time and will continue to do so until the aliens or zombies come, but by then we'll all be packing heat, thanks to the time honored morals featured in A Christmas Story.

"The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received,
or would ever receive."

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