Friday, December 23, 2011

Cinematic Advent Calendar - Day 23

A Christmas Carol Blowout (1843 - Present) - Dir. Various

A Christmas Carol (1843) is hands down the quintessential holiday feast for the mind's eye. Since it was first published in 1843 the story has been adapted more times than can be counted, between theater, radio, television, and film. Charles Dickens would even perform an edited version of the story during pubic readings up until is death in 1870. The story is highly regarded as an inspiration for way Christmas is perceived today in a non-theological, social sense. It is interesting to note that many people often speak of getting, or having, the Christmas spirit, meaning that they wish to conduct themselves in a festive manner, while in this story the Christmas spirit(s) are a litteral manifestation that instill an ideological sense of merriment. The story is often presented in its original historical 19th century setting. However, occasionally it has been modified or updated to appeal to a wider audience.

Beginning with the silent short, Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901), A Christmas Carol has been adapted to film more than twenty times over the last 110 years, averaging a new rendition just about every five years. These different versions are split between short films, animated shorts and features, international versions, and musicals. A classic tale deserves a classic presentation, which has led to one of the most beloved versions of the story being Scrooge (retitled A Christmas Carol in the United States) (1951), staring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Filmed in black and white, it is the last non-musical, live-action feature length version of the original story to be produced. 

The story, while dark and morbid in content, has a moral center which makes it ideal for children looking for a religious substitute or relief from watchful St. Nick's hit list. One of the reasons A Christmas Carol is so popular, aside from being an incredibly well written, imaginative masterpiece of literature, is that it is in the public domain, which means anybody can use the story, characters, premis, or setting to make a buck. For these two reasons A Christmas Carol has had several versions created and marketed towards children. Everyone from Mr. Magoo, Yosemite Sam, to Beavis has played Scrooge in their respective Christmas specials. Of course, one of the most well produced versions is Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), which stars Scrooge McDuck in the role he was drawn to play. The short was released theatrically with The Rescuers (1977) and has since become a classic in its own right, being released on video and DVD along with annual airplay during the holidays. Even the Muppets broke into the act with The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), a very faithful (in terms of the story) live-action musical adaptation staring Michel Caine as formidable Ebenezer Scrooge.

By the late 1980s the world had changed so much that the same old Scrooge in the same old context just wasn't registering. The story, which was still relavent, needed modernizing. The result was Scrooged (1988), a dark comedy starring Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a Scrooge-like character. Directed by Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon (1987)), the film takes place in the present day with Murray playing a lonely, cruel, miserable, selfish television executive, who happens to be producing a live version of A Christmas Carol. Running out the same fate of his fictional counterpart, Murray is warned by his former boss and mentor about the error of his ways and subsequently visited by three spirits who proceed to "scare the Dickens" out of him. The film also features the first foray into the holiday realm for Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992)), who wrote the musical score.

Most recently the story has been brought back around to its 19th century setting, adapted into a motion capture animated feature by Robert Zemeckis, as simply A Christmas Carol (2009). The film stars Jim Carrey as not only Scrooge, but also the three ghosts that haunt him throughout his emotional metamorphosis. It is a thematic compliment to Zemeckis' previous holiday effort, The Polar Express (2004)

Regardless of the setting or presentation, it is the story of A Christmas Carol that remains universally appealing and timeless. The themes of greed and generosity, forgiveness and redemption, friendship and the belief that there is good in everyone are the cornerstones of the Christmas spirit, and in a sense, every story that has followed it. Its importance isn't regulated to Christmas, but simply enhanced by it. Any enjoyment felt by the festivities of the holiday are more than likely the result of the impact that this story has had on our culture. By that account, in his eternal literary existence, Ebenezer Scrooge has become the spirit of Christmas. 

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