The Christmas movie is a well explored genre. It’s rife with films exploring the symbols of Christmas: family, giving, compassion, forgiveness, redemption. These  topics play themselves out using Christmas as the central theme or the holidays as the setting. One of the most wonderful thing about this genre is the way it brings families together in a way that few other genres are able to do.

The history of the Christmas film is as rich as the varied story elements used in the genre. Long before everyone’s favorites of A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life the folklore and familiar themes were being explored by filmmakers at the dawn of the film medium. The earliest Christmas film (that I can find in the historical record) was a series of three short films first shown in 1896. In 1898, G.A. Smith used landmark (at the time) special effects to show a special visit by Saint Nick (watch the video here). The Christmas film most often remade, the Dickensian A Christmas Carol, was first made in 1901 as Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost. This film also holds the title of  ”oldest surviving film adaptation”.

Animation techniques  have converted some of our most beloved folklore heroes into stop motion forms. First, we have Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), next, claymation Santas, and of course A Charlie Brown Christmas. Newer animated films like Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas have explored the themes of compassion, giving and community in a setting other than the traditional North Pole. Similar modern films have begun to explore the management role of the Christmas season, portraying elves, santa or others in their own moral dilemmas related to the toil and stress associated with delivering toys for all the girls and boys, every year, without fail.

Lest you think all Christmas films are wholesome with a packaged Hollywood ending, this is far from the truth. The genre itself even contains documentaries and camp. Two new-ish documentaries shed light on the effects of Christmas, one positive, one negative. In the oscar nominated Joyeux Noel, we learn of an unlikely pact formed on Christmas Eve between WWI soldiers of Germany, France, and Scotland. Fast forward 75 years and we witness the negative results of that goodwill among men in the anti-capitalist documentary What Would Jesus Buy?. On the opposite side of the spectrum, in 1964 someone decided that Santa’s iconic role was larger than Earth, hence the campy horror of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. An otherworldly theme was revisited this decade by Wayne Coyne (of Flaming Lips) in his 2008 film Christmas on Mars.

The above overview is merely a glance at the beloved Christmas genre. There are many others, and over the course of this month I plan to watch 31 of them.  Every day along with your sweater picture you’ll also receive a movie recommendation for that particular day.  Some will be old favorites and some will be widely available but hopelessly obscured by Christmas’ heavy hitters. I hope you enjoy them.

Christmas Sweater 03:

This is the first homemade Christmas sweater of this year and oh how it allows me to comment on the brilliance of homemade things. The actual contstruction of this sweater began, as most homemade sweaters do, with a red sweatshirt. Most people prefer Hanes, I don’t know why, it’s just the sweatshirt of choice for crafty mothers. This particular sweater includes sewn on ruffled circles, each one with a colored rhinestone inset at the center. Put together they make a ruffly and gorgeous christmas tree shape. You might also notice that two of the circles are missing. This is what makes a Christmas sweater special: poor construction. I guarantee the owner of this sweater, had their family not forced them to throw it out, would have worn the sweater until so few circles remained that the christmas tree shape was no longer discernable. And that’s what makes it special. Christmas sweaters are made with love.

Today’s movie recommendation is also about love, love between a priest and his cathedral. 1947′s The Bishop’s Wife tells the story of a Bishop trying to rally support for the building of a new cathedral, to the detriment of the relationships in his life, his wife included. Help arrives in the form of a guardian angel (Cary Grant) sent to look over the Bishop and his flock, just not in the way the Bishop expects.  The angel easily galvanizes the community and in the process develops some questionable feelings towards the Bishop’s wife. This situation leaves the Bishop to take control of his life again and…I don’t want to spoil the juicy ending, you’ll just have to watch it on your own.

6 Comments

  1. What a bizarre coincidence… we just joined Netflix this week, and I was looking through their sci-fi films and I happened to come across Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I had never heard of it before, but with a title like that, I couldn’t resist. Now thinking I should move it higher on my list.

    Coming home from work this evening, I heard a story on All Things Considered about how Dickens gave readings of A Christmas Carol, and how he modified the story to fit into about 80 minutes or so. Fascinating.

    Posted December 4, 2009 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

  2. matthew

    I’ll be watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians near the middle of the month, I’ll be interested to know what you think. MST3000 covered the film in one of their episodes so you know it’s gotta be precious.

    Nice find re: the Dickens story. I had no idea that he tailored it for a mass audience. How cool!

    Posted December 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

  3. Um, can this technically be called a sweater? I thought sweaters had to be knitted?

    Love the sweater/Christmas movie theme though!

    Posted December 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

  4. My current wardrobe feels very plain and un-festive compared to the splendor of your sweaters, Matthew. Especially this one. I love the big rhinestones! Gem sweaters 4 evar.

    Posted December 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

  5. matthew

    Kurt, good question. Normally a sweatshirt in any form does not qualify as a sweater. But this is not normal times. No, this is Christmas Time. The lowly sweatshirt gets a status modifier added to itself. So there you have it.

    Posted December 4, 2009 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

  6. matthew

    Ding, next time you’re in Houston we can break out the glue guns and make something fabulous.

    Posted December 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

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