I don’t remember seeing so many ‘dead’ Christmas trees out on the pavements ever before. It reminds me of that post-Christmas scene in Kramer vs Kramer where Dustin Hoffman’s walking along the street with his neighbourhood friend and the two of them are having to sidestep neglected pine trees all along the way.
But it reminds me too that Christmas isn’t technically over even though it looks and feels like it. Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas when the rest of us were taking our decorations down on the 6th. For the Church of England, the season of CHristmas isn’t actually over until Candlemass on February 2nd: I have a friend who is keeping out his nativity scene until then while all the baubles and sparkle are back in their box.
Similarly, Christmas pops up in films when you’re least expecting it. I watched Sandra Bullock in While you Were Sleeping the other night. I’d argue that it beats Bridget Jones hands down on character, humour, charm, Christmas glitter, and singleton truth. I also saw classic 1945 British horror movie Dead of Night . the one with poor Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist tortured by his malevolent dummy. There’s a Christmas ghost story hidden away in that film, featuring the young actress, Sally Ann Howes who went on to become Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Those of us who read The suspicion of Mr Whicker will appreciate the Francis Kent reference too.
I went to see the very impressive The Impossible today. Set at the time of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and beginning on a holidaying Christmas Eve, it’s a brave cinema scheduler who puts that in their future seasonal programmes. The soundtrack is such that you feel engulfed. Worth catching – with young Tom Holland a highlight. His feature debut is reminiscent of that of Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun. Expect to see more of him.
If there’s a strange emphasis of Christmas Eve over Christmas Day in seasonal films as if the Big Reveal is on the stroke of midnight with Santa’s due-arrival, then New Year’s Day is little different. New Year’s Eve is when things happen, when people go searching and find themselves en route to love whether the End of the World is nigh (Last Night) or not (In Search of a Midnight Kiss, New Year’s Eve) If we see the new year in on film, it’s the fireworks we’ve waited for (Strange Days) even while we tend to do exactly the same beyond the cinema and back in the real world.
Season, what season?
Yet New Year’s Day might be gone in a blink though we mumble our greetings further into January until we don’t know where and the words fall flat. Yet Christmastime continues until a very definite January 6th when the decorations come down, but between Boxing Day and the Festival of Epiphany, we barely acknowledge the season at all.
Films that take account of Christmas continuing often happen to deal with adult perspectives on relationships. Of course, any movie version of A Christmas Carol lets us know that Scrooge has turned a corner and will never be the same again. Likewise, George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life has had his eyes open to the true value of his life that he had previously not recognised in spite of his goodness. And independent films such as Frozen River, Happy, Happy, and Tuesday, After Christmas might feature brokenness, hurt, and confusion, but that they all take place over this spiritual/commercial festival brings extra meaning.
For Christmas continues, and as an audience, we expect something to happen on screen because of it. Things come to a head, yet move on. Life continues. Something has shifted. The magic of the season has infected the players.
Whatever we, ourselves believe Christmas to be, our cultural understanding, at least at the cinema is that this time of the year has meaning.