Tis the season to be jolly
because “A Christmas Story” is coming to town
(In many formats).
This year Christmas began in early October as a large, chock-full-of-goodies book about the movie appeared titled A CHRISTMAS STORY: BEHIND THE SCENES OF A HOLIDAY CLASSIC, by Caseen Gaines. (Forewords by Will Wheaton and Eugene B. Bergmann).
The large-format book is filled with hundreds of pieces of information–and memories contributed by people who made the movie, as well as innumerable snapshots of the production cast and crew. Even shots of the discarded Flash Gordon episode.
Chapter One has an extensive description by Caseen giving details of the Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd background. Shepherd is covered more than one might have expected, and for this, I’m very pleased. It’s a pleasure to encounter, in a book about the movie, all that Caseen encompasses regarding the truths and myths regarding Shepherd. Shepahaulics will nod their heads in approval and previously innocent movie fans will learn much about a guy with a radio microphone and a boundless imagination and sense of humor who made Christmas eve and day a more enjoyable tradition through his vision and his voice.
expressing his vision with his voice.
Caseen Gaines asked me to write a foreword for the book, and I did, concentrating on Shepherd. I present the opening part of that foreword here:
A Christmas Story is not only the funniest, but the most witty, most clever, and most satisfying film you’re ever likely to see every year for twenty-four hours straight starting Christmas Eve.
Over fifty million people watch at least parts of it every year as it’s shown on cable television, and some families, in their Christmas passion, have memorized the dialogue and the narration, repeating them along with the film. Yet most of the viewers undoubtedly don’t know much about the background of the film. If their ignorance is bliss, this book will improve their bliss by filling in a lot of background — and foreground.
Focus for a moment on the creator of this masterpiece. Let’s begin A Christmas Story with its opening titles. Of course not enough people read film titles, but in this case it’s worth taking the trouble, because who created it and narrates it is of much relevance to what it’s all about. The vast majority of the film’s annual viewers probably don’t know who Jean Shepherd is, despite the fact that prominent among the opening titles they could read Shepherd’s name four times: that this was a film “from the works of Jean Shepherd”; that Ralphie’s adult voice was none other than Shepherd; that the movie was based on Shepherd’s novel, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and that Shepherd co-wrote the film script with his wife, Leigh Brown, along with the film’s director and co-producer, Bob Clark.
Jean Shepherd, for all the humor and joy he expressed in his decades of nightly radio programs, also had a negative view of life — he called it “realistic” — and he definitely disliked nostalgia, even though it sometimes crept into his work, especially at the tale-end of a film such as A Christmas Story. Although Bob Clark once said that they worked hard to give a recognizable sense of what many people would remember from their past, he did not suggest that the film was meant to be an exercise in nostalgia. Clark called it “an odd combination of reality and spoof and satire.” That is not nostalgia.
As to negativity and nostalgia, one has only to think about most of the film’s calamitous set pieces. Yet, because they are so funny, most people don’t realize that the funniness is inseparable from the bizarre outcome of so many incidents:
(Stay tuned for more)