A CHRISTMAS STORY
The book of assembled A Christmas Story stories is promoted as “The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film,” though, deceptively, the book contains the previously published film-related stories from the books In God We Trust (1966) and Wanda Hickey (1971). The A Christmas Story play, of several years’ seasonal duration makes the rounds. The musical based on the movie is good.
Every year one encounters news stories about kids getting tongues stuck to frozen poles, and they refer to the movie. “I decided to try it because I thought all of the TV shows were lies, but turns out I was wrong,” said one kid. Kids, want to prove it’s true without ripping skin off your tongue? Touch your slightly moistened finger to an ice cube. Sticks, doesn’t it?
Yes, ACS again. I capitulated to its popularity long ago, giving prominent references to it in my own writing about Shep. I’m an idealist and a realist. We need whatever promotion we can get. Especially as there seems to be some jinx working against Shep, with inadequate, inappropriate, and inaccurate Shepherd knowledge insinuated into the American cultural makeup. ACS indeed! (As wonderful as it is.)
Talk about cultural makeup–as with many movies, it has a couple of subtle jokes. A minor one, probably meant more for the movie makers’ own enjoyment than for its viewers, because it’s only seen in full for less than a second, is what’s either a sweet bit of longing for a bygone age or another example of skewed nostalgia: Ralphie has attached his BB gun target to a large, vertically propped-up advertising sign which proclaims in big, bold letters, “Golden Age.” Those idyllic words are partly obscured by that symbol of symbolic hostility—the target. The “golden age” advertising sign, apparently metal, is indeed the obvious cause of the BB ricocheting back, nearly shooting Ralphie’s eye out.
This great family movie, watched every year by millions as it’s played twenty-four hours straight on cable television, also has a couple of sneaky off-color references. Probably not one in a million is aware of them even after many viewings.
A minor gag involves the poorly positioned stencils on the wooden crate containing the leg lamp. The missing part of the F in FRAGILE on the top is not relevant, but above it, instead of THIS END UP, the missing T leaves a probable reference to the old man’s posterior: it reads HIS END UP.
A visual piece of fun happens when Randy finally gets into the bathroom after Ralphie deciphers his decoder message. Randy lowers his outer pants and then, as he lifts the lid on the pooping “pot,” the camera cuts to a close-up in the kitchen of a lid being lifted on red cabbage in a cooking pot. When the fuse blows while the old man is working on the Christmas tree lights, narrator Shepherd comments that his old man “can change a fuse faster than a jackrabbit on a date.” One only has to remember that rabbits are famous for reproducing rapidly in the time-honored way, and especially that they would be doing such on “a date.” That’s the most startling, and it’s my favorite.
The movie looms so large in Shep’s legend. One cannot get away from all things A Christmas Story. The house used for the movie exterior shots, located in Cleveland, Ohio, bought on ebay, has been turned into a museum of the movie. They spent thousands returning it to the look of the movie inside and out, making it a tourist attraction. They contracted four of the former child actors for the opening, and a Chinese restaurant has a tie-in regarding the Christmas duck dinner featured in the movie. A leg lamp dominates the window of the house, and they’re selling all the collateral merchandise. May The Christmas Story House live long and prosper.
Among the fairly new A Christmas Story products is a snow globe, a board game, a Monopoly game, a jigsaw puzzle, and the siding removed from the original A Christmas Story house sold in a collectible shadow box. Obviously a major subject for millions of A Christmas Story enthusiasts, the leg lamp looms large. But despite the growing popularity of blow-up décor for every conceivable holiday season in my Long Island neighborhood, please don’t anyone buy me the recently available five and-a-half feet tall by two feet in diameter inflatable leg lamp lawn ornament. (I think it’s no longer available.)
I’d love a photo of one taken on a lawn!
And as for some of the new variations, don’t buy me the Leg Lamp Soap-On-A-Rope, the Leg Lamp Head-Knocker, or even the Leg Lamp Wall Clock, with its pendulum like a leg, perpetually swinging back and forth, as, on the hour, the clock announces that immortal exclamation, “Fra-gee-lay!” And don’t get me from the catalog this new one for 2015:
I’d rather drink my sweet vermouth on the rocks
out of a plain glass tumbler.
For the 2006 holiday season, the wireless phone company, Cingular, broadcast a TV commercial replicating parts of the movie with Ralphie requesting a particular model cell phone, wearing the pink bunny suit, and Santa shoving him down the slide with his big black boot. Instead of “You’ll shoot your eye out!” the admonition is “You’ll run the bill up!” A full-color editorial cartoon by Mike Thompson in the Detroit Free Press soon after the November 2006 elections in which Democrats gained control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, replicates the scene in which Santa is asked for the BB gun, but Ralphie is replaced by a Democratic donkey, saying “I want an official full-blown Congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s conduct leading up to the war [in Iraq] with simultaneous passage of a wildly ambitious domestic agenda!” Santa, about to send the Democrat donkey down the slide by shoving him in the face with his boot, says, “You’ll shoot your foot off, kid.” An extensive New York Times article on the commercial and related A Christmas Story matters in their Business Section quoted a Turner Broadcasting executive as saying that for the twenty-four hour showing of the movie during Christmas, 2005, 45.4 million people watched at least part of it. More recently, the count has gone well over fifty million.
I just noticed that the entire movie now appears on YouTube. But, after it being
a freebee, now one has to pay to see it!
A Christmas Story loomed large in the spring of 2007 with the news that on April 4th, the film’s director, Bob Clark, and his son were killed when an illegal alien without a driver’s license, allegedly drunk, driving on the wrong side of the road, hit their car. Readers of the obituary were informed that the director had a cameo role in the film—when the old man goes outside to admire his “major award” leg lamp in the window, Clark is the man who questions him about it. On the day of the accident, Shepherd fan Keith Olbermann, star of television news and sports commentary programs, did a short piece on Clark and A Christmas Story.
In 2008, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the movie’s opening, the A Christmas Story House
Gene B.’s contribution to the above brochure
(I may have posted this before):
“Jean Shepherd talked and wrote a lot about Hammond. He might sometimes disparage the place, but in his heart and mind the tribulations and joys of his childhood were inseparable from his hometown. Though he might attempt to disguise some connections, he kept letting them sneak in. Two examples: The town he wrote about called ‘Hohman’ he named after a street of that name in Hammond. In the movie A Christmas Story Shepherd’s fictional character Ralphie wants a BB gun as he also did in the earlier published version originally titled ‘Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,’ and we know that Jean Shepherd grew up on Hammond’s Cleveland Street. In some undeniable, enigmatic way, Jean Shepherd was the Cleveland Street Kid. He never got Hammond out of his creative works or out of his blood.”
As no one offered to cover all my expenses to Hammond or Clevland, I was forced to observe the occasion in my own very private—and enigmatic–fashion.
One year I was interviewed for a newspaper article about ACS, commenting in a way I’ve long felt but may not have quite articulated before: “Because it’s so funny, I think people don’t realize that the funniness is in the bizarre negative outcome of so many incidents in the movie. Shepherd’s philosophy tended to be that most things in life were going to end in disaster. In this movie he was able to present that in an acceptable form, a form that makes people laugh and makes them not realize the darker undercurrent.”
A dramatic example of this is when the old man is reading the newspaper,
the neighbor’s dogs, heading for the Christmas turkey,
start tramping through–unseen by him
because of the newspaper blocking his view–
and Shepherd as narrator wryly comments:
“Ah, life is like that.
Sometimes at the height of our revelries,
when our joy is at its zenith,
when all is most right with the world,
the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”
[Joel comments on many of the positive/caring acts that occur in the film. Although comments appear on the blog where they are indicated, many may not look at them, so I’ve sometimes revised the basic post to include them, as I do here:
I think the observation that so many of the incidents in the movie end in disaster, yet are done so we laugh is the banana peel phenomenon. But the other thing that rescues the movie from the darkness is the love that is shown in the family. The scene of the ride to get the Christmas tree, singing in the car is one such. The father’s love when he points Ralphie to the treasured BB gun after all the presents are unwrapped (“well,” he says, “I had one when I was a kid.”). The mother’s tender care when she thinks an icicle wounded Ralphie. Her soothing him after his explosion beating up Scut Farcas, and not telling the old man about the episode… The scene in the Chinese restaurant where they laugh and enjoy the experience as a family (Shepherd remarks that the meal became know long after for the duck). The closing scene showing the warmly lit quiet house and the tree with the kids in bed, Ralphie caressing the BB gun and the snow falling outside is a real Christmas card.
I find it interesting that the movie portrays such warmth in the family home and among the parents and kids, when Shep’s reality must have been anything but that, given his father’s abandonment of the family.]