Movie Review: A Christmas Story (1983)


TitleA Christmas Story
Release Date: November 18, 1983
Director: Bob Clark
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

I watched A Christmas Story for the first time not long after it was released in my 5th grade classroom (those days before Christmas when the teachers just put on a video to watch as a special treat because the kids are too pepped up to learn anything).  I’ve seen it many times since, and even read Jean Sheppard’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash while I was in high school. But I haven’t watched in a long time, at least 15 years, maybe more!.

Well, it holds up well.  The key to this movie is that it’s honest about childhood – from the genuine terror of visiting Santa, to flipping out and striking back at a bully, to the lengths a kid goes to get the gift their heart desires.  It’s also honest about the parents as we see both the usually strict mother and father having their moments of softening up for Ralphie. Honestly, these days I find myself relating to The Old Man, especially on Christmas morning, when he just wanted to sleep.  Some things I’ve never noticed in the movie before: The Old Man skipping with The Wizard of Oz characters in the Higbees store, the freighters in the background when they’re changing the flat tire. and that Darren McGavin was 60-years-old when this was made (so he was a really Old Man).

Rating: ****1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 23


The final Podcasts of the Week post is all Christmas content.

StoryCorps :: Cynical Santa

This story is from 1990 and it’s hard to imagine that there could be a Cynical Santa in today’s New York, at least at Rockefeller Center.

Tiny Desk :: Hanson for the Holidays

Hanson is a band of brothers who had big pop hits in the 1990s and I hadn’t thought of them since, but I heard this concert of Christmas music and … I liked it.

Tiny Desk :: The Big Tiny Desk Holiday Special

If Hanson wasn’t enough, here’s a collection of holiday music concerts from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Polyphonic Spree, and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, among others.

Irish and Celtic Music Podcast :: Joy on Your Celtic Christmas Day

If you prefer your holiday music with a Celtic flair.

Sound Opinions :: The Sound Opinions Holiday Spectacular 2017

A collection of arcane holiday tunes collected by Andy Cirzan called Snowbound Soliloquies.

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 16


60-Second Science :: Ancient Women Had Awesome Arms 

Thanks to science, we now know that prehistoric agricultural labor is the way for women to build upper body strength.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: The Bleeps, The Sweeps, and The Creeps

Did you ever think that the noises from your phone, computer, car, etc were actually designed by someone with specific ideas in mind.

Slow Burn :: A Very Successful Cover-up

This series on Watergate continues with the history of just how uninterested people were in the scandal during the 1972 Presidential Campaign

Science Talk :: The Skinny on Fat

The science behind fat, it’s importance to the body, and the mythology of fad diets.

Life of the Law :: Traditions

Stories from prisoners about their memories of Christmases past and the new holiday traditions they create while incarcerated.

Code Switch :: With Dope, There’s High Hope

The history of the demonization of marijuana by linking it to African Americans and immigrants, the inordinate arrest rate of African Americans on marijuana charges, and how people of color are being left out of the legalized canabis market.

The Truth :: Mall Santa

This story of a disenchanted mall Santa who finds hope in a young, drunken Santa-Con participant really touched me in the feels.

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 9th


99% Invisible :: The Nut Behind the Wheel

A history of how the auto industry and road engineers avoided including safety measures in their designs in their cars and highways leading to countless deaths, and how they blamed everything on the driver.  Yes this should make you think of firearms manufacturers.

Fresh Air :: The Golden Age of Comics

An interview with Cullen Murphy who took over writing “Prince Valiant” from his father in the 1980s.  Murphy remembers how special the full-color Sunday comics section was for children, and the community of comic artists in Fairfield County, CT.  Not mentioned in the interview, Murphy and I went to the same high school, albeit he attended well before I did.

Hidden Brain :: What Can A Personality Test Tell Us About Who We Are?

Hidden Brain examines personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs.  Scientific or a glorified form of astrology?  Worse still, how employers are misusing these tests in personnel decisions.

Fresh Air :: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Daniel Ellsberg discusses “The Pentagon Papers” and top secret plans for nuclear war that he discovered as a national security analyst in the 1960s but was not able to reveal to the public at the time.  A chilling look into the United States’ militaristic past and present.

Hub History :: Boston and Halifax, a lasting bond

One hundred years ago, a collision in Halifax Harbor caused a munitions ship to explode, devastating the city and causing thousands of deaths and injuries.  Boston responded by sending a train with medical personnel and supplies to help the survivors.  To this day, Nova Scotia continues to thank Boston by providing a Christmas tree every year.

60 Second Science :: Yeti Claims Don’t Bear Up

Science disappoints us again by showing that evidence of the Yeti is genetically just a bear.  Well, not “just,” because bears are important to, and these studies tell us more about them.

The Bernie Sanders Show :: Our Budget Priorities with Elizabeth Warren

Two of our few remaining sensible Senators discuss important things that make sense.

Decode DC :: The Changing Race of Immigration in America

A history of immigration to America focusing on who was allowed to “become American” and who was excluded, and the government’s role in all of this.

Songs of the Week: Christmas Special


A very Merry Christmas to you if you celebrate, and if you don’t I hope it’s a peaceful day off and the Christians and consumerists don’t get you down.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have been featured twice before on Song of the Week for holiday-themed songs and now you can hear an entire holiday-themed concert courtesy of NPR’s All Songs Considered.

More holiday music to accompany present unwrapping, eggnog sipping, and walking in winter wonderlands:

The Christmas Revels: A Welsh Celebration of the Winter Solstice


It’s warm and overcast out, and looking to only get warmer as the week goes.  We’re more likely to have a wet Christmas than a white Christmas, but I know the holiday is coming soon.  Today my family and I celebrated the solstice with a matinée of The Christmas Revels.  This is our (mostly) annual tradition going back to 2001.  The Revels this year is set in Wales, a land of beautiful singing traditions, poetry, and mythology.  I’ve never been to Wales but this show gave me a nostalgic longing for the place.

It should be noted that while Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones are famed Welsh singers, their was music was not represented in the show.  There were familiar tunes for the sing-a-longs – “Cwm Rhondda” and “Hydrofol” – which as song leader David Coffin pointed out, “you know these songs just not with these words.”  The familiar Christmas carol “Deck the Hall” was also sung by a choir of children, but in the original Welsh.  The children – who were excellent as always – also performed scenes from Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

There’s a beautiful scene near the end of Part 1 where Coffin sings “Daffydd y Garregg Wen (David of the White Rock)” accompanied by Haley Hewitt, while Emma Crane Jaster performing as the legendary bard Taliesen.  Jaster is lit from below and moves her arms like a harpist, casting large shadows on the roll-top desk ceiling of Sanders Theatre.  My daughter imitated the gesture, waving her arms by her own imaginary harp.  (And I was right in my memory that Taliesen is also the name of Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate in Wisconsin). Other highlights include a group of rugby supporter singing a rousing victory song, some fine clogging, and a retelling of “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” with the children.

No matter where in the world the Revels is set, there are the Revel’s traditions.  There was a rowdy morris dance and “The Lord of the Dance” where we all spill out into the lobby singing and dancing (I can never get enough of doing that), there’s the haunting Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and there’s the mummer’s play, this year with the Red Dragon playing the role of the hero vanquishing the White Dragon of England for the Welsh.   We sing rounds, we shout “Welcome Yule!,”  we finish on “The Sussex Mummers’ Carol,” I weep.  Tradition.

I was entranced as – for me – the Revels never fail to please.  My kids were more antsy.  Welsh-language songs make no sense, and my son said even the English was hard to follow.  My daughter wanted to see a dragon and had to wait a looooong time for a four-year-old, but I think the dragon’s eventual arrival satisfied.  They soldiered through and I think they enjoyed themselves, although they wanted cookies too.

Performances continue through December 27, so get your tickets and go if you haven’t already.

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Strange Lyrics in Later Verses of Popular Christmas Carols


A lot of people sing the first verse and chorus of popular Christmas carols and then move on.  But if you stick around to later verses you can find some interesting attempts by the lyricist to fit in large concepts and unique rhyme schemes.  Here are some of my favorites.

Carol: “Cherry Tree Carol”

Lyric: And Mary gathered cherries / While Joseph stood around.

The whole song is rather bizarre, but I like to think of this part as if it were a stage direction.

“What was Joseph doing while all this was happening?”
“I don’t know, he just stood around.”


 

Carol: “Deck The Hall”

Lyric: Troll the ancient Yule tide carol

The redefining of “troll” in Internet culture makes this sound like a rather rude thing to do, but even before that it brought to mind of creatures under bridges eating billy goats, not sing festive tunes.


 

Carol: “Do You Hear What I hear?”

Lyric: A Child, a Child shivers in the cold–
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold.

Or maybe a blanket or something that actually insulates rather than metals that would be rather chilly on a cold night.


 

Carol: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Lyric: This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.

The words “doth deface” sound so Metal.


 

Carol: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Lyric: Hail, the incarnate deity

I can’t hear the words “Hail, the incarnate deity” without hearing them in the voices of the aliens from Toy Story.


 

Carol: “In the Bleak Midwinter”

Lyric: Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air

A choir director really wanted us to emphasize the word “thronged” while singing and now I can never get past what a strange word that is or the imagery of a throng of cherubim and seraphim hanging out in the air.


Carol: “Little Drummer Boy”

Lyric: The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum

Once again my mind fills in the details and I get an image of the ox and lamb wearing berets in a smokey jazz club and saying “dig!”


 

Carol: “Silent Night”

Lyric: Shepherds quake, at the sight.

THERE ARE REPORTS OF JUDEA BEING HIT BY A SHEPHERD QUAKE, ESTIMATED AT 5.7 ON THE RICHTER SCALE.

 

 

Christmas


On a peaceful Christmas at home in Boston, remembering the Christmas Truce of 1914, one of the more difficult to comprehend events in human history. Why would they stop fighting to celebrate with their enemies?  Why would they go back to war after getting to know one another?

This is cheezy, but this Sainsbury advertisement dramatizing the Christmas Truce is way better than it has any right to be.

 

Wherever you are, I hope your spending the day peacefully and safely among the people who love you.

 

The 44th Annual Christmas Revels


The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge are annual family tradition.  My first Revels experience was in Washington in 1996.  After moving to the Boston area, the Cambridge Revels were an annual event from 2001-2006.  We missed the show in 2007 due to a newborn, and in 2008 due to a blizzard, but have been regular attendees since 2009 (that same year I actually sang in the chorus!).  So, I calculate that I’ve seen 13 different Christmas Revels performances.  Each year is delightful and surprising in its own way.*

This year’s Revels is set in Victorian England, with music halls and the Crystal Palace playing center stage.  The first act shows two teams of buskers competing on the streets of a Northern England town as the Crystal Palace manager Harry Colcord and composer Arthur Sullivan seek an alternate performer after a cancellation.  In the usual Revels’ way, everything comes together as the buskers join forces to create a performance of music, tricks, and a “panto” of Cinderella.  The second act is treated as a command performance at the Crystal Palace (complete with life-size wooden cutouts of the royal family in the mezzanine).

Highlights of the show:

  • comic busking performances by Marge Dunn, Billy Meleady, Mark Jaster, and Sabrina Selma Mandell
  • singing a round of “Row the Boat, Whittington”
  • David Coffin’s solos on “It Was My Father’s Custom” and on the melodic “Christmas Bells at Sea”
  • the sing-a-long and acting out of “When Father Papered the Parlour”
  • the “Panto” of Cinderella, which while not a true Panto (oh no it isn’t!), we did get to shout “Don’t touch Billy’s eggs” several times
  • And of course, the Revels traditions of “Lord of the Dance” (and dancing out into the lobby), “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “The Shortest Day,” and “Sussex Mummers’ Carol.”  Unfortunately, the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” was conspicuously absence in this year’s performance.

There are five more performances from December 26-28, so if you’re in or near Cambridge, get a ticket and go!

* I also recently discovered that the Revels website has a list detailing the theme of every performance from 1971 to present.  Now I need to discover time travel technology so I can go back in time and see each and every one.

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