Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nostalgia for the Nostalgic - "A Christmas Story" and the Holiday

Watching that timeless, over-viewed, and totally wonderful film again last night, I was so struck by how completely nostalgic the whole thing is.  I've often asked myself why this movie is so popular with just about everyone, and I think the most easy answer is that unlike maybe any movie ever made about Christmas, the soul of it is so pure and so innocent.  Making it a period piece, making it an adult reflection on childhood, setting it in Midwest suburbia, the world is cast as an ultimately feel-good zone where even family dysfunction seems not to matter so long as the light of Christmas is sneaking in, and when it DOES arrive all problems in the world are solved - even if the turkey is ruined.

The film's central narrative device - Jean Shepherd's voiceover - gives a distinctly literary vibe to the whole thing, as if an expert storyteller is crafting a wordy, over-the-top view of things.  I take "A Christmas Story" to be much more of a fantasy than most people probably do.  Shepherd's eloquence is complemented by a filmmaking style that is full of well-lit, almost glowing shots coupled with the child's viewpoint.  But I say it's a fantasy, and what do I mean by that?  Well simply, it's a fantasy of everything we WANT to remember Christmas to be.  Whether or not anyone's Christmas is actually as perfect (even regardless of all the things that go wrong) as this movie makes it out to be, we still cling to Christmas as that time in our youth when we were most in awe of the world, most excited of the possibilities of a man in a red suit breaking into our house, and I can't think of a better movie out since that has managed to find what's so warm and reassuring about that nostalgia and present it visually and in narrative.

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