On Christmas and Hemlock
The other day I came out of El Cap after eating breakfast with my brother and the speakers on the lampposts were playing "Frosty the Snowman". I've always liked the fact that they play music downtown. It makes me think like there's a movie soundtrack to life in Corcoran.
That song always reminds me of watching the animated movie with my family around Christmas time when I was a lot younger, back before my parents grew old and died and my life took a significant turn for the worse, exiting the one lane mountain road leading upward to heaven and somehow ending up a passenger on a nitro powered Greyhound bus speeding down the six hundred and sixty-six lane highway to hell. I know that sounds more than a tad bit melodramatic, but all I'm saying is that I feel like everything was going fine and then, suddenly, a huge flying elbow came out of nowhere and knocked the rose colored glasses I was wearing off of my head and clean out of the ring up into the twelfth row of the arena where they landed at the feet of a toothless bald man wearing a Rowdy Roddy Piper T-shirt that exposed his hairy belly. He not only stepped on the glasses, shattering the lenses, but held them aloft so I could see them. Yeah, it's like that. People always tell me how crazy life is now, but truth is, life has always been freaking crazy. It's built into the blueprints of the situation, like being born into a world where no ever really seems to understand why we even exist in the first place.
I went to Visalia and watched a movie that had just come out that very afternoon. It began with an elephant shitting all over two guys who were trying to push a truck with the elephant on the back up a hill. Within a couple minutes the movie got markedly worse when a scantily clad young lady urinated on a naked fat guy lying on a floor. I wish with all my might, I could say that I left the theater after such an auspicious beginning, but I didn't. You see, I've become somewhat jaded and wanted to see what could top that shit. However, I felt the same way leaving that theater as I did after watching the movie The Joker. I knew The Joker was an omen, a harbinger of things to come, a feeling that was vindicated not long after with the nightmare that was the summer of 2020.
I saw a video the next morning that listed the Top Ten Christmas Movies of All Time. At the top of the list were the Home Alone movies and Bruce Willis's Die Hard. Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, which actually is one of the best Christmas movies ever, had fallen all the way down to tenth place right behind The Miracle on 34th Street. My daughter called me later and said her family was going to watch Home Alone that evening. I asked her if it bothered her any that the laughter in the movie was based on the suffering of the two bumbling thieves; she just laughed, insinuated that the question was crazy, and said no. Later on, I read a comment under another post where a guy said that he would defend to the death the fact that Die Hard was a Christmas movie, and he didn't care what anybody else had to say on the subject. That comment was on a post that was more of a bio about some young athlete and didn't have much of anything to do with Christmas, but apparently he felt compelled to let his feelings be known on the subject. There was another list ordering the best Christmas movies which listed Tangerine as the fourth best Christmas movie of the year. Tangerine is about a transvestite prostitute who gets out of jail and staggers across the underbelly of LA in search of the pimp who done her wrong. The author of the list references the film's humor. It is about as funny as having a toothache during a prostrate exam taking place on a bed of nails, and had very little, if anything, to connect the story to the birth of Christ.
I know that these internet lists are created by people who are willing to play fast and loose with truth in order to get clicks. I also have to admit that I used to watch Keven torture them two dumb fucks in Home Alone with as much relish as anybody else. I have binge watched The Sopranos, Deadwood, Rome, and that bleakest bitch of all, The Wire. I watched most of The Game of Thrones even after they killed the Sean Bean character off in one of the earliest episodes, and I knew that no good would come of it. I've watched Pulp Fiction so many times I can quote whole scenes from memory. I've wished the characters (Casino, Good Fellas) played by Joe Pesci so much ill will that when something bad actually happens to him, I'm going to feel kind of guilty.
In spite of all that, I feel kind of good about the fact that I can still understand the vast difference in calling Home Alone a Christmas movie and calling It's a Wonderful Life a Christmas movie, and I marvel at the fact that so many people around me no longer can. I don't think it makes me any better than other people, but it does cause me concern. The human ability to justify bad behavior is the very thing that Jesus speaks about the most. It's why we don't object to the $125 million contracts for quarterbacks playing a game, or the fact that every damn so-called reality show is scripted. I'm as guilty of it as anybody.
I think the real message in the story of Christ concerns the role that our relationship to infinity plays in the story. I do not believe that humanity will ever be able to break off a piece of the universe, place it under a microscope and suddenly be able to explain the meaning of existence. That means that we can only learn about it by trying to understand what the human condition has to do with our position between infinity and the finite, and that will only come from the revelations we encounter as our perceptions expand to embrace a more transcendent and larger view of reality, the kind you get when you actually think of such things in lieu of watching scenes of people killing or torturing each other on a movie set with a Christmas tree in the background.
Sometime in the not to distant future, when It's a Wonderful Life has fallen off the list of The 100 Greatest Christmas Movies completely, Hollywood will suddenly awaken to the fact that it can quit beating around the bush and just remake the Christmas story to it's own liking. It will use product placement and viewers will be treated to the sight of a Dentine chewing, wise cracking, Jesus popping open a Coca Cola and his family being turned away from an overbooked Hilton by a bellhop played by Rob Schneider. Tom Hanks, of course, will play Joseph with Jennifer Lopez portraying the pregnant Mary. There will be diapers, aspirins, energy drinks, chicken dinners, and the McDonald arches situated beneath the neon star of Bethlehem lit up by General Electric. Bruce Willis might even make an appearance as a disgruntled ex-cop seeking to thwart the evil intentions of King Herod played by Joe Pesci. Eddy Murphy will narrate as the voice of the donkey complaining about the journey to Bethlehem. I am hoping however that the Sean Bean character will keep his head this time, that there's no elephant covering people with shit and there's no naked girl holding a sprig of mistletoe while peeing on a fat man. But, most of all, if anything like this ever does come to pass, I hope I have the good sense to get up and leave.
I drove home from San Diego the other day with my oldest daughter. When I mentioned my desire to to write something about that aforementioned Christmas list of movies, She advised me not to. I value her opinion, and it almost persuaded me to give up on the effort. I bought a new mattress, and it is the kind that has a remote that allows me to sit up in bed and read. This morning when I woke up, I picked up a book from my lamp table entitled The Consolation of Philosophy. The first chapter was about defending unpopular ideas and focused on the story of the death of Socrates. The author mentioned that he bought several post cards of the 1786 painting by David of the death of the philosopher who had been sentenced to death for telling his version of the truth. The author mentioned that when looking at one of the postcards, he saw, "The behavior depicted contrasted so sharply with my own. In conversations, my priority was to be liked rather than speak the truth. A desire to please, led me to laugh at modest jokes like a parent on the opening night of a school play."
I recognized myself. I don't even wish I was as honest and steadfast as Socrates. It's way too much damn work, and people didn't really like him because he was always in their face getting on them about shit. I know on the inside, I'm still going to laugh whenever Joe Pesci gets hit in the head with a brick, or the anvil lands on Wiley Coyote's head. I just don't need to see it any more, and more often than not look for something more edifying to watch (which is a task unto itself). I'm hoping someday though, I'll quit doing that altogether and completely cut Hollywood out of my life and get serious about reading all these damn books with which I've surrounded myself.
For right now though, I'll just settle for knowing It's a Wonderful Life needs to be at the top of any list of top Christmas movies followed in no particular order by A Christmas Carol, and The Grinch that Stole Christmas (animated version). And Home Alone and Die Hard, well, you know,