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Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Matinee - A Christmas Story

I'll be the first to admit that this particular year, I've been having a slightly difficult time embracing the magic and joy that the holiday season can bring.

Mainly because it's December 12th today and as of right now, there's still no snow sticking to the ground in the town that I live in. Which wouldn't be so bad if I was living in a place that never got snow. Unfortunately, I live in Ontario, Canada, and seeing how mild the temperatures have been lately, I'm getting slightly a bit on the depressed side.

Granted, the countdown to Christmas is at thirteen days, so maybe Mother Nature will accidentally leave her refrigerator open for Christmas weekend, blanketing the ground with snow in between defrost cycles. At least I'm hoping so, or else maybe Al Gore really was onto something with this whole global warming thing.

Until then, why not talk about a Christmas themed movie in this spot? After all, it is the Monday Matinee today, and today's movie deals with Christmas traditions that almost all of us who celebrate the holiday experienced.

Also it deals with some of the feelings that we may have experienced as children ourselves, and all the hopes and excitement that we all had during those simpler times.

Oh, and it has a little kid standing up to and defeating a neighbourhood bully. What's not to like about that?

I think all of us can recall one Christmas in which we had written our letters to Santa Claus asking him for one gift that you really, really wanted, but somehow knew that there was only a glimmer of hope of actually getting it. I know in my case, some of these items involved an expensive computer, the entire library of Archie comics, and the computer book that Penny used on the cartoon Inspector Gadget. Today's Monday Matinee topic has this theme in mind. How one little boy had something on his Christmas list that he really wanted so badly, he could taste it.

Or, how about seeing someone get a gift that you know is incredibly ugly, tacky, and tasteless, and yet seeing the absolute joy they get in receiving the gift. And then seeing the person who hates the gift try everything to get rid of the gift because it is such an eyesore? This movie has it too!

Or, how about getting a present from a distant relative who clearly doesn't have any sort of idea what the person wants, and then you're forced to pretend to enjoy the gift in their presence? This movie has that as well.

And, of course, who hasn't known someone who has accidentally done this on a cold, frosty winter morn?

This picture looks mighty painful, doesn't it? And, yet, this was a scene from today's featured movie.

So, kick off your shoes, and pop a bowl of popcorn as we get ready for the Monday Matinee feature for December 12th...A Christmas Story!

A Christmas Story was made on a four million dollar budget, and was released in November 1983. It managed to make back its four million dollar investment, plus an additional fifteen million on top of that. The movie starred Peter Billingsley as the main character of Ralphie Parker, a character that was largely based on the life experiences of author Jean Shepherd (who did the adult narration for Ralphie). In fact, a lot of the scenes from 'A Christmas Story' can be found in Shepherd's books. The movie also starred Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, and Zack Ward, and filming was done in both the United States and Canada.

The movie's main plot deals with the first topic that I talked about. The one about wanting something for Christmas, and nothing else would do as a present. In Ralphie's case, that something was a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock. He literally tells everybody he meets that he wants the BB gun and he gets the same response...that if he gets it, he'll shoot his eye out.

It didn't matter who he told. Whether it was his mother, who outrightly refused to give it to him, his teacher, in which he wrote an essay for school on why he wanted the gun (in which he received a final grade of a C+), or even Santa Claus himself...

...the response was always the same.

You really had to feel for Ralphie here. I mean, I know what it's like to ask for something so outrageous that I knew deep down that it couldn't have been made possible (especially since I had never seen any Inspector Gadget computer books in stores in any of the years that I've been alive). To have everyone basically pooh-pooh his wish and desire to have the one gift that would ultimately make it the best Christmas he's ever had is kind of a slap in the face to him.

But then again, Ralphie was only nine. When I was nine, I was only allowed to play with water pistols. But, I digress.

That was the main plot of the movie. Ralphie wanted a Red Ryder BB gun. I can't tell you whether he gets it or not though, as I don't reveal the endings to movies featured in the Monday Matinee section. But, considering that TBS once aired 24-hour marathons of the movie, and that it's aired on cable television on a regular basis during the month of December since the mid-80s, it's a safe bet to say that we all know how A Christmas Story ended.

But there were so many B-plots that were interspersed with the main plot. It's like the A-plot was the fancy, shiny silk ribbon that held the whole thing together, tied up neatly in a bright red bow.

And in a way, it sort of links to the other holiday examples of what I find to be events that I myself have experienced during the holidays.

The first B-plot that I wish to talk about? Standing up to a neighbourhood bully.

Having gone to a school which seemed to have at least one neighbourhood bully per classroom, I know how hard it can be to stick up for yourself and fight back against them when you never know when you would come face to face with them. Now that I'm a lot older and wiser, I can stand up to most bullies and not even break a sweat. When you're a child, it can be quite difficult.

In Ralphie's case, fear had a name. Scut Farkus.

The red headed boy with one of the most awkward, yet completely awesome names that I've ever heard for a character used to bully Ralphie something fierce. He would throw snowballs at Ralphie, make fun of Ralphie, and when tag teamed with his sidekick Grover Dill, it seemed as if Ralphie was unable to escape the barrage of insults and snowballs that he had to endure.

That is until Ralphie snapped, and decided to fight back.

Needless to say, I don't think Scut Farkus would ever try to hurt Ralphie any time soon (and while I'm usually not one to advocate violence towards bullies, in this case, the Scut had it coming). Although, Ralphie was so enraged and in the moment that he actually uttered a few choice words, including one rather vulgar four-letter word beginning with the letter F and rhyming with truck.

No, he didn't say fudge. He said the F-word.

And for Ralphie, this couldn't have come at a worse possible moment, as his mother (who came upon the scene after Ralphie's little brother Randy ran off to get her in an attempt to break up the fight) heard the whole thing. And having gotten in trouble by his father (who Ralphie referred to as the Old Man) for uttering 'The Queen Mother of Dirty Words' while he was helping his father change a flat tire, Ralphie thought that he would be in big trouble. Maybe he'd even get his mouth washed out with soap!

Luckily, Ralphie's mother does a pretty convincing job of changing the subject at dinner, making the Old Man forget about the whole thing in a matter of minutes.

The next thing that I want to bring up is the part about the person getting an incredibly tacky gift that they adore, but everyone else hates. At some time before the film begins, the Old Man enters a sweepstakes contest, sponsored by the Nehi bottling company, and ends up winning a prize.

Naturally when the prize comes in the mail in a gigantic crate marked 'fragile' (which leads to some rather interesting methods of pronouncing the word), everyone is excited to see what the Old Man won. What he got was...well...unique.

The prize was a gigantic lamp in the shape of a fairly nice looking female leg, a symbol that was associated with the Nehi company.

And the Old Man loved it. To him, it was a symbol that he had finally won something in his life. He cherished it, loved it, kept it in a prominent place in the family living room. It didn't matter that to the average person, it looked as if it were more of an eyesore than a must-have item for a foyer or parlour. To him, it might as well have been made out of the finest gold with diamond dust sprinkled liberally all over the base. It was a thing of beauty.

So, why did his wife end up doing THIS to it?

Turns out that Mrs. Parker hated that lamp right from the get-go. She wanted desperately to get rid of it, and ended up resorting to drastic measures to make that lamp go away. You could almost see the Old Man's heart break right in two pieces when his gaze met upon the shattered limb.

Let's have a moment of silence for the lamp.

For the record, I can't say that I've ever been in a situation where I've despised someone else's gift so much to the point where I've wanted to destroy it. Granted, I've seen some of my family members give each other some really gross gifts over the years, but never would I develop enough rage to want it gone.

Though I can definitely sympathize with Ralphie when he was forced to enjoy a gift that he absolutely hated. Don't get me wrong...I loved my grandmother and late grandfather on my father's side very dearly, but they weren't known for giving me presents that I could actually use. I remember one Christmas, they ended up giving me a box of jellied fruit that I would never have eaten. Part of me wondered back then what the heck they were thinking. Of course, it took me a while to realize that they tried their best with the limited amount of money they did have. Besides, it really was the thought that counted, and their hearts truly were in the right place. 

Though, if they had given me an outfit like the one Ralphie had to wear in the photo above, I probably would have maybe thought about disowning them, or at the very least pretended not to know them. The outfit Ralphie wears was one that was probably better designed for a four year old bunny pajamas that his Aunt Clara made for him to wear on Christmas morning. Ralphie hated the pajamas...even his father compared him to looking like a deranged Easter bunny. But, at least his mother told Ralphie that he only had to wear them whenever Clara came to visit.

There's other aspects to the movie that are present in the film that I could spend hours talking about (and I literally could, as it's one of my favourites), but I really want all of you to check out this movie to watch it for yourselves. It really is a great film.

One last video clip before I end this entry off... saw where the neighbourhood dogs ended up stealing the turkey? I guess that could be symbolic to the life lesson that I wanted to bring up that is tied to this movie.

That lesson? There's no such thing as a perfect Christmas, so we should enjoy it for whatever it brings, good or bad.

You see it all the time. People stressing out over planning the perfect dinner, and buying the perfect gifts, and decorating their perfect trees with perfect strings of lights and perfect ornaments while addressing their perfect cards in perfect handwriting with perfect utensils, sticking perfect stamps on the perfect envelopes so they can go inside the perfect mailboxes to show everyone how perfect their Christmas is.

Who are we kidding here? Not one holiday season goes off without a hitch. Sometimes the gifts we buy people end up being duds. Sometimes the Christmas cards get lost in the mail. Sometimes the lights short out, and the ornaments get broken.

And sometimes dogs can barge into your home and eat your Christmas dinner, forcing the whole family to go to a Chinese restaurant spur of the moment.

But, so what? Sometimes it's those moments that people fondly remember the most about holiday functions. I mean, we wouldn't even have A Christmas Story had Jean Shepherd not experienced these moments first hand!

It's true that in a lot of cases, we remember the disasters more than the success stories. But if the disaster leads to a a family happily spending a holiday together and making the best of a bad situation, then it really isn't a it?

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