A Christmas Story (1983)
AMAZON REVIEWS AS WRITTEN BY THE CHARACTERS OF “A CHRISTMAS STORY”
by Michelle Said
Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (Compass in the Stock)
The best present of all time!!!!!
by Ralphie (Hammond, Indiana)
This is my dream gun! I have wanted this BB gun for so long! It’s basically perfect in every way imaginable! Not only is it ideal for playing cowboys and indians but it’s also great for warding away intruders! Plus, there’s the danger factor. My mom keeps saying, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” and, I mean, maybe that’s true, but I kind of like that! It keeps it exciting! I need this gun! Please, Santa. Please let me get this gun. I promise I’ll be careful!
YOU’LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT.
by Mrs. Parker (Hammond, Indiana)
A dangerous, ludicrous piece of equipment. Only a crazy person (or my husband) would buy this for a child. Honestly. What is the world coming to? Violence everywhere! I can’t even imagine a scenario where this would be a good gift for a little boy. Or an adult, even! What sort of message are we sending to our kids if this is the gift we’d give them? I mean, honestly!
by The Old Man (Hammond, Indiana)
Got this for my son. Good, solid piece of equipment. Had one when I was a kid. You should have seen the look on his face. That alone was worth five stars.
Lady Luck Leg Lamp (With High Heel and Stocking)
A real winner! A great trophy! One of a kind!
by The Old Man (Hammond, Indiana)
Now, I never considered myself the kind of man who would buy a leg lamp. But, that’s the thing. When you win a leg lamp, the whole world is your oyster. What I really love about this is that when I put it right in the front window of our home, everybody can see my prize and know that I’ve won a major award. Yup, the Old Man is coming up in this world! I am only taking away one star because the missus can’t stand it, so I suppose it may not be for everyone. But, heck! I think it’s just the best! I would probably buy it even if I hadn’t won it. It’s a thing of beauty. I could see this lamp in every living room across America. Yes, sir!
by Mrs. Parker (Hammond, Indiana)
Eyesore. Awful. Easily breakable.
Little Orphan Annie Radio Show Secret Society Decoder Pin
Rip-off!!!! DO NOT BUY!!!!!
by Ralphie (Hammond, Indiana)
I was so excited to get my secret society decoder pin after hearing about it on the Little Orphan Annie radio show. I really couldn’t wait. They kept featuring these daily secret messages on the program, which I make a point of to never, ever miss. So I wrote in to get myself a copy of the ring. I was so excited to open it up!!! I had been feeling like a real chump because I couldn’t decode the message!!! Well, that turned around as soon as I got it. I rushed home, opened the package, decoded the secret message and realized it was just a stupid commercial for Ovaltine. What a rip-off!!!!!!!!!!! Not worth your time. Unless you’re a big fan of Ovaltine. Then I guess it’s okay.
Children’s Bunny Costume, Ages 7-10 (Pink)
A wonderful gift.
by Mrs. Parker (Hammond, Indiana)
One word: Adorable. My sister Clara got it for my son Ralphie this Christmas and he looks like just about the most precious thing you’ve ever seen in your whole life when he wears it. I am deducting a point because Ralphie absolutely loathes it and refuses to wear it so we will only be showcasing it when my sister is in town. But other than that, it’s absolutely darling. I loved it so much I sent a picture to the company to show them and they actually put it on this website! I’m so glad I can look at my sweet little Ralphie in this tremendous present all year round. I especially love how his slippers are bunnies too. Three bunnies for the price of one! Just darling.
For girls only, please!!!!!
by Ralphie (Hammond, Indiana)
If I could, I’d give this stupid costume negative three stars!!! Aunt Clara thinks I’m a four-year-old girl, so no shocker she’d give me this thing. It’s embarrassing and ugly, not to mention made for girls. Did I mention it’s for little girls?!?! If I were actually a four year-old girl, I would probably would give it five stars or whatever. Who knows what girls do. Only girls, I guess. Which I’m not. Aunt Clara, I’m looking in your direction. Except now they put it on the website, which is pretty much my worst nightmare for life. I wonder if the company is going to pay for my therapy bills in the future. Yeesh.
Michelle Said is the Senior Editor of Bright Wall/Dark Room. She officially rates this article as .
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
by Andrew Root
Jim Henson was dead, to begin with. A freak bout of pneumonia had taken away the man who was at the centre of countless projects and characters; the very voice of Kermit himself. Richard Hunt—who performed Beaker, Scooter, Sweetums, and Statler, among many others—had also died, and the number of beloved characters that had been shelved out of respect was ever growing. How could The Muppets survive after such a monumental loss? It would be foolish to think that the idea to shut down Muppet Studios wasn’t bandied about across more than one boardroom table. How do you come back from that? How do the children find the strength to go on when the father has died?
One of the truly remarkable aspects of the Muppets was that despite all of their endearing self-deprecation (early Gonzo) and in-fighting (Fozzie vs. Statler & Waldorf), they were not only susceptible to, but also revelled in great moments of pure, unadulterated optimism. During the climactic showdown between Kermit and an obsessive restaurateur in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, the beloved frog (then still performed by Jim Henson) delivers one of the most genuine, heartfelt, and unquestionably true monologues on the nature of friendship. What he says is this:
I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And, well, it kind of makes us like a family.
Over the course of his journey, Kermit’s dream has been scoffed. He has encountered hardship after hardship, not least of which is a psychotic frog-leg enthusiast, and as Kermit struggles to find the words to reconcile his frustration with his pursuers and his generally positive outlook on life, he stumbles on this immutable true revelation on the nature of friendship; that what you are doing with your life is not as important as the people that you are doing it with. This may well be the central ethos to the entire family of Muppet performers. What choice did they have but to pick up and keep going?
Choosing their next project would be an incredibly difficult task. It would need to be a story that embodied their commitment to positivity, featured a wide variety of memorable characters, and had a solid emotional core. By choosing to adapt Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, they got all of those things. At its heart, this story is about redemption, about coming out of the blackness of solitude, denying cynicism, celebrating love, and above all, carrying on tradition. In embracing these themes, the Muppeteers were also committing to a sea change; with Jim gone, the status quo had been swept away, and shaking things up was a necessity.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a true ensemble work. Michael Caine brilliantly fills the shoes of Ebenezer Scrooge and provides a performance with seemingly boundless range. He is cruel and flinty; broken and remorseful; joyful and loving; all without sacrificing the continuity of his character. Seeing Scrooge experience happiness is like watching a newborn fawn finding its legs. He simply does not know what to do with himself! Caine’s performance is also noteworthy for being one of the only human characters in the film, a stark contrast to 1984’s cameo-packed The Muppets Take Manhattan (Kermit and the gang’s last big screen outing). With fewer humans filling up the scenery, it’s up to the Muppets themselves to fully populate this world. The way that these characters are used is another indicator of the evolution of the Muppets; for one thing, Kermit and Fozzie don’t have any scenes together. The original trinity of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear is downplayed in favour of the interactions between Gonzo and Rizzo. The chemistry between these two characters is unmatchable and completely fresh. Kermit and Miss Piggy form the emotional core of the film, ruminating on the nature of family, love, and togetherness, while Gonzo and Rizzo form more direct connections with the audience, breaking the forth wall with delicious precision and intent (when the narrators don’t want to stick around because the story is getting too scary, it’s a fairly good indicator that something frightening is about to happen). How does one talk about the casting of a film in which most of the characters are puppets? “The manufacturing?” Whatever the vocabulary, the characterization is beautiful. With 20 years of characters to fall back on, it would have been easy to rely on established personalities rather than forge ahead into new territory, but here again we find the Muppeteer’s commitment to change.The three ghosts that Scrooge encounters work so well for their particular idiom that the idea of shoehorning Scooter into the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past seems perverse. Where Muppet cameos are used, the old familiar faces appear in ways that instantly resonate (Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim jumps instantly to mind, as do Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and the ingeniously named Robert Marley). It’s a clear indication that the Muppeteers are not resting.
Much credit must go to Brian Henson - Jim’s son - who picked up the reins and directed this film as his first feature. While it may seem strange to comment on mise en scène in a film that contains talking rats, it is an important aspect of what makes this film so well-crafted. The Muppets are always shot to fill the frame, a trend which would diminish with each subsequent Muppet film until (during the ghastly Muppet Wizard of Oz), the puppets are relegated to the bottom half of the screen.
Look at this frame from 1999’s Muppets From Space. That is 18 inches of wasted headroom. Perhaps it was the changing trends in aspect ratios that forced the Muppets into wider and wider angles, and that Muppet movies were meant to be seen in the old 4:3 home video format, but whatever the case, that the Muppets are treated with the same (sometimes more) care as the human performers speaks volumes about Brian Henson’s commitment to his father and his friend’s creations.
Just as Scrooge found salvation in his fellow man, so too the Muppeteers must have found solace in each other. When Scrooge is confronted by the regret of how he spent his younger days, and how the manner of his ways cost him the love of his life, he curses the Ghost of Christmas Past. She replies by saying “These are the shadows of the things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me.” Above all things, the past is unchanging and unapologetic, but the future (so terrifyingly depicted here) is mutable. Every year that passes is an opportunity. Jim Henson is gone and we cannot change that. What we can do is try our best to live up to his ideals and the ideals of this film; to make a positive connection with the people around us, and to revel in the togetherness of loved ones, whatever form they may take.
Andrew Root is a writer living in Canada.
An Interview with filmmaker James Bird
by Joe Uchill
Onscreen, James Bird’s Eat Spirit Eat is a story about missing fathers, ad hoc families and a tight-knit group of amateurs fumbling their way through a movie. Off screen, James Bird’s Eat Spirit Eat is a story about missing fathers, ad hoc families and a tight-knit group of amateurs fumbling their way through a movie. The film follows twenty-something orphan Oliver trying to meet his actor father by casting him in a movie staffed by a hastily-assembled, family-like team of film-amateur friends. It’s part screwball deconstruction of the film industry, part twee wish-fulfillment fantasy of a boy looking for a father but finding a family in his friends. Writer/Director Bird knows both well; he partially based the film on growing up with an absentee father and, like Oliver, staffed it with his own tight-knit cadre of under-experienced friends. Bright Wall/Dark Room spoke with him about families – real, fictional, natural and otherwise.
BW/DR: You are touring with two very different movies you wrote that shot within a year of each other: Eat Spirit Eat and the straight-laced Danny Glover romance, Chasing Shakespeare. Eat Spirit Eat seemed to be a lot more personal, which is an odd thing to say about a movie with a zombie robot. Is it strange to transition between the two?
JB: Well actually, I write so much now. I really love to explore all different genres. The first one I wrote was a sci-fi. And then Chasing Shakespeare, a love story, and then Eat Spirit Eat, a comedy. I just wrote an action one. They all kind of follow the same message, that what matters most is friends and family. But I love to explore all kinds of ways to tell a story.
BW/DR: Are you going to keep writing in the cameos? You showed up as a reporter in Eat Spirit Eat and in Chasing Shakespeare.
JB: I’m actually going to try, if the movie doesn’t suffer. I’m not going to just throw a reporter in there, but-
BW/DR: You just wrote an action movie. You can blow up.
JB: Yeah, action movie for sure. I’ll be reporting during a shootout and have my head shot off. I’ll definitely kill myself off in that one.
BW/DR: Is being a reporter how you see yourself as a writer? As sort of like an observer to the story?
JB: Yeah. I never write outlines and I never obsess over it. If I write a script, I write it from page one until the end. I don’t edit. I don’t go back and read what I wrote. I want to be surprised by what happens, just like an audience. I don’t want to plan the story out so much that it becomes boring to write.
I would kill to do that. I would never finish a script because I’d get so obsessed with making each scene perfect that I’d just keep working on the beginning.
BW/DR: If you’re writing in literally every genre, how do you narrow that down to write a story? What about Eat Spirit Eat made it a story that you wanted to pursue?
JB: Well, it’s kind of autobiographical. I never met my dad. And the actors, a lot of them have stories about being removed from their fathers. Like [producer] Anya [Remizova] - her dad died during the shooting of Eat Spirit Eat. And Adriana Mather who played Vera, her father died before she came out to LA to pursue acting. Eze — Ezequiel Stremiz, who played Inny — he lost his mom. He’s a huge celebrity in South America and then he moved here and he had to start from scratch without a real support network. And this was his second American movie. Chasing Shakespeare was his first.
I just noticed that there were so many broken families and that it was really easy to view that immediately sad or negative. I wanted to show that broken families could be super positive because that means there would be open slots for new people to fill.
Chasing Shakespeare was a big budget, with trailers and Danny Glover and fifty people. Eat Spirit Eat was a group of my closest friends. So I got to really build my own family here, like Oliver.
BW/DR: Why hadn’t you met your dad?
JB: Well my mom’s from Minnesota. She met just some guy and they came out to California, and she got pregnant with my brother. Three years later she got pregnant with me and I guess my father didn’t want another kid and my mom didn’t want to get an abortion. So she chose me and my dad took off.
And then so from age one to maybe fourteen or fifteen we were homeless, I lived in a car. At the time life was fine, I didn’t know any different. But now that I’m grown up, I’ve realized “Wow man, life was tough.” Like how I always thought it was normal that a sheriff comes at the end of the month and throws all your stuff out. That was how people move, you know? Living in a car in a church parking lot I thought was pretty normal. And not knowing my father was actually pretty normal because basically everywhere we grew up it was a poor neighborhood. None of my friends none of them knew their father, you know? So I always thought movies were where dads were. Because in real life I didn’t know anyone that had a dad. But in movies everyone has a dad.
BW/DR: Is that why you made the father an actor in Eat Spirit Eat?
JB: Yeah. Young Oliver spending hours every day flicking through channels to find his dad is a more literal example of that. I only saw dads on TV. So Oliver keeps searching TV for his dad.
BW/DR: Those flashback sequences—the ones with young Oliver—were a lot less absurdist than the present day sequences. You go from these Muppet-y present day sequences to a slightly more somber past.
JB: When I look back at my memories, they’re actually more emotional than when I was experiencing them. So I looked at the past to as the sad part of your story. And realism is easier to view as a sad thing, but the point was to make sure that today, the present, you can be as naive and absurd as you want if you make that your reality. Oliver makes everyone around him believe in this off the wall weird plan, because in the end, they all just want to be kids again.
That’s what the whole entertainment industry is, a bunch of adults trying to play. Trying to be kids, you know?
BW/DR: It’s hard to overstate how much of a family Eat Spirit Eat’s cast is. You had a huge group travel to the opposite coast for the Orlando Film Festival screening — I think four actors, you and Anya — and all of them got emotional telling the story of Anya and her father. Leah Briese, who played Vill, was the first one to try and tell it and she couldn’t get all the way through before getting too choked up to continue.
JB: Yeah. I met Anya on Craigslist and she became a roommate. It was me, Adriana, Anya and I think Ezequiel might have lived with us at that point. And we wanted to make this movie, Chasing Shakespeare. Anya and her father were never close. They had never bonded. Her family is in Russia, and she’s the only one that moved to America. They wanted her to pursue business and you know take over the family business, which is factory work and all that. But she met us she really developed this love for art and for her passion, music.
Since she never got to be close with her dad, I think this was an opportunity for him because he got diagnosed with cancer. It’s sad but pretty sweet that her whole life she didn’t really have a father she could talk to, but in the last days of his life he became the best father in the world. So he gave her money for us to make Chasing Shakespeare. And that’s unheard of, really. So we actually made Chasing Shakespeare. And then the cancer got worse, and he went to the hospital, and as a goodbye present he gave us the money to make Eat Spirit Eat.
BW/DR: Was it just a coincidence that Eat Spirit Eat was this story about fathers?
JB: I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence, I would say it was fitting that it came with all these family stories. We were all pretty tripped out about it too. We’re making this movie about fathers and her father gives us the money to do this and then dies. So it was kind of meant to be, you know.
BW/DR: So this movie really is the family you said you built.
JB: The entire, the entire cast was all friends. I mean, my mom is in there, my brother is one of the cops. The entire cast — we cast it ourselves, we didn’t have a casting director — didn’t have audition. I just met with all these people that were really good friends. I was like, “you’re perfect for this.” And I would just need to make sure that you could do it.
In reality we were a bunch of kids that were thinking, “Okay, we’re going to go make a movie.” We’d never done it before independently. I’ve never directed before, and she’s never scored a film before. Adriana’s never had a lead role before. We went into it thinking we were going to have so much fun learning how to do this. We were like Oliver and those orphans. We were so naive about everything.
The crew actually, like within the first, maybe four days of filming, they thought we were absolute bananas. They didn’t know, like, what was going on. They said, “This is not how you do it. This isn’t how you make films.” After week one they were all super, super on board, saying, “I’ve never had this much fun making a film before, this does not feel like work at all” you know. So it was cool, we just had to recruit them into our belief system. And the movie came out beautifully because everyone believed in the same thing: We’re all doing this because it’s fun. There’s not a lot of money, no one’s here for a paycheck, it’s all because we want to enjoy this and you know, the whole crew got behind it.
BW/DR: You’ve said at film festivals that on the soundtrack, some pretty big bands literally gave you songs for no paycheck and just because it’d be fun.
JB: The Watson Twins live pretty close to me, so I just walked up and talked to them about it. You know, walked to their house. Once they read the script, they were like, “We have to be a part of it, because that’s what the movie is about, you know? You’re supposed to come here and we’re supposed to join in and be super naive about this, right?” And I’m like, yes. So we got them. They completely waived all the fees for everything — publishing and marketing.
And then they’re like, “Okay, what other bands do you like? We’ll help you get them.” Well, I really like the band Everest. And they’re friends with Everest. When Everest , “I guess we kind of have to do the same thing as the Watson Twins, right? The whole movie is about just doing it for the love, and if we say we need all this money, we’d be evil.” So they jumped on and they gave us a song. And then Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros did the same thing. They didn’t ask for money. Mishel, who’s Ana Banana, is really good friends with that band now.
We found out if you become a human, if you don’t just do this on email and then say, “Direct me to your publishing rights guy,” if you’re actually human about it, if you actually tell them what the story’s about if they’re able to see your passion about it, they’re musicians, they’re artists; they want to be that passionate about what they do, too. So the second we became humans to them is when everyone just offered up their stuff. It helped that being human went along with the message of the movie
BW/DR: Is there a way to replicate any of this on your next movie? You sort of lost the nativity, just doing it for fun thing with the success of Eat Spirit Eat.
JB: The next movie is called Honeyglue. It’s about a girl who has three months to live. She meets this cross-dresser ex-junkie guy that’s the polar opposite of her, and he shows her how to live life in the three months that gives her a whole new perspective on life. It’s a little bigger budget and we have offers out to some really good actors.
For Eat Spirit Eat we were pretending we knew what we were doing, and now we’re figuring out, “Holy shit, what we were doing is right.”
This interview originally appeared in Issue #6 of Bright Wall/Dark Room Magazine. To read Issue #6 in its entirety, and receive access to all previous issues and content, subscribe to Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine today, directly from your iPhone or iPad, for $1.99 per month.