Saturday, January 01, 2022

Muppet Christmas Carol

I had never seen it until last night, even though it is a Christmas tradition in many families, including my sons. It is the best version of the story I have seen, stage, screen, or reader's theater in the living room. Near the end I asked "How did Michael Caine not win an Oscar for this?  It is the most universally-known work of fiction in the English-speaking world, has been made into a movie many times, and performed at a hundred local theaters over the last 100 years.* And his Scrooge is the best I've seen." Actors from "Unforgiven" and "Scent of a Woman" won instead, both of which have uh, faded in popularity. 

Well, we know why. Because it's Muppets, it is not regarded as serious drama. And they do put some of their own muppetty bits in it, true. In the thinking of the academy in general, it's not new, it doesn't break new ground, it doesn't express a modern sentiment, so it's not significant in that sense. The song lyrics actually do have a modern feel that sometimes jars with what Dickens believed, or at least how he would have expressed and emphasised it.  They have a Sesame Street morality underneath them at times, or a very 80s-90s philosophy about what is goodness and happiness. That's not the sort of moral ambiguity and tortured lives the Screen Actors Guild means by current significance, though.  They don't mean popular culture that just anyone could like and appreciate.  Or maybe they just resented that therere weren't many humans - that is, SAG actors - in the movie. 

If Christians have had a complaint about this Dickens work over the years, it is that its Jesus is nearly invisible - I think only the single line of Tiny Tim's about going to church - and even God mostly shows up in the "bless us" part. There's plenty there for Christians, but it's not very explicit, and some folks like explicit. This production makes actual Christianity a bit more explicit in a few places. Not a lot. Not as much as the harumphers would like certainly, but more than the original, so I take what I can get.

*Until GK Chesteron and George Bernard Shaw made a concerted effort to revive the reading of it a hundred years ago, it had fallen far out of favor in England and was little-read. Chesterton saw the celebration of the festival nature of Christmas and Christianity in general, Shaw saw nascent socialism in it that he wanted to encourage.


Grim said...

In fairness, both of those other movies are very good. "Scent of a Woman" is a more traditional Oscar bait, but it has a genuinely moral core. "Unforgiven" is one of the best Westerns ever made, and a meditation on the whole genre that is worthy on its own terms.

Narr said...

I'll go with Muppets. I never saw the other two.

Brad said...

Totally agree about the movie and Caine's performance. I way this every year.

Aggie said...

I read somewhere that John Wayne hated 'High Plains Drifter' when it came out with its no-name avenging anti-hero, and he decried the advent of westerns on this kind of theme as being somehow un-American. I often wonder what he would have thought of Unforgiven's grittiness; I guess probably he would have seen it as even more debased. As much as I like Eastwood's maverick film making, he seems to prefer these kinds of roles; only Bronco Billy has a hero figure and even this is portrayed in kind of a hackneyed way that is almost satirical.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

As I watch no movies, I am out of my range here. Something, somewhere - perhaps my background in theater and music - taught me that entertainment and performance can manipulate us easily, and I just don't trust it. If you remember the controversy over the Mapplethorpe photography exhibit, the button that many good liberals wore was "Fear No Art." I laughingly told a psychologist friend of mine that I had a good rapport with that art was actually an extremely powerful and fearful thing, and I felt the opposite. I feared art more than anything else in the marketplace of opinion. My only regret is that this method of unfairly influencing others is not in my skill set, except occasionally and by accident.