Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmissing.

No matter how well you plan your Christmas, something's always missing.

It could be something simple, like the year Uncle Reege sat on Aunt Kathi's figgy pudding by mistake, so everyone decided to skip it after dinner. It could be something tragic or sad, like the beloved family member whose place at the table is empty this year and will be from now on. It could be something personal but serious, like the absence of elusive but necessary good health, or intangible, like being dragged to church against your will and wondering if you believe any of this stuff, and if not, why do you put up a tree, and if so, why do you have to be dragged?

With all the abundance we're blessed with, it's sad to note when things are missing.

Sometimes it's music. I noticed years ago that when the 1974 Rankin-Bass classic, "The Year Without a Santa Claus," was shown on TV the networks would cut things to make room for more ads. Such as "I Could Be Santa Claus," the charming song that Mrs. Claus sings when Santa claims to be too sick to make his deliveries.


It's not a fan favorite like the Miser Brothers' song, but it's fun and it establishes scene and character. And it's the only solo by Oscar winner Shirley Booth, who retired from acting after recording the voice of Mrs. C for the special. In away, "I Could Be Santa Claus" was her swan song. 

Mrs. Claus was getting cut before that, though -- even before she was Mrs. Claus. The 1970 Rankin-Bass "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," sort of Santa's origin story, has a lot of hippie sensibility that shows its age -- Santa is labeled a nonconformist; his happy clothes get him in trouble with the Man, and whatnot. The hippiest number, one that can still send my wife grumbling for the remote, was love interest Jessica (later to be Mrs. C) breaking free of the constraints of her small-minded society in this psychedelic marionette video:


Of all the songs in all the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, that one had to be the most general purpose; nothing Christmassy about it. Yet not only did it fail to become a smash hit, it usually gets cut for TV.

Ladies other than Mrs. Claus fared no better in Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, a 1962 cartoon version of the Dickens classic featuring music by the legendary Jule Styne ("Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", Funny Girl, Gypsy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, "I Fall in Love Too Easily," etc. etc.). Despite Mr. Styne's impressive résumé, the sad "Winter Was Warm," which Belle sings to Ebeneezer at that pivotal moment of his miserly life, generally hits the ground when the film hits the screen. 


A little dull for kids? Maybe. But it shows the price that Scrooge has paid with his hard-nosed and grasping ways, and I've never seen that as effectively done in any other film adaptation of the story. Usually you wonder what Belle ever saw in him, or why he ever bothered with her in the first place. This song spells it out and leaves it sundered.

I wish they wouldn't cut things. Nothing ought to be expendable. Would A Charlie Brown Christmas be the same if they cut the dopey kids' dance? Would A Christmas Story be the same if they cut the business with the flagpole? Would How the Grinch Stole Christmas be as good if they chopped the Grinch's crazy ride down Mount Crumpet? (They sometimes have, and the answer is: No.) None of these things are crucial to the story, but in some ways they are the story. Charlie Brown's friends don't care as much about the meaning of Christmas as he does. Ralphie's boneheaded buddies are as much a part of the fabric of his world as the Old Man and his kid brother. The ride down Mount Crumpet to steal Christmas is full of risk and cruelty to the dog Max, and tells us a lot about the cranky green freak. 

I wish good things never got cut. In a better world, they would not be. 

I hope your Christmas has everything it needs to be just what it ought to be. If something serious is missing, maybe you need to make peace with that. Or maybe you have to go find it. If you do, I hope you find your grail.


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