Saturday, December 16, 2017

What to Read. What to Watch

Okay, here come more December suggestions you don't need: what to read, what to watch, as Christmas approaches.

Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" remains the classic Christmas text (after the Gospel of Luke, of course). But Dickens wrote other novellas with a Christmas theme, and two of them--"The Chimes" and "The Haunted Man"--are included in the handsome Modern Library edition, along with a fine introduction by John  Irving, and Dickens's own short preface: "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea,which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it." Dated December 1843.

The other Christmas classic is a short story, "Gifts of the Magi," written overnight in the Hotel Marty, New York, around 1903 by a man named William Sydney Porter. It was one of some six hundred stories he wrote--one a week, for the New York World Sunday edition, and for which he was paid one hundred dollars apiece, a remarkable sum in 1903. All of those six hundred stories appeared with his pen name: O. Henry.

And to watch: The Alastair Sim film of "A Christmas Carol" is almost obligatory, and it's hard to imagine anyone playing Scrooge better, although one critic insists Christopher Plummer, in "The Man Who Invented Christmas," gives us the best Scrooge ever. (Plummer has long been regarded as North America's finest Shakespearean actor, based on his New York performances as Iago, opposite James Earl Jones's Othello, and as Macbeth, in the Scottish play, with Glenda Jackson.)

The flip or hip side of "A Christmas Carol" is "Scrooged," with Bill Murray, plus John Forsythe as a fine ghost of Marley, and Miles Davis as a street busker. And one shouldn't forget Vincente Minelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis," if you can blot out the psychopathic Tootie played by Margaret O'Brien. The most recent addition to this list is "Love, Actually," a series of Christmas season vignettes created by Richard Curtis, writer-director of all those Hugh Grant movies you properly should love.

There we are. Start mulling the wine. I'll be over with a bag of sugarplums.

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