Monthly Archives: December 2014

Points of Light Holiday Edition: It’s A Wonderful Life

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Welcome back to the blog.  In order to combat the post-Christmas blues, I’ve saved my final holiday entry for today.  And I’ve saved the best for last.  So prepare to take closer look at a Frank Capra bomb that became a holiday classic- It’s a Wonderful Life.

 

The Story

 

Prayers on Earth cause God and Joseph to summon Clarence, an angel in training, to venture down and help George Bailey, a man considering suicide.  Through flashbacks, Clarence sees George grow from child to man, a life in which George often gave up his dreams of travel and architecture to help others in his hometown.  Despite giving people a way to build and own homes rather then beg from the wealthy Mr. Potter, George is regretful of his missed chances, which overtake him when money from his business is misplaced and he faces jail.  Despondent, George attempts to kill himself for insurance money, only to be stopped by Clarence.  Acting on George’s statements, Clarence then reshapes the world so that George was never born, resulting in a world where the town is ruled by Potter and George’s friends and family are bitter, unhappy, or ever even came into existence.  Horrified, George begs for his life back, which Clarence gives him.  George returns to accept the consequences, but the townspeople he has helped over the years come to give him the needed money, repaying him for all his years of kindness.

What Writers Can Learn: Lengthy Narrative, Consequence

 

While it took many years of holiday TV airings to become a holiday staple, it is not hard to see the Christmas nature of this film, which promotes selflessness and the kindness of friends and family.  But other then its morality, this film gives writers examples of excellent tools.  First, the piece is perfect as a long narrative of George Bailey’s life.  We are shown George from the time he is twelve, and then almost all of his early adult life.  Even without his teenage years, we are given a clear of the man’s life, and the core of his character.  Even as a child, he displays a strong selflessness, losing part of his hearing to save his brother, and taking over his family business to save it from Potter.  With each age, we see George become a better man and we became more and more enamored with him and hope for his success.

However, the narrative also reveals the consequences of George’s actions.  Each of his good deeds is marred by sacrifice.  We see him give up college education, his dream of architecture, then his chances to see the world, his honeymoon, all to keep his family business going, and protect the townspeople.  And while his nobility is admirable, he displays all too human regret and frustration at the loss of those dreams.  We see touches of it throughout it the film, but it is nowhere more apparent then the difficult scene where George returns home after the money is lost.  He is clearly angry and saddened, snapping at his family, complaining about his life, and then finally destroying his models of things he would never build.  We see just how human George really is and despite all the good he has done, he has sacrificed a great deal.  Some have even brought this into the final scenes, where the townsfolk are brining George the needed money.  While it can be seen as the repayment of kindness and how good deeds are rewarded, it can also been seen as another blow to George, since he now has more then enough funds to keep working in a job he never truly wanted.  But regardless of how it seen, this is a perfect view of the consequences of one’s actions and how they affect his life.

Further Viewing

While not a holiday film, Jimmy Stewart (George) had a similar role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where he plays a junior senator attempting to stand up to the inhuman bureaucracy of government (a film of great use in these difficult political times).  And with that, our holiday journey is finished for another year.  I look forward to seeing you all in the New Year, as I put forth the second volume of Lightrider.  Happy Season to you all.

Points of Light Christmas Edition: A Charlie Brown Christmas

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Greetings once again, as we continue our look at great holiday writing.  Today we examine a genuine holiday classic, drawn from the mind and hand of one of America’s comic strip legends.  Let’s turn the spotlight on A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The Story

It’s the holiday season, and as usual, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed.  He feels that Christmas has become over-commercialized, (thanks to Snoopy’s excessive doghouse decorations and his sister Sally asking Santa for money), and that he cannot grasp the true meaning of the holiday.  Taking advice from Lucy, he agrees to direct the school Christmas play, but is unable to control the unruly and sometimes selfish children.  Charlie Brown decides to get a Christmas tree to better set the mood, but selects a small, barren tree (the only actual tree in the lot) which is ridiculed by the children.

Charlie then beseeches someone to tell him the meaning of Christmas, which prompts Linus to recite the Nativity story from the Bible.  Feeling inspired, Charlie Brown takes the tree home to decorate, but it cannot even support a single ornament.  C.B. leaves in disgust, but Linus and the other children arrive, and are able to properly decorate the tree as C.B. returns, as the group begins to sing.

What Writers Can Learn: Simplicity, Subtlety

Charlie Brown Christmas has aired for fifty consecutive Christmases, and it’s not hard to see why.  Aside from bringing Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cast to television, it is a landmark in the art of simplicity.  Everything about the story feels genuine and endearing, from the basic story (completed within ten days) to the performances (done by young children with little previous acting experience).  As a result, the story isn’t weighed down by excessive details or long winded story telling.  The characters are direct, which makes them seem more like children, and the lessons are quickly stated and shown, which makes it easy to get across, especially in Schulz’s simple and often heartwarming style.

The other great aspect is the subtlety.  As mentioned, the story itself is largely simple, but as such, its points can be easy to grasp.  Charlie Brown is similar to the Grinch at the start, disillusioned with the commercialism of Christmas, and this point is clearly stated without lingering too long.  The other children also display their negative traits quickly.  But of all these moments, the most important is Linus’s reading of the Bible, one of the key moments of the Christmas season.

A scene that Schulz fought to be included, it is easy to say that bringing up religion is a difficult topic, and it is.  But the presentation is what makes this the keystone of the special.  The earnestness of Linus’s delivery is a major part, to be certain.  And while the religious aspect is undeniable, it is also true that Christmas is a religious holiday, and for those that celebrate that aspect, this is what the holiday truly means.  But most importantly, following Linus’s speech, there is silence.  No urging is given to the viewer, no demands are made.  We are simply left to our own devices, to take the words and apply them as we see fit.  In that, we have the greatest example of subtle writing- assuming the audience is smart enough to grasp the meaning in their own way.

Further Reading

There have been numerous Peanuts specials over the years, dealing with other holidays and various events, but few, if any, have reached the heights of the first.  But those of you looking for one last gift, come back next week when we unwrap what may very well be the greatest Christmas tale of all.

Points of Light Christmas Edition: Night of the Meek

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Welcome once again, as we continue our month long look into Christmas storytelling. Last week, we visited a modern version of the North Pole, but today, we’re entering a different realm. A realm between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This week, we venture into the American TV classic known as The Twilight Zone, and its Christmas offering, “Night of the Meek.”

The Story

Henry Corwin, a drunken department store Santa, arrives late and is fired from his position after a parent complains. Corwin then pours his heart out to the crowd, explaining that he drinks in large part because of the squalor and poor condition of his neighborhood and the children in it, and that he cannot truly be Santa for them. Decrying that Christmas is a far purer and better thing then department stores and presents, Corwin wishes that for one night, the meek could inherit the Earth. After being refused entrance to a local bar, Corwin comes across a large sack, which produces any gift asked of it. He then fulfills his wish, giving gifts to the children of his neighborhood and to the men of a homeless shelter. However, a nun calls the police, who then contact Corwin’s former employer, who believes he has stolen the gifts from the store. However, the store manage can only remove garbage out of the bag, and the policeman tells him to leave it alone. Later, Corwin has emptied the bag, and wishes only that he could do this every year. As he returns to the alleyway where he finds the bag, he now discovers a sleigh with two reindeer and an elf, waiting to take him to the North Pole.

What Writers Can Learn- Redemptive, Unique Character Writing, Morals

While The Twilight Zone is largely thought of for supernatural tales, it could often tell more heartfelt stories, and this is no exception. A great part of the genius of the episode can be placed at the feet of Corwin. The idea of a drunken, layabout department store Santa is nothing new, and is often written for comic effect, or to showcase a superior Santa figure. But here, we are made to feel for Corbin, who is aware of his flaws, and drinks out of regret not for himself, but for the poor people he lives with. We see that there is a good man behind the alcohol soaked veneer, who takes his position so seriously, that he weeps when poor children ask for gifts and “a job for my daddy” that he is powerless to give (A great note of consideration must also be given to Art Carney, famous as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, who carried the episode with his heartbreaking performance as Corwin).

But this episode is also excellent in its redemption and moral offerings. Despite his noble intentions, Corwin is at best, a sad figure with little to give the world, and he knows it. Upon finding the magic bag, we see Corwin’s utter joy at being able to make his dream a reality. Even under the face of scrutiny, he stays true to his goal, gifting his accusing manager, an act that convinces the policeman that Corwin should be left alone to accomplish his goal. In that, we see that even the most unlikely of us can do great good, if we are only given the chance.

And now, we come to the morals, the part that makes this required Christmas viewing for everyone. As mentioned, Corwin is a department store Santa. He constantly sees the hustle and bustle of people endlessly shopping and buying and spending each day, then goes home to a world where Christmas is just another day of the year. He sees children that will get everything they want, and children that don’t even get coal in their stockings. Even his firing comes at the hands of a woman who is trying to force the commercial of Christmas onto her son, and it is that very scene that makes Corwin deliver a speech on the truth of Christmas that ranks up with Linus telling the Nativity to Charlie Brown. Because Corwin doesn’t just remind us of Christmas’s true meaning, he stands in the hall of commercialism and reminds all the people, including the children, of those who have nothing. It is a speech that I have placed below, and I dare you watch it, and not weep.

Further Reading

The Twilight Zone had no other Christmas episodes, but those looking for strong moral tales would do well to examine its episodes for them (“The Last Night of a Jockey” is a fine example). “The Night of the Meek” was remade for the 1980’s Zone revival series, but nothing tops the original. And of course, there is another classic tale of the true meaning of Christmas, which we’ll get into next week. But if you want a hint, check the funny pages.

Points Of Light Holiday Edition: Arthur Christmas

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Greetings once again. First off, I must apologize for my recent absence from the blog. I have spent last month prepping for the release of the Lightrider sequel, Equites, and have had little time for any kind of outside work. However, that work is nearing completion, and I can begin December with new postings. And as we are in the holiday season, I am compelled to continue last year’s tradition, and comment on some Christmas stories. To kick things off, I have chosen a new holiday film that seems on it’s way to becoming a holiday classic- Arthur Christmas.

The Story

Arthur Christmas is the youngest son of the Claus family, which has maintained the role of Santa for years, the role passing from father to son throughout the generations. Arthur’s brother Steve is largely responsible for the work each year, having transformed the process into a largely military style operation, with the boys’ father acting in a purely symbolic role. However, the current Claus, who is out of touch and largely working in a bubble, is still unwilling to pass on his title, which frustrates Steve to no end. When a present is found to be undelivered, the elder Clauses ignore it, but Arthur, who believes no child should ever be left behind on Christmas, sets out to correct the error, aided by his grandfather, who also wants to recapture his youth.

What Writers Can Learn: Old vs. New, Sympathetic Characters, Moral Lessons

Arthur Christmas is a unique spin on the Santa Claus legend, largely because of the modern spin it puts on the actual job of being Santa. The amount of technology and stealth style planning that goes into making this version of Christmas is clearly effective, but at the same time, seems cold and impersonal. As such, it is an interesting dichotomy for the viewer. The process is effective and amazing to behold, but it is so far removed from the traditional depictions of Santa, that it becomes uncomfortable to a degree, a fine satire of the effect of modernization on many current technologies and trends.

However, what gives the film much of its strength is that all of its major characters are relatable. In fact, it is hard to find an active villain within this story, which in most stories would be a death knell. However, this story succeeds by giving each Claus, save Arthur, a healthy degree of selfishness, though each one is understandable. Steve is resentful towards his father and does not want his brother to succeed because he doesn’t want him to be a hero. But at the same time, Steve has clearly been the real driving force beyond his father’s recent work, and is justifiably angry at continually being passed over for a job he has proven himself at. Grand-Santa simply wants to feed his ego, but he has also been neglected in his old age, and watched the tradition he worked for be pushed aside. And finally, Santa himself is shown as well past his prime, but refusing to pass down the job to his son. However, this man has been Santa for most of his life, loves his work, and is frightened at the prospect of losing his identity. This makes all of the characters sympathetic for different reasons, and viewers can find their own opinions regarding them and the film itself.

Finally, the film also teaches a fine lesson about one of the greatest aspects of Christmas- the act of giving. Throughout the film, each of the Santas acts in selfish ways and give little thought to the missing gift at first. Then when they do, they either botch the procedure or argue over who should do it. Only Arthur truly cares about making sure the child gets what she asks for, a moment outlined in the movie’s strongest scene. It reminds us of the best part of giving to others- that it doesn’t matter how or who does the giving, only that it is done with care and love for the receiver. It is because of Arthur’s dedication to this, that his family realizes he is the only one that can carry the name of Santa into the future. And that reminds us of why we truly should give at Christmas- simply to make another person happy.

In this case, I can’t offer further reading, but I can implore you to view this film to really see the ideas I’ve explained here. Next week will see the examination of another Christmas classic, and in the spirit of the season, I leave with a gift of my own- a preview of the cover of Equites. And if you are interested in finding out more, I will be at the Clark Public Library in Clark, NJ, from 2-4 this upcoming Saturday, where you can get a special pre-order discount. Happy Holidays.

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