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This film was the annual festive Cottage Classic - which I was rather glad about, as I feel I have seen their alternative offering, It's a Wonderful Life, enough times for a lifetime over the previous two years. I went along with ms_siobhan, planet_andy and a packed house-full of other cinemagoers on Wednesday evening, to enjoy it along with mulled wine, mince pies and the usual opening reel of vintage adverts and shorts. To suit the time of year, several of these were festive, including one of a mad old couple cooking with Paxo and another made up of nostalgic shots of churches, snow and a room full of diners with streamers and balloons, designed to wish cinemagoers a happy 1947. We were not wished a Gay 1964 in the medium of tinsel this time, but we were informed of the availability of Wall's Gaytime ice-creams in the foyer. Sadly, however, the kiosk seemed to have run out of them - some time in the late '60s, I suspect.

The film itself tells the time-honoured story of a bunch of people putting on a big show, complete with all the song and dance opportunities which that normally affords. The two main characters are army buddies, whom we meet for the first time putting on a show for their division. Ten years later, they are a hit Broadway double-act, and the main thread of the story sees them hooking up with a pair of duetting sisters and following them to a small ski-town in Vermont. There, they find their former army General running a ski-lodge which is in financial trouble due to a lack of snow, and resolve to bring their whole Broadway show up into the mountains, put on the biggest extravaganza the town has ever seen, and do their General proud. Along the way, of course, there are comic scrapes and tragic misunderstandings; romances and reconciliations. And I probably won't be giving too much away if I say it snows at the end.

The song, 'White Christmas', was treated in the film as an established hit. Bing is singing it right in the first scene for his army buddies, which you don't really do with a headline number that you have written specially for a new film. Rather, the film is capitalising on the established success of the song. According to Wikipedia, it was first recorded in 1941, and myfirstkitchen was right to say in a comment on one of my earlier 25 Days of Christmas posts that it was originally written for Holiday Inn. I can't say I think it is that great, to be honest - like most of the music in the film it is just straight-up schmaltzy sentiment without any real sense of fun or irony, and that doesn't really do much for me. Properly sad songs full of aching loneliness, yes. Outright happy songs revelling in the joys of life, yes. But I can only buy sentiment if it is packaged up with a really good tune - and it almost invariably isn't.

That said, some of the performances which accompanied the music were fantastic. Top of the list was Bing Crosby and and Danny Kaye doing a sort of sub-drag act, in which they mimed to a recording of the duetting sisters, wearing make-up and carrying large feathered fans, but without going the whole hog and wearing wigs and dresses as well. Danny Kaye in particular clearly really enjoyed that, camping it up to the nines, and I can well see why rumours that he was gay or bisexual persisted throughout his life. Vera-Allen, one half of the sister-act, also showed off some pretty amazing dance moves - especially in an early duet with Kaye which saw them twirling around poles on a fake studio jetty, but also later in some of the big set-piece numbers from the show they put on in Vermont.

But my favourite acting in the film came from Mary Wickes, whose name I didn't know before this Wednesday, but is that woman who plays a stringent, non-nonsense housewife in everything. Trust me, you have seen her in something. She's playing very much to type here, but damn she does it well, and stands out a mile as one of the least-sentimentalised characters in the film.

White Christmas isn't trying to tell such a complex story or to build such three-dimensional characters as It's a Wonderful Life. It stays at the level of simple romances and good deeds, whereas It's a Wonderful Life is a close study of a single character (George Bailey), exploring his flaws, self-doubts and sense of identity in a much richer detail. So it isn't fair to compare them, really. White Christmas is perfectly inoffensive, but only because it doesn't take any risks or attempt any real depth. All in all, then, although I find a lot to annoy me in It's a Wonderful Life, I'd probably still rather watch that next Christmas than see White Christmas again, as at least It's a Wonderful Life gives me something to engage with. That said, here's hoping that the Cottage Road management will hit on something other than either of them instead for this time next year.

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
kantti
Dec. 15th, 2012 07:25 am (UTC)
Oh, I love White Christmas. My mom and I watch it every year. P. had not had the pleasure before we got together and I think it's now the part of our Christmas rituals he dreads the most. How could he, when there are such lovely clothes? And of course, for Hollywood dynasty watchers, the other sister is played by George Clooney's aunt.
strange_complex
Dec. 15th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, the clothes were pretty damned fantastic! We were labouring under the illusion that Rosemary was George Clooney's grandmother, but actually I've just checked Wikipedia and you are right - she's his aunt. There is definitely a family resemblance, anyway.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Dec. 15th, 2012 02:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this. I don't think knowing the first verse makes much difference, as it only seems to add to the sentimentality to me (though it is interesting as an almost direct inverse of the sentiments of 'California Dreamin''). But the stuff about the secularisation / de-Christianisation of Christmas really is interesting. I hadn't realised before that this song had played such a leading role in that cultural shift, and knowing about that does give me a new-found respect and liking for it.

Oh, and thanks also for your willingness to undertake perilous journeys through fundamentalist web-sites to bring me this information in full! It's much appreciated. :-)
ms_siobhan
Dec. 17th, 2012 08:17 am (UTC)
I'd sell my soul for a gaytime ice cream.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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