xmas past


V.17 No.52 | 12/25/2008

Animation

Love Theme from “Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol”

(This ghost of Christmas past originally posted Dec 24, 2008.)

The first made-for-television Christmas cartoon aired on December 18, 1962, broadcast through the ether to rabbit ears and flickering tubes and glassy-eyed cherubs around the country. It had been a busy year: Ringo Starr joined the Beatles, somebody tried to off Charles de Gaulle, John Glenn orbited the earth, Spider-Man was invented, the Vietnam War raged, and the world teetered on (and off) the brink of nuclear war during the the Cuban Missile Crisis. So I suppose it’s not too shocking that “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” has become the show that time forgot. But it deserves more love than that.

Done in the on-the-cheap UPA “limited” animation style that has been endlessly ripped off by modern animation stylists (e.g., Genndy Tartakovsky), this inspired speed-run through “A Christmas Carol”—featuring, implausibly, Jim Backus as Mr.-Magoo-as-Ebeneezer-Scrooge—manages to transcend its Flintstones-in-Outer-Space gimmickry and deliver a goddamn amazing TV watershed. No, seriously.

“Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” was clearly made by people who cared, and does a bunch of things right that nobody today would even bother doing:

1. The songs sound like A-list Broadway material because they are: Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics) went on to write Funny Girl for Barbra Streisand. Tell me “Winter Was Warm” (play clip) isn’t honestly lovely.

2. The dialogue is literary. Actual lines spoken by Mr. Magoo: “You are about to show me shadows of things that will happen in the time before us. Is that so, spirit? Ghost of the future, I fear you more than any spectre I have yet seen. Will you not speak to me?"

3. The ghosts are genuinely creepy, especially the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who invokes sonorous timpani percussion with every silent nod.

4. The story takes place within a frame narrative: Magoo is an actor making his big comeback in “A Christmas Carol” on Broadway. One of his fellow actors is UPA contract star Gerald McBoing-Boing. There’s even intermission and a curtain call.

5. The whole Magoo-can’t-see gimmick is dropped as soon as he becomes Scrooge. Whew. That was never funny.

Where can you see this minor masterpiece? There’s a not-yet-out-of-print DVD out there, but right now it’s on YouTube posted by various contributors and in clips of varying quality. It’s not the same as having it blaring in the background while you trim the tree, but it’ll have to do. My 4-year-old gives it thumbs up.

V.17 No.51 | 12/18/2008
David Sawyer, courtesy of Saveur

Food

What the Hell’s a Sugar Plum, Anyway?

(This ghost of Christmas past originally posted Dec. 15, 2008)

Merriam-Webster says the term dates to 1626 to describe "a small candy in the shape of a ball or disk." "Sweetmeat" is offered as a synonym, an even more archaic word for "candy" from the 14th century. All rather vague.

Saveur has the most insight:

The famous sugar plums spoken about in Clement Clark Moore's beloved poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" were actually sugar-coated coriander. Later the recipe changed and included other spices and dried fruit.

Both old and new recipes use confectioners sugar, probably because it looks like snow. (Well, that, and because powdered sugar tastes good.) The updated recipe isn't so much a candy as what hikers and other Co-op shoppers know as an "energy ball"—a lump of dried fruit, nuts and sweetener.

V.16 No.50 | 12/13/2007

Thanks for the Jewel Case

Down With Christmas

A selection of the Christmas albums we received this year, all of which fill us with urges to stab each other with sharpened candy canes

Michael Bolton A Swingin' Christmas (Concord Records)

Whether you're having problems with money, family, food, Jesus or Christmas in general, those minor issues will all be eclipsed if you happen upon this agonizing Michael Bolton album. Not only are these songs awful, they're crooned by one of the most horrid musical demons of our time. This Christmas, your troubles are of a Michael Bolton nature. (JCC)

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V.15 No.50 | 12/14/2006

Holiday Sonic Reducer

Last-Minute Music for the Holidays

Behold, a critic shall conceive, and share his thoughts. Of the 48 season-related CDs and DVDs that arrived at Casa Bellecci-Serinus this year--heed my prayer, Oh Lord, no more!--here’s my pick of the best.

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V.14 No.50 | 12/15/2005

Holiday Music

Here's To You and Your Wassail, Too

A few suggestions for atypical Christmas music

Christmas music is one of the biggest mysteries of the universe. Some of us, maybe even most of us, think it was specially designed to drive us over the edge during a vulnerable time of year. But according to the laws of capitalism, millions and millions love this smut. Otherwise, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra wouldn't return each year, and every high-profile recording artist wouldn't have lent their own spin to holiday songs.

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V.13 No.47 | 11/18/2004

Holiday Music

'Tis the Music For the Season

Fa la la la la, la blah, blah, blah ...

Don ye now your gay apparel, because the holiday season is upon us and you're going to have to listen to at least some holiday-themed music over the next six weeks whether you want to, like it, or not. So we figure you might as well spend your time listening to the good and avoiding the bad. That's why, for the past 11 years, we've gone to the trouble of listening to the most recently released batch of holiday albums and painstakingly compiling our thoughts on them. A little holiday music is good to have around just in case you decide to throw a little party or gathering, or a bunch of creepy relatives show up for an unannounced yuletide visit. And some of this stuff really ain't that bad!

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