Friday, December 23, 2016

Seen on the Small Screen in California

(Warning - the following post is about Christmas and therefore mature images are displayed) During this year, there have been times when it was difficult to find even a few films set and/or filmed in a state, let alone find a way to watch them (Delaware and West Virginia, I’m looking at you). California (like New York and Illinois) provides the opposite problem. There are so many films set in (and especially filmed in) the state, it’s difficult to limit things for one post. Because it’s Christmas Eve Eve, I decided to focus on California Christmas films.

Really, you can claim most every Christmas film (except perhaps Elf and Home Alone) for California. After all, White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, even Christmas in Connecticut and so many others, were filmed in California though they’re set somewhere else -- usually a place with snow. But in the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to let Vermont have White Christmas, Connecticut have Christmas in Connecticut, and wherever can claim Bedford Falls for It’s a Wonderful Life. And I’m not even bothering with television specials in spite of such treasures as the California Raisins Christmas Special. For our California films, we’ll confine ourselves to Christmas films set (and filmed) in California.

Every year there is a Twitter storm of argument of whether or not Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas film. Some people argue that a film must be “about Christmas,” while others say any film set at Christmas time and with Christmas elements should count. Our family decided the issue for ourselves long ago. We have a tradition on Christmas Eve Eve of gathering in the living room with plenty of snacks for a Christmas movie marathon. Films that were part of the rotation included Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge (the musical version of A Christmas Carol), MIracle on 34th Street, and yes, Die Hard.

If you’ve never seen this Yuletide classic, it’s the story of a NYPD officer who comes to Los Angeles at Christmas time to visit his wife, who’s taken a job with a Japanese company’s Southern California office. Unfortunately, his wife’s office Christmas Eve party is taken over by terrorists. (Have you ever noticed that no one in movies ever gets Christmas Eve off? In It’s a Wonderful Life, children are going to school on Christmas Eve day!)

Anyway, Die Hard has all the elements of Christmas. There is the music: Al of the LAPD sings “Let it Snow” and Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” (which is a Christmas tradition in Japan) is an important part of the soundtrack. There’s an appearance of Santa Claus (okay, so it’s just a dead terrorist in a Santa hat, but it’s the thought, you know). There’s even a Christmas miracle! (Which benefits the terrorists, but still…) Really, isn’t saving your wife from terrorists and punching a TV reporter what Christmas is all about? (Also, if you’d rather your Christmas didn’t include brief nudity along with not at all brief profanity and violence, this probably isn’t your Christmas film.) Of course, it was filmed entirely in California, with the Fox Plaza in the role of the Nakatomi building.

The writer (and occasional director) Shane Black has made combining violence and Christmas the mainstay of his career. He wrote and Richard Donner directed Lethal Weapon (1987), a pioneer buddy cop film starring Mel Gibson as suicidal Martin Riggs and Danny Glover as his family man partner, Roger Murtaugh. The film features a very funny, though violent and profane, confrontation in a Christmas tree lot.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Christmas Elf
In Delaware, we saw Black’s The Nice Guys (2016) in a movie theater. It’s another film that combines crime and Christmas. Probably my favorite Shane Black film is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), with Robert Downey Jr. as an actor playing a detective in the movies getting detective lessons from Val Kilmer who plays an actual detective. There’s a Christmas party in the film where the true Spirit of Christmas is not at all present.

This combination of crime and Christmas is not a new Hollywood innovation. When Robert Montgomery brought Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake (1947) to the big screen, he set it at Christmas time (not a part of the novel). The opening credits are illustrated with Christmas cards and a gun -- but this is not the oddest thing about the film. Most of the movie is shot in first person, from detective Philip Marlowe’s perspective. (The experiment doesn’t work.)

Last year, I wrote about a Christmas film partially set (and entirely filmed) in California, The Miracle of the Bells (1948). Starring Frank Sinatra as a priest, it is, as I wrote at the time, one of the few films, let alone few Christmas films, all about making funeral arrangements.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998) was made to try to make Jonathan Taylor Thomas, one of the kids from the TV show Home Improvement, into a movie star.  It’s the story of a college student’s journey from his school in California to his home in New York, filmed in California and Canada. Disney Studios did not manage to make Thomas a major movie star.

Four Christmases (2008) stars Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn as a couple who wants to spend Christmas in Fiji, but ends up spending time with each of their parent’s home (all of whom have divorced and remarried). The film was shot in both Southern California (LA and Santa Clarita) and Northern California (San Francisco and Oakland).

Beside the fact that this films stars Ben Affleck and Jame Gandolfini, I have no idea what  Surviving Christmas (2004) is about, but it doesn’t look very good. And it was set and filmed in California.

A true perennial Christmas classic, Holiday Inn (1942), starring Bing Crosby as a New York showman who decides to open an inn in Connecticut that will only be open on holidays. The finale of the film takes place at a Hollywood studio, and the scene in the Hollywood studio was filmed in Hollywood, as were scenes set in New York and Connecticut. The film introduced Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and won the Oscar for Best Song.

It’s true that all the best versions of A Christmas Carol (both titled Scrooge that came out in 1951 and 1970) were filmed in England, not California. Maybe we’ll watch those films there someday.

(I'll admit that really none of these California Christmas films comes close to presenting the true meaning of Christmas. If you're looking for the REAL meaning of Christmas, you might start with this film.)

No comments:

Post a Comment