Today! Because you’ll shoot your eye out, kid –
A Christmas Story (1983)
Directed by Bob Clark
Starring Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Ian Petrella, Zack Ward, Yano Anaya, Tedde Moore, Jean Shepherd, Jeff Gillen
There’s a pretty distinct difference between watching a movie a lot and seeing a movie a lot. Sure, now they only seem to marathon the hell out of this thing right at Christmas, but like most everyone I know, this thing played constantly at my house the entire Christmas season for every year of my young life. Can anyone really ballpark how many times they’ve seen A Christmas Story? It might be a stretch, but I’d guess over the last three and a half decades this might be the most seen movie in America, short of maybe Star Wars and…I don’t know, Titanic? Even then!
And so I didn’t particularly love this movie, for a long long time. It’s hard to have any perspective on it, because you know every inch of A Christmas Story. You don’t even think about it in attempts to evaluate it. And for people who grew up with it, it feels like a remarkably old movie, mainly due to its exacting attention to period detail (except for its somewhat-ambiguous time setting – sometime before WWII but after The Wizard of Oz, sort of?) and its pervasive omnipresence during the holidays in the ’80s and ’90s. Come on, it’s everyone’s parents’ favorite Christmas movie, right? Just about?
So it’s something I dismissed as obviously great, but not mine, for a long time. I didn’t care why it was great, I didn’t care that it was clearly a funny movie even though the jokes had long lost their luster, I didn’t care what a can of simonize was. It didn’t matter. This was just background noise, like a familiar sitcom that people claim to like but no one can give you more than the basic details of it. It was the According to Jim of movies.
But then a funny thing happened, as the years wore on. I became nostalgic for this movie, as though it showcases a piece of my childhood, instead of how it depicts the era prior to years of my parents’ upbringing. It has emerged as a piece of ’80s Americana, as essential to the time as Madonna and Diet Coke. Maybe you just need to be older to truly get this movie? Maybe as a kid, the youngsters’ hijinks of a half century prior seem like goofy nonsense, and you can only really relate when you get older, for some reason?
Or maybe it has nothing to do with the movie at all. Maybe it’s just natural that as you age and pieces of your childhood slip away – things get lost, buildings torn down, people you care about die and disappear – you can appreciate the little touches of the era with a retroactive tenderness impossible in the day. Time might chew away at the physical, but the connected emotions are bolstered through rosy retrospection. I miss a lot of people and things, more than I’d probably like to admit, but sometimes bits of what’s lost, bits you didn’t think possible to recover, will startle you on sudden reemergence, in remembrance of a forgotten fact, a shared moment, a flickering immortal image.
And that, for me, I guess, is A Christmas Story. Like my parents and your parents and you, probably, I now love A Christmas Story.
I have no idea how it was received in ’83 – purportedly it did okay enough, but didn’t gain any sort of awards traction. Considering it would be added to the National Film Registry in 2012, clearly they dropped the ball at the time! There are countless things to give this movie – Best Fantasy Soap Blindness, Best Classroom of Fake Teeth, Best Slug Impression – but I’m taking the literary route and going Best George Eliot Shoutout for the groan-inducing mention of Silas Marner.