A Ghost Story for Christmas

New Shadowcast! Only a small one.

Fiona and I (and Momo) watch and commentate on the late Richard Williams’ wonderfully atmospheric film of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. You can watch the movie here:

…and then watch it along with us, through the futuristic techno-miracle of tabs.

Here’s the podcast itself.

You can access all our other episodes here.

We want to do a full episode on ghosts soon…

6 Responses to “A Ghost Story for Christmas”

  1. Nicely done podcast. It was fun to vicariously feel Fiona’s shivers. I think this could almost be titled A Kathe Kollwitz Kristmas Karol – it’s a very Kollwitz image that you screencapped at the top, and Ignorance and Want feel like they’ve been drafted from Kollwitz’s army of urchins and orphans. Williams ended his career with a drawing of Kollwitz staring at the camera, at the close of PROLOGUE – another Oscar nominated short.

  2. That top image comes straight out of Dickens, illustrating a detail that few if any adaptations include. The chains forged in life aren’t the real punishment for Marley and the other ghosts. It’s being unable to intervene for good in the world, yet be forced to witness all the suffering they might have prevented. In fact, the three visiting ghosts can be seen as prepping Scrooge for that fate by making him witness the cruelties of his past and present, and their future consequences.

    Without it, “Carol” becomes a story of a man scared into good behavior because he’s afraid of dying and/or this vision of damnation. A truly saved Scrooge should want to bring goodness into the world even if it doesn’t make him immortal.

    The comedy “Scrooged” has a lot of fun stuff in it, but it’s ultimately a failed “Carol”. Bill Murray is a supremely funny jerk, and in the end he doesn’t really reform — he just directs his jerkitude at a contrived villain, ruins a live broadcast, and ends up on top (like the MGM Marx Brothers, their anarchy forgiven when in the service of bland young lovers). That movie threw away perhaps its best idea in the first few minutes: Murray receives a Humanitarian of the Year award, which he promptly discards. What if his Scrooge spent the movie clinging to that public image (and self image?), presenting himself to the world as a good and kind man while the ghosts forced him to face his real self and make real sacrifices to become genuinely good? As it stands, he’s one more Scrooge scared straight, this time by the prospect of premature cremation.

    I have a bit of the same issue with “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In the end, it’s not so much “Look at how unhappy the world is without you” as “Here you are without an identity.” Even if Pottersville was a paradise, it would still be a sort of hell for a man who could only be perceived as a nameless lunatic. I once toyed with a version where the angel was a much more ambiguous character, tempting George Bailey with better life and identity if he’d leave everybody else to their Baileyless misery. His going back to try and salvage what good he’d done, with no assurance things would turn out, would mean something more.

  3. That’s a strong idea, Donald. Clarence the Tempter. With a Willy Wonka switcheroo at the end, perhaps, in line with Swedenborg’s theory that demons are angels in disguise, and when we turn to the right path we’ll see them in their true form.

    The Kollwitz Konnection is fascinating — Fiona’s having a lie in, but I can’t wait to tell her. I can sense another deep dive in her researches coming on.

  4. In the intro to “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis firmly dismissed the sentimental vision of beautiful or cherubic angels. He wrote that Biblical angels tended to introduce themselves with “Be not afraid”, which points away from a comforting aspect.

  5. Just enjoyed the podcast. To my knowledge it ran once on American TV, then vanished except for an obscure VHS release.

    I’m very much a casual viewer, but I’m pretty sure there was little or no actual rotoscoping.

    Rotoscoped figures can usually be spotted, as in Disney’s “Snow White”. Or they can be downright obvious, as in Don Bluth’s “Thumbelina”. When the Fleischers sort-of traced Cab Calloway for some Betty Boop shorts, the result was spookily rooted in reality. But try to imagine live action footage duplicating Scrooge’s hopping around and trying to put on socks. That was animators creating motion, with fictional weight and gravity.

    Grim Natwick, by the way, not only goes back to Fleischer, but was fabled as a great animator of women. He helped define Betty Boop’s appearance and movements, and later at Disney he was a key animator on the character of Snow White.

    Mr. Magoo’s version can’t touch this for art or emotion, but it’s still a dandy amusement. It was sort of a last hurrah for UPA, covering limited animation with striking modern designs and catchy songs. The successful special was followed by a wildly misconceived TV series, casting Magoo in half-hour classics played mostly straight and non-nearsighted (aside from a comic backstage intro). Magoo played D’Artagnan, Dr. Frankenstein, Edmund Dantes, Puck, Ishmael, Gunga Din, William Tell, Cyrano, and seven non-Disney dwarves. Among others.

  6. I think you’re right. After Williams showed his Light Brigade sequence to Art Babbit, the ild man of Disney admitted that it was impressive work, but added, “‘Course, it don’t MOVE too good.” Williams then embarked, with his team, on an intensive study of movement — this piece must be the first major fruit borne of it.

    There are a couple of life studies in the closing credits of Forum — and a bit of rotoscoping, where Buster Keaton, exiting his last feature, finally becomes a cartoon, which make me wonder if Williams at this point was uniquely able to blend rotoscoping into his animation…

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