"What movie most connects you to Christmas?"
My sisters both wrote pieces on "White Christmas" here and here.
My simple answer to this question: None.
I love movies, but the movies I love are dark, serious, filled with doom, where as Christmas is light, fun, and filled with hope.
I've never watched "White Christmas". I don't experience "It's a Wonderful Life" as a Christmas movie. I enjoy "Miracle on 34th Street", but it's never done much to connect me with Christmas. For me, it's not a bah humbug thing -- not at all -- it's just that there isn't a movie out there that connects me with what I most enjoy at Christmas.
Maybe if someone made an existential movie about a dread-filled Episcopalian Solemn High Eucharist, it would connect me to Christmas, bringing together the kind of movie I've been watching lately with my favorite thing to do at Christmas.
The movie could be titled, "Where Two or More Are Gathered, There's Always a Fifth".
So, how can I fulfill this assignment?
I got to thinking about Christmas and movies and a bittersweet memory arose.
Back in 1982, I had moved to Spokane to take a job as a temporary full-time instructor at Whitworth College, separating me from my friends in Eugene who were in the English Dept.'s graduate program.
Michael was my best of those friends. Sadly, by about spring of 1985, our friendship ended. A breach that never closed opened between us for reasons I'm not sure I understand to this day. That breach will remain for as long as I live.
Michael died on September 19, 2009.
When Michael and I were friends, it was really fun. We shared three loves: teaching, sports, and movies.
Michael was alienated from his family. I really don't remember the situation. For this piece, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that Michael and I decided to spend the Christmas season of 1982 together, first in Spokane, and then in Kellogg.
In the fall of 1982, video cassette players were not ubiquitous yet. I, however, was newly single, working full-time, living in a cheap apartment, and had a little money to throw around.
I bought a Betamax and a new television in November.
In the fall of 1982, cable television providers had confidence that television viewers wanted quality broadcasting. The Spokane cable provider was Cox, and part of the Cox basic cable package was a now long defunct movie channel, Spotlight ("Spotlight, shining bright, day and night, we light up the stars for you!").
I loved Spotlight and immediately went to work recording many of Spotlight's late 1982 offerings: "Harold and Maude", "The Hustler", "Gallipoli", "The King of Marvin Garden", "Melvin and Howard", "Atlantic City", "The Stunt Man", "Montenegro" and many other movies I'd heard of but never seen, or only seen once, movies that were not quite mainstream. I couldn't believe how many of these movies Spotlight showed.
I also became a member at a video rental place on North Division. It had great selections. I didn't have a car, but bus service on North Division was regular and getting down there and back was never a problem. In fact, sometimes I walked. This place provided me with even more great movies.
A few days before Christmas, Michael arrived on AmTrack and we dove right into the movies.
He introduced me to "Scarecrow" and "Apocalypse Now" and we watched several others, eating chicken breasts roasted in my toaster oven and walking over to the nearby 7-11 for Big Gulps of Coca-Cola to help keep us awake.
Michael was really smart and insightful. He had what we called in graduate school "a sharp critical mind" and we had a great time watching these movies, admiring every one we saw, and breaking down all the reasons why.
It usually had to do with structure.
I'm not sure how we got to Kellogg and back. My guess is my mom or dad drove to Spokane and picked up Grandma Woolum and me and Michael.
Mom and Dad had The Movie Channel, I think, and that Christmas the movie viewing and discussions continued.
I think Michael had a really good time having Christmas at our house. I hope he did.
Viewing all those movies, talking about them, and getting ready to teach my "Family in American Drama" class combined to make the Christmas season of 1982 one of my very favorite Christmas times ever.
We didn't watch any Christmas movies, but being with such a good friend and indulging so deeply in our passion for movies connected me deeply with Christmas.
I miss those days with Michael.