(1995, US, 92 min) Dir Andy Farmer. Cast Christopher Lloyd, Lizzie Phillips, Dan Aykroyd, Eric Idle.
Big budget screen version of the 1960’s short lived animated TV show with Christopher Lloyd as the voice of the Christmas Ghost. It’s December the 24th and young Patty and her father (Phillips and Aykroyd) are moving into their new house, Gotspold Manor. On the first night the Christmas Ghost appears, initially frightening Patty but she gets to know him and vows to solve the mystery of his death before he disappears for another year on Boxing Day. There are the obligatory moments of wacky slapstick but for the most part the tone, bizarrely, is one of melancholy. It seems that mediocre director for hire Farmer was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time of the making of this film which seems to have permeated the entirety of the film from the script to the performances to the music, which is a kind of treacly minor key dirge. Fans of the original show (of which it seems there are a surprising amount) were so vocal in their displeasure at the film that Farmer put an apology in the Hollywood Reporter. Besides all of that the film, seemingly by virtue of it’s title alone, can be seen filling up an hour and a half in the schedules on some channel each Christmas. A mo-cap update is in the pipe for next Christmas with Johnny Depp playing everyone so I guess we have that to look forward to.
(1921, Neth, 27 mins, b/w) Dir Dick Binger. Cast Annie Dommelen, Oscar van Victor, B. A. van der Veer.
Not so much a film as an extended skit, pretty much, this silent comedy film about the then fine and now controversial Dutch Christmas character Black Peter was a great success at the time of it’s release and until very recently was a TV seasonal fixture. To the uninitiated Black Peter is the companion to Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands) who doles out sweets to the good children and, to the bad, a whipping with a bundle of birch twigs. The controversy? Well, Black Peter is a moor you see, who is traditionally played by a blackfaced actor in a curly wig with big red lips. In addition to this he is played in this film by Annie Dommelen who is, as her name might suggest, a woman. Needless to say debate about the suitability of this character continuing to play a part of the celebrations of Sinterklassavond on December 5th each year continues to rage. But anyway – now that the layers of cultural context are peeled back, what of the film? Well Black Peter is hopping from rooftop to rooftop as the film begins, consulting his list and tossing sweets down the chimneys of the good. Before long he happens upon the house of a bad child and, birch bundle in hand, climbs down with great enthusiasm to beat him. A frantic chase about the house commences with Black Peter eventually coming out on top. A strange little film with more about it to frighten than amuse for this viewer but were I a Netherlander of a century ago would my opinion be different?