If George Bailey had shot Mr. Potter in the chest and then dropped the shitty bastard off a bridge, Bedford Falls would have had a much merrier Christmas.
Instead, George Bailey learned the value of life, hugged his family and allowed Potter to maintain a stranglehold on a small town's economy. George Bailey is a pussy.
The comparison is, of course, a stretch, but consider this: In Die Hard, Bruce Willis' John McClane arrives in Los Angeles and witnesses what life would be like had he never been born. His wife has risen in the ranks of an international corporation. His kids live a pampered life. McClane is just a poor schlub who makes life worse. When he decides to surprise his wife at the company Christmas party, the reunion is less than happy.
By the time the story's Mr. Potter shows up, in the snarling form of Alan Rickman and his Eurotrash crew intent on stealing the profits of the Nakatomi Corporation—the film's equivalent to the Bailey Building and Loan Association—McClane has been emotionally drained. But when bullets start flying, he learns he does have something to offer those he loves: the ability to murder the shit out of Eurotrash. And so, like George Bailey, McClane is guided by an angel (Reginald Veljohnson's Sgt. Powell), who convinces him of his worth as our hero digs glass out of his feet.
When the final face is exploded, McClane is finally reunited with his wife and realizes that if he hadn't been there, everyone would be dead. Because he was there, only a few dozen people are dead. Cue "Let It Snow." No shouting "Merry Christmas, lamp post!" or singing "Auld Lang Syne." Angels remain wingless. There's just a quick "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker," a pile of bodies and the warm embrace of family and friends.
Not to talk shit about Frank Capra, who to this day inspires great films (if he'd never been born, we wouldn't have Silver Linings Playbook), or about any of the other great purveyors of Christmas sugar. We need to see Charlie Brown get his chintzy-ass little tree and overcome his crippling depression. We need to watch the Grinch's heart grow a few sizes. But we grow disenchanted with classics that paint a false reality of holiday joy, an impossible world where cheer conquers all.
We need a fly in the fruitcake. It's the reason we continually revisit Bad Santa, about a dude in a Santa suit being a dick to kids. It's the reason horror fans can't spend a year without Silent Night, Deadly Night (playing Tuesday, Dec. 17, at the Hollywood), a schlockfest in which naughty (read: horny) boys and girls get eviscerated by Santa. Hell, half the reason A Christmas Carol is so enduring is that much of it is fucking terrifying, and it features a hateful son of a bitch getting tortured.
One hundred years into this whole Christmas movie thing, we can still go back to the classics for their warmth. It's like spending Christmas morning with Grandma, where everyone is wholesome and eats that weird dish she always brings. Then Grandma leaves and everybody busts out the booze and lets the f-bombs fly. Maybe Uncle Rich whips out a doobie.
Die Hard endures because it is Uncle Rich: that abrasive drunk who shows up at the Christmas party with a pocketful of firecrackers and a fifth of scotch. And Uncle Rich fucking rules. If he had never been born, we'd be stuck watching George Bailey being a pussy instead.
- Thatâs not to say thereâs no room for a little cuteness, and The Muppet Christmas Carol has it, plus talking rats. Also, as previously stated, itâs FUCKING TERRIFYING. Hollywood Theatre. Dec. 13-19.
- Before he burned into our retinas the image of Harvey Keitel jerking off in front of a car full of teenage girls in Bad Lieutenant, Abel Ferrara gave us 1981âs Ms. 45, a female-driven Death Wish derivative in which one woman cruises New York on a mission to kill every dude who talks to her. Itâs awesome. Hollywood Theatre. Friday-Sunday, Dec. 13-15.
- Community radio station KBOO takes over the Clinton for its monthly film series, this time with Round Midnight, in which jazz legend Dexter Gordon plays a sax player drinking his ass off, neglecting his family and, you know, playing music. Clinton Street Theater. 7 pm Thursday, Dec. 12.