The Night Before Christmas (1933, Wilfred Jackson)

Classic color Disney short. Santa does his thing at a poor family’s house, repairs their torn stockings, dresses their tree with the help of many pre-Toy Story living toys, laughs a LOT, then wakes them up with all the noise and runs. We saw the uncensored version where the youngest boy gets sooty and blackfacey. Jackson directed about fifty Disney shorts while still in his 20’s.


Peace on Earth (1939, Hugh Harman)

Meanwhile, they’re having a post-apocalyptic Christmas at MGM, with talking woodland creatures who started wearing pants after an encounter with a bible. I remembered this short well enough to recall the “good will to men” line kicks off the backstory, when a kid asks his squirrel grandma what men are, but did not recall that they sing that line a hundred times in the first two minutes. Inspired by WWI battles the animators lived through, this is a hell of a movie, rightly acclaimed.

Before Pants:

After Pants:


Santa’s Workshop (1932, Wilfred Jackson)

And tonal whiplash, as we return to the predecessor to the other Jackson/Disney movie, Santa pre-delivery-day building all the toys for tots. Some of the assembly line stuff was cute, anyway.


Bedtime for Sniffles (1940, Chuck Jones)

This was rough going – Katy was already tired, and it’s eight minutes of a mouse struggling to stay awake. A few puns (Haxwell Mouse coffee) and mouse-in-human-world gags (eyedroppers for water faucets) can’t compete with the movie’s desire to make us sleepy. Still better than the Disneys, at least. Katy asked why rival studios would make a mouse their lead character – we didn’t realize there were about ten more Sniffles shorts.


The Snowman (1982, Dianne Jackson)

Storybook-looking animation of a non-Frosty snowman who comes alive at midnight, gets invited into the house by his creator, becomes the boy’s friend and goes on a flying adventure, meets Santa Claus, then melts in the sun the next day. It’s all perfectly nice, but I think more for six year olds (or grown-ups who first watched it as six year olds). Oscar-nominated against a Will Vinton claymation short and winner Tango. The same producer made a sequel thirty years later, and he and Snowman codirector Jimmy Murakami made a feature based on the same author’s story of nuclear devastation.


Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952, Jack Hannah)

We put on a 2000’s Disney special which was just unbearable, throwing every character from every movie into a room with nonstop dialogue and incident, so we skipped ahead to the classic shorts contained within. This featured Chip & Dale vs. Pluto, with Mickey intervening to protect the chipmunks at the end. A huge improvement over the Santa shorts and the House of Mouse framing story, so we’re happy.


Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Burny Mattinson)

Maybe the only version of A Christmas Carol named after the “actor” who plays Bob Cratchit. Mickey Mouse had inexplicably been sitting in Disney’s Vault for thirty years, and Scrooge McDuck, named after the Dickens story, had been a Disney comics feature for decades, when some corporate genius realized they could use the two characters to profit off some public domain literature. Goofy plays Marley, Jiminy Cricket is Christmas Past, the rest are characters from Robin Hood, Mickey & The Beanstalk, and Wind in the Willows (not Great Mouse Detective, which was my guess for the charity collectors below). In 26 minutes it’s all a bit rushed, and no match for the Muppet version. Burny worked on everything from Lady and the Tramp to Big Hero 6. Codirector Richy Rich followed up with The Black Cauldron before forming his own studio to make an animated Book of Mormon.

The Signalman (1976 Lawrence Gordon Clark)

A fellow with too much time on his hands stops to visit a train signalman (Denholm Elliott of Brimstone & Treacle), whose apparent job is to live in a little house next to a train tunnel signaling whether another train is approaching or not, never leaving his post. The signalman tells of a ghostly visitor, who appears next to the tunnel apparently warning him of something, always shortly before a train accident. The final time he sees the spectre, he runs out to confront it and is killed by a train. Based on a Charles Dickens story, a good little movie.

Anger Sees Red (2004 Kenneth Anger)

Guy in red hat visits Rudolph Valentino’s grave, lays down, walks about.
Looks like this was shot by just anyone with a camera, not by a sixty-year filmmaking veteran.

Edgar Allen Poe (1909 DW Griffith)

Woman (played by Linda Arvidson, Griffith’s wife) awakens and stumbles around a room before collapsing into bed. Poe (Barry O’Moore, who’d later find fame as Octavius, the Amateur Detective), dressed like Jeffrey Combs in The Black Cat, gesticulates wildly towards a Melies-trick raven, dashes off a quick poem and runs to the newspaper, where he’s roundly dismissed, gesticulating wildly. But he argues his way into the editor’s office, sells the poem, runs home with blankets and food, but his wife has just died. He responds by gesticulating wildly.

Jabberwocky (1971 Jan Svankmajer)

A stop-mo masterpiece from the ass-slapping percussive opening credits on. A girl reads the poem on the soundtrack for the first couple minutes, then Jan runs out of poem and just riffs for the next ten. Love how objects appear and grow using replacements of progressively larger objects. As usual, he obsesses over dolls and food. Funny that two very different stop-motion animators would make Jabberwocky movies in the 1970’s.

Herzog and the Monsters (2007 Lesley Barnes)

Motion graphics, 3D camera moves, typography and a groovy song tell the story of Herzog, living in his grandmother’s house full of books but not allowed to touch them.

Johnny Express (2014 Kyungmin Woo)

Overrated delivery man has a scale problem when attempting to deliver a microscopic package to a tiny planet, wrecks planet, kills everyone. But it’s very funny.

The Dover Boys at Pimento University (1942 Chuck Jones)

Gag-filled parody of stories where square college boys save damsels from drunkard villains.

Sculpting Sound: The Art of Vinyl Mastering (2014 The Vinyl Factory)

Only six minutes – I wouldn’t have started watching it if it’d been three times longer, but now that I’ve watched, and half its runtime was stock footage of archaic gear and focus-pulls on the modern engineers’ dials and knobs, I want to know more specifics, for instance to follow a song through the recording, engineering, mastering and pressing process, hear exactly how the nature of the sound changes at each step. Can somebody do this please? Music in the doc by James “UNKLE” Lavelle

Also: saw more making-of footage of The Day The Clown Cried online, now with an on-set Pierre Etaix interview (in french).

An improvement on the poop-joke semi-improv version of A Christmas Carol (co-starring Jesus Christ) that we’d just watched at a local theater. This is kind of a weird adaptation, in that it adds new scenes that didn’t appear in the novel, as if we wouldn’t notice. Most of them are in the Christmas Past segment: Scrooge and Marley taking over Fezziwig’s company, Marley’s death and some stuff involving Scrooge’s sister and girlfriend.

Any Christmas Carol adaptation hinges on the performance of Scrooge, and Alastair Sim (of The Ruling Class, ugh) was such a great one that I’m figuring it’s the main reason this is considered to be the best film version of the story. It wasn’t the additional scenes or any showy camerawork (except the introduction of Christmas Future – that was pretty great) or special effects. But a very satisfying movie overall.

Alastair Sim and housekeeper on Christmas morning:

Director Hurst worked on Korda’s The Lion Has Wings (but not Thief of Bagdad) and screenwriter Noel Langley had been the principal writer on The Wizard of Oz. Mervyn Johns (The Sundowners, Day of the Triffids) was solid as Bob Cratchit and Michael Hordern was unassuming as Jacob Marley in flashback, but he was howlingly flamboyant as Marley’s ghost (later, Hordern was more appropriately cast in comedies, like Yellowbeard and The Bed Sitting Room).

Michael Hordern as the ghost: