By Eric Seiverling
To many people, Christmas means church services, gift giving, and visiting with family and friends. But to local filmmakers, the holidays are a chance to enjoy an overlooked tradition: gathering around the television and enjoying classic Christmas movies.
Thanks to cable television On Demand services such as the Comcast X1 platform, movie buffs can now enjoy thousands of hit movies and tv shows in the comfort of their own homes.
“The home theater experience has really grown thanks to the digital revolution,” said Lance Parkin, a Pittsburgh-based filmmaker and owner of Locust Street Entertainment, co-producer and star of the Amazon Prime series Theo and the Professor, as well as producer of the Pittsburgh film festivals Indie Oaks and Haunted Oaks. “Christmas movies have a time and place one month of the year, but Christmas is such a big time of the year. Most people forget about Christmas movies’ influence to the outside world.”
“There’s something about watching holiday movies on a big television with your family that makes it a holiday tradition,” said Kevin Kino, freelance filmmaker and owner of Pittsburgh-based production company Kino Industries. “They lose impact if they’re not viewed by large groups of people.”
As a freelance filmmaker, Kino has been credited as second director for the feature film The Sky is Blue With Lies, and currently produces promotional videos for local businesses.
Both Kino and Parkin said technology has made filmmaking – and watching films – easier than ever.
“Any time there is innovation, that means there is opportunity,” Kino said.
So gather your family, start a roaring fire in the fireplace, and discover – or rediscover – these classic Christmas films.
It’s A Wonderful Life – Released in 1946, this Frank Capra-directed drama stars Pittsburgh-area native Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a down-on-his-luck family man who wishes he had never been born. A guardian angel grants Bailey his wish, and shows Bailey the lives he has touched during his lifetime and how life would be different for those in Bailey’s life had he not been born.
“I did a theater production of this movie in my teens and it’s one of my favorites,” said Kino. “Frank Capra is as American as a director can get.”
Now considered a Christmas classic that still sees theatrical release every holiday season, the film was considered a box-office bust upon its release, earning an estimated $3.3 million against a $6 million budget.
White Christmas – Kino’s choice as an overlooked Christmas film favorite, this 1954 musical stars Hollywood heavyweights Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney, and features songs written by Irving Berlin. The film is known as being the first movie to be filmed in VistaVision, a widescreen process that resulted in better film color and clarity.
The film chronicles a group of entertainers who travel to a failing Vermont inn with the hopes of rescuing the resort by producing a lavish Christmas show.
“It’s a golden-era song and dance musical,” said Kino. “The costumes are beautiful and it has very vivid color. It’s completely heartwarming, innocent, and wholesome entertainment.”
A Christmas Story – The king of Christmas movies. Set in the 1940s, this 1983 film depicts a suburban youngster named Ralphie and his efforts to convince his family and Santa Claus that he deserves a Red Ryder BB gun. Along the way, he endures a nagging younger brother, the neighborhood bully Scut Farkus, and a mouthful of soap by his mother after cursing in front of his father.
“It’s timeless in its representation of Christmas,” Parkin said. “It’s set up like a series of anecdotes, not just a serious plot. No matter what age you are, you can relate to that family.”
Similar to It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story was a bust at the box-office, with gross earnings barely passing $19 million.
But since 1997, cable networks TNT and TBS began the 24 Hours of A Christmas Story marathon, comprised of 12 consecutive airings of the movie during Christmas Eve and Christmas day each year. In 2007, AOL and IGN named the movie the No. 1 Christmas Movie of All Time, and in 2012, a Marist Poll named A Christmas Story the favorite holiday film in the U.S.
The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registration by the Library of Congress in 2012.
Scrooged – Released in 1988, this modern adaptation of A Christmas Carol features Bill Murray as a television executive pushed to the brink as he prepares his network for its production of the classic Charles Dickens tale. He fires employees and gives cheap Christmas gifts before being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future, leading to him seeing the error of his ways.
“If a Christmas Carol is for kids, then Scrooged is for the adults,” Parkin said. “It’s a great way to make an old story relevant. David Johansen is great as the Ghost of Christmas Past. And you can never go wrong with Bill Murray.”