Dr. Charlie W. Starr
I’d like to kick off this slightly new column on Arts and Media with some Christmas movie memories and a lesson they teach. In an age of television and film, Christmas traditions have come to include everyone sitting down to watch favorite family Christmas movies. To older classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story, have been added newer classics like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Home Alone, and Jingle All the Way. Last December I was watching a not-so-classic Christmas movie one afternoon and learned something from it I hadn’t thought of before.
Not Such a Classic
Deck the Halls, starring Danny Devito and Matthew Broderick, is not a Starr family tradition. In fact, the only reason I watched it was because I hadn’t seen it since its first DVD release and thought it might be nice to watch a film I barely remembered. The film is about a pair of neighbors who constantly try to one-up each other on Christmas traditions, mostly in terms of decorations. They lose the true meaning of Christmas, buy into the secular, materialist hype, learn to hate thy neighbor, and are only saved after a series of comic disasters involving severe (though slapstick) injury and massive property damage. The movie was mildly entertaining, though I was mostly reminded of why it was forgettable. Nevertheless it offered an unexpected pleasure.
Deck the Halls was released in 2006. I watched it nearly a year later when it came out on DVD. So I had about four years to forget the movie. This meant I got to enjoy one of those surprise moments that only come from watching movies that are several years old—when you see a movie or TV star who wasn’t a star then, but is now. You recognize his or her younger face and remark (as my daughter would say), “Hey that’s that one guy in that new show!” (My daughter isn’t great with names—she got it from me.)
As I was watching Deck the Halls it happened three times. I recognized an actress from Arrested Development (the funniest sitcom of the ’00s that nobody watched). Then I recognized the actor who played Hurley in Lost (the best dramatic show of the ’00s which just about everyone watched). And then I recognized Kristin Chenowith, that five-foot-tall woman with the great big voice—she was in Pushing Daisies (another great unwatched show) for two seasons but is probably most famous for her stint in the Broadway play Wicked.
And here’s the point that struck me: I had seen this movie before, but now I was looking at these people in a new way based on what they had done since Deck the Halls. Their newer stardom changed the older movie for me as a result. It was like seeing it through a time machine—seeing the movie and these actors in the past in light of who they are and what they’ve done since.
BC and AD
What a great message that was for Christmas. Before the birth of Christ, people didn’t keep calendars saying “BC.” The Romans had a calendar from the birth of their empire. The Chinese still have a different calendar from ours. But the dominant calendar in the world, our Western, Christian calendar, marks all of history from the birth of Christ—that single moment in time—and in two directions! We don’t just refer to the years after Christ’s birth with the tag, “In the year of our Lord” (Latin, Anno Domini—from which we get the abbreviation, “AD”). We also mark everything before Christ’s birth with a “BC” (Before Christ). Because of who he is, because of what he did (and continues to do), because he is the most important person in history, the true “morning star” is bigger than any star to come out of Hollywood. For these reasons we date all time in the world, even the times from before he came to earth, from the moment of his birth. Through him we look back in time to see how all times before he came led up to him. Through him we see all times—past, present, and future—in fresh new ways.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.