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Monthly Archives: December 2014
Susan shifted uncomfortably in her new chair as she waited for Saint Nick to respond. Too many of Benton’s awards and photographs were still on the wall for her to feel comfortable doing business in this office. The near-empty mahogany desk stretched between her and the red-suited sprite on the other side of it like a still black sea. Santa looked back at her with a quizzical expression.
“Well I don’t know about that, Suzie. I don’t suppose we’re taking anything from you. You have just as many iPhones to sell as you did before.”
“Yes, but that’s not really the point.” Susan cleared her throat. “I know you’re not sneaking into our warehouses and filling up your sleigh with purloined phones.” She deliberately let the silence hang in the air for a moment. The company had done an extensive five-year study and could find no hiccups in their inventory beyond the usual shrinkage and minor employee infractions, but security had been increased nonetheless.
Every modern adaptation of A Christmas Carol starts out at a disadvantage. No matter the strengths of its take on the material, no matter what unique flourishes or embellishments it adds, no matter how novel its interpretation, the new version will inevitably be compared to its hallowed predecessor, so ingrained in the public consciousness that it has become a part of the cherished lore of the holiday season.
I am speaking, of course, of the classic 1992 film, The Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Michael Caine and Kermit the Frog, in the production that forever proved that Dickens’s work is best realized in shades of well-trained British grump and felt.
Despite working in the shadow of that seminal work, writer and director Robert Zemeckis, of Back to the Future fame, brought Dickens’s story to life anew in his motion-captured retelling of the classic tale. The film stars Jim Carrey as the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge, Gary Oldman as his put-upon employee Bob Cratchit, and Colin Firth, Robin Wright, Bob Hoskins, and Cary Elwes who, alongside Carrey and Oldman, play multiple roles in filling out the film’s cast. While Zemeckis assuredly puts his own stamp on the source material, in the end, his interpretation is a muddled one.
“It felt like a religious experience.” That’s how I described the last time I saw Conor Oberst perform live. In the summer of 2007, Oberst, fronting his usual band Bright Eyes and welcoming a slew of special guests, did a week of shows at Town Hall in New York City. I found myself sitting in the front row, captivated. That description feels hyperbolic now, but it was truly and sincerely felt at the time. For a certain strain of twenty-somethings who entered adolescence at the turn of the millennium, Oberst did more than just provide the soundtrack to our heartaches. He gave verse and form to our struggle to find meaning and come of age in a world that seemed to be both rapidly shrinking and receding away from us.
And yet beyond those starry-eyed acolytes, Oberst became a polarizing figure for both music diehards and casual fans. Equal parts lionized and dismissed, the pallid, dark-eyed singer has been championed as the next Dylan for his trenchant insights and folky style, and also slammed as a hack who scribbles feeble mawkish laments.
But for those few pitiable individuals who seemed to be untangling the same messy thoughts Oberst tried to unravel in his music, the Bright Eyes frontman sang something approaching beautiful, heart-rending truth, or, at least, truth to that experience. When he bellowed out to the crowd at Town Hall that his next song, “was about the rapture–maybe you’re waiting for it” before breaking into “Four Winds”, it felt like the heavens themselves would shatter as the band broke into the first violin-soaked beat.