Melancholy Christmas… what to do when it’s almost over

Dear Readers,

Oh, it’s been a good Christmas season here on the Jacke blog, although I’ve been struck by how much sadness, longing, and ache there is out there. Let’s call it the human, grown-up side of Christmas. The kids have their joy and excitement; the adults watch them bouncing around with their new presents and smile through sad eyes. That’s my Christmas, and it sounds like it’s a recognizable Christmas for a lot of you as well.

I didn’t want to spoil our reading of James Joyce’s “The Dead” for Christmas Eve. But now that THAT’S over, let’s go ahead and combine it with another masterpiece for Christmas night. John Huston’s film version of “The Dead,” available on youtube in its entirety.

And of course, there’s always a couple of episodes of The Jacke Wilson Show. We had the one about The Gift (Young Jacke’s attempts to buy a present for his mother) and the Christmas story for my boys (about their great grandfather’s Wisconsin boyhood).

The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 5 – The Gift

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 5 – The Gift

The Jacke Wilson Show Episode 6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show 1.6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

So tonight, when the chaos is over, and the house is cleaned up and the fire is still going and the chair is comfortable with maybe a glass of red wine still half full, enjoy this beautiful and quietly devastating film, or suffer along with me in the podcast episodes (there is some triumph in there too, and some smiles!).

And may you and yours have a very merry (and only slightly melancholy) holiday this year.

With love,

Jacke

Getting Closer! The Film Version of Joyce’s The Dead (John Huston’s Masterpiece)

We’re closing in! For those of you following along, we’re only a few days away from the culmination of our Dubliners project. If you haven’t been reading the stories each day, don’t worry. This isn’t assigned reading; I don’t give out homework.

Except for one thing. This year, you must reserve some time for The Dead on Christmas Eve. THAT is required.

Well, just kidding, of course. No, it’s not required – just highly, highly encouraged. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m telling you, reading Joyce’s famous novella on Christmas Eve is as good as it gets. Up there with presents under the tree and It’s a Wonderful Life and my family’s great new tradition of buying a tree at the Home Depot parking lot* and then having lunch at Five Guys. (My kids are driving the Christmas train these days.)

But hey! There’s one tradition I get to keep for myself. It’s private and reflective and deeply enriching. And that’s reading The Dead on Christmas Eve.

We’ll get there! But for now, take a look at this video to whet your appetite. The Dead is not only a perfect story, it inspired a perfect movie, directed by John Huston (his last film). Only a genius director at the end of his career could have exercised the restraint necessary to make this film.

And here’s some commentary on the trailer.

Oh sure, it’s not Die Hard. But its quiet, devastating beauty are just as potent. So brew up a little Irish coffee, toss some more wood on the fire, and cozy up to this film.

That’s you this year: sitting under a big quilt with your special someone and/or those ghosts that chase us all and watching a beautiful film.

And then: keep reading the Dubliners, and we’ll all get to the story itself on Christmas Eve. Onward and upward!

* Part of the tradition: “Do you want some paper under this tree to protect the roof of your car?” says the man at the Home Depot. “Does anyone ever say no to that question?” I ask.

Movellas: An Update

Since the primary distinguishing characteristic of a novella is length, it occurs to me that our quest for the greatest novella-like movie may need to consider runtime as one of its qualities. I will somewhat arbitrarily say it needs to be longer than 60 minutes (to distinguish it from television episodes). Ninety minutes feels like the right cutoff, and I’ve already proposed two that were below that. (Woody Allen’s Zelig and John Huston’s The Dead.)  I see this particular quality (sub-90-minute movies) has been explored.

Rope is a good addition.

Also Before Sunrise (which I mentioned before). City Lights? I’d have to watch that again. Purple Rose of Cairo – well, maybe, but it is almost like a long short story. (Again, I’m basically reduced to going on feel.) Several of the Godard films work, and maybe the Bergman, although those are almost like short novels more than novellas.

Have a favorite movella? Let me know!

Most Novella-Like Movies?

A person holding a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail… but does a person obsessed with novellas see them everywhere? Apparently.

I saw the exquisite Before Midnight on a cross-country flight last week (thank you, Virgin America, for providing the best in-flight entertainment package currently in existence, and also for using those purple lights that put everyone in a let’s-be-human mood as they board).

I have really come to love this series of movies, maybe because I’m growing up with them. And even more because they feel very adult. I often find myself seeing both sides in the arguments that Ethan Hawke and Julia Delpy have. They’re both being reasonable! And yet there’s conflict! Because life is difficult!

And then it occurred to me: an intense focus on a single set of problems, a limited set of characters, a strong drive from start to finish, a compact timeframe… this is sounding a lot like the filmic equivalent of a novella! (A movella?)

What is the most novella-like movie you can think of? For some reason I’m putting Zelig (84 minutes!) down as my choice, though John Huston’s The Dead (83!) is a close second. And I would not argue with any of the Before movies.

Or the Kieslowski Three Colors movies? What are they but a trilogy of movellas?

Is there some way other than feel to judge this?

What do you think – what has your vote for the best movella of all time?