‘Tis the Season to Sloth & Watch Movies
By Wadrick Jones
In Australia, before the advent of Cable TV (we’re talking the 80’s and 90’s), we experienced the so-called ‘Non-ratings Period’. This referred to the time proceeding and following Christmas when network television effectively closed down, and reverted to shabby programming. It is still in existence today, yet unnoticed by those who now have Cable. The idea behind this ‘non-ratings’ stretch was that most people were doing things in December and January other than watching television – people were on holidays and their kids off school, hanging at the beach or catching the latest blockbuster at the air-conditioned local cinema. But in the hot Oz summer, sometimes slothing in front of the tube with a fan coursing humid air across your semi-naked body was the only sensible option…especially if you didn’t live near a beach (or a cinema).
For those who were not fans of cricket or tennis (which often went long into the night [after being on all day!]) the viewing choices were slim. I don’t know what it is like in other countries, but in Australia we have five network TV channels. Five. With cricket and tennis covering two channels, we were left with the crappy US sitcoms that were offered cheap to our networks for this ‘non-ratings’ time, re-runs of old movies and horrible home-grown programming. I still remember that horrendous summer in 1989 when I happened to be out in the sun one day during the worst possible burn time (between 11am and 2pm, or so I was told), gallivanting in my buddy’s pool sans sunscreen lotion. When I awoke the next day, my shoulders were covered in bulbous puss pockets – second-degree burns, most likely. I spent weeks on the couch in pain, subjected to endless games of tennis like I was some two-bit Alex DeLarge at the end of A Clockwork Orange having my mind washed.
I never go out in the sun without sixteen layers of sunscreen these days. My pale, European flesh needs Kevlar-like protection – and may this be a lesson to all those pale-skinned Euros like myself who may be planning a trip Downunder. Do not display arrogance towards the Aussie sun – it’ll bite you on the ass (or on the shoulders).
But I digress…
America’s paying citizens enjoyed Cable long before it was offered to we in Australia. Watching American movies with scenes of people flipping through 100 channels made a lot of us in Oz salivate at the prospect of such variety and choice. My weeks-long tennis nightmare may have proven bearable if Cable television was on hand. So it was that video shops in this country operating during the mid-1980’s and through the 1990’s did a roaring trade over the Christmas period. I watched some of the best Christmas movies I have ever seen after sojourns to the video shop in summer time. Instead of the sickly-sweet feel-good films that were shown each and every year (like those animated Christmas tales which seemed to have nothing actually to do with Christmas except that most of them were set in a snowscape – an identifiable Christmas setting – and ‘magical’ fare such as Miracle on 34th Street) I loved those films that weren’t actually about Christmas but had a Christmas setting. ‘Non-Christmas Christmas Films’, perhaps you could call them.
John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988) is the ultimate ‘Non-Christmas Christmas’ film. It’s full of those things that you don’t usually find in a Christmas film. Bad language, gunfire, terrorists, Agent Johnson and Agent Johnson. But it does have a happy ending. Reluctant hero John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) is estranged from his wife, but travels from New York to Los Angeles to be with her and the kids for the festive season. How nice. McClane is damn sure he ain’t gonna let any terrorists spoil his Christmas reunion with the family, so he despatches them like Father Christmas himself would.
‘Non-Christmas Christmas’ films can also provide clear instruction on appropriate and unappropriate gifts. Just as Die Hard would teach us not to accept an invitation to Nakatomi Plaza for a Christmas Eve party, Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984) tells us that handing your son a Mogwai as a present is one dumb-ass idea. You can’t trust a kid to take care of such a weird creature, especially one with the acting skills of Zach Galligan. If you tell a youngster (especially a teenager) to not do something, chances are that the kid will do it anyway – for the idea that it is forbidden is a temptation too strong. Also, kids are sloppy, and won’t follow direction. They give the appearance of listening, but most times it’s ‘in one ear and out the other’ (as my mother would say).
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) lets us know of the dangers of accepting any kind of isolated job during the holiday period. Yeah, sure, the family is together, but someone should have told Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) that Santa doesn’t stop by the Overlook Hotel. However, Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon (1987) is a superb treatise on getting the family out of town for the holidays. Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) should have taken some quality time away from the office – I mean, everyone deserves a holiday, even cops. But they stick around town doing battle with some seriously bad dudes who seem intent on spoiling Christmas.
With the exception of The Shining, all the above films end on a happy note. If you’re tired of watching It’s A Wonderful Life every Christmas Eve, then I suggest you fill up on pudding and settle in to one of these movies. You’ll feel the same sense of Christmas as you would with a traditional Christmas film, but you won’t have to stomach the schmaltz on top of that pudding.