Saturday, July 31, 2010

Book Review: The Christmas TV Companion

Not too long ago, I wrote a little ditty about the books you should read if you are so totally into made for TV movies that it’s all you can think about. In other words, if you are me. I kid, of course, and I was thrilled with the responses I received regarding that post. Books about pop culture are rad, and they are even cooler when someone takes a piece of that culture and narrows it down to something unique and fun. Joanna Wilson found a really neat little niche for herself when she decided that Christmas TV was where it was at, ya dig? I recently got a copy of her extremely informative and entertaining book, The Christmas TV Companion: a Guide to Cult Classics, Strange Specials & Outrageous Oddities, and well, it was love at first sight!

Let’s deal with the fun stuff first. Christmas is awesome. For those of us, like myself, who grew up with one eye pointed directly at the TV (no wonder why I got so many headaches), the winter season meant lots of wonderful programming. Whether it was Rankin and Bass stop motion animation, fun sitcom specials or sentimental TV movies, the airwaves were alive with yuletide glee. Joanna was obviously heavily influenced by this programming and she noticed things like some shows were taking great liberties with Santa’s image. For instance, did you know Ren and Stimpy celebrated a “gift-bringer named Stinky Weezleteats,” or that in a lot of Mexican holiday specials, Santa’s rival was Satan? Seriously. And that’s just the tip of the North Pole iceberg.

The grandpa in Silent Night, Deadly Night is cah-ree-py, and I adore him!

Joanna’s book is intended to cover the quirkier side of the holiday, and there’s a lot of stuff here that fans of pop culture will want to see, plus there’s a look at some stuff that doesn’t get discussed enough, such as the Star Wars Holiday Special. Please note, I said discussed, none of us need to actually see it again! And of course, when anyone mentions David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing Little Drummer Boy, well, they steal my heart. Oh, and there’s TV movies here too! YAY!

There’s also some love given to theatricals that get a lot of holiday airplay too. You’ll find some info on Silent Night, Deadly Night, Christmas Evil and of course, Black Christmas among others. I’ll be honest, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a tradition at my house. I watch it every Christmas Eve, because I'm totally morbid, and I was thrilled to see it mentioned.

The Star Wars Holiday Special = Weird!

There’s a little bit of everything here (including TV movies!) and Joanna’s book serves a real purpose. I was surprised to see that yuletide TV hasn’t been covered yet, or at least not in this kind of detail. The Christmas TV Companion, which is just a precursor to The Christmas TV Encyclopedia, is something that's been needed for some time. It’s the kind of book you can either skip around or read straight through, and there’s a handy MYOM (Make Your Own Marathon) Guide throughout, so you can program your own fantastic holiday fare. With so many of the older specials airing less and less, this is very fun alternative! I mean, who doesn’t want to watch Silent Night, Deadly Night, The Judy Garland Christmas Special and A Blackadder's Christmas Speical together? Well, maybe that's just me...

Joanna recently did a guest blog for me for The Gathering (with location shots and everything). Click on the link for the review.

Then check out Joanna's awesome blog, The Christmas TV Companion (where you can read my review for Nestor, the Long Eared Donkey!)

And then visit the official website for the book... and then buy the dang thing!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Christmas in July: The Gathering (1977)

Christmas in July is contagious! At some point a few months ago, Joanna Wilson from the awesome Christmas TV Companion blog and I talked about doing the guest blog thing (it's so 2010) and how could I resist? Joanna's got crazy keen eyes for detail, she's passionate about Christmas specials and she's a great writer too! And Santa came early this year as you'll see because Joanna brings a first to Made for TV Mayhem: Location photos! Check out what these places looked like then and how they look now. Too cool! Thanks Joanna for taking the time to do this! As for the rest of you, enjoy! And after you stop by her blog, check out her book also called The Christmas TV Companion (and then check back here later this weekend because I'll be posting a review of it!).

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: December 4th, 1977
Review by Joanna Wilson

The 1977 TV movie The Gathering directed by Randal Kleiser casts a long shadow. Not only has this movie endeared itself to many of the viewers that saw it when it was originally broadcast but it contains a stellar cast. It won an Emmy for Outstanding Special--Drama or Comedy as well being nominated for four others. For me, it has a personal connection as I live not far from the locations where they shot the film.

In this story, successful businessman Adam Thornton, played by Edward Asner, learns he has only months to live. In an effort to reconnect with the family he could previously never make time for, Adam organizes an unexpected Christmas reunion. Not wanting anyone’s pity, he doesn’t share his terminal condition or his motivations to redeem himself, although his wife Kate, played by Maureen Stapleton, from whom he is separated and his grown children can sense a change in him. Gathering together his family for the holiday at the last minute is its own struggle as is convincing them to spend it with the father they have mixed feelings for. But Adam needs to spend time with each of his family members to say what he needs to say before it is too late. The greatest reward is when his youngest son, Bud, played by Gregory Harrison, makes the journey from remote Canada. Adam now regrets throwing Bud out of his house over their conflicts about the Vietnam War. This Christmas film has the subtleties and complexity of emotion that some films overwrite or worse yet, force into their scripts. In addition to Asner, Stapleton and Harrison, this ensemble cast includes several other recognizable actors: Stephanie Zimbalist, Gail Strickland, Lawrence Pressman, Veronica Hamel and Bruce Davison among others.

There are two memorable scenes. The first is when the men in the family ask Adam to recite his favorite Christmas poem just as he used to do every Christmas Eve. Introducing the Victorian poem as one written by the popular British author, Rudyard Kipling, he entertains the men drinking in the kitchen. What many viewers may not know is that this poem “Christmas in the Workhouse” is not by Kipling but more accurately by George R. Sims who wrote the dramatic monologue contained in his “Dagonet Ballads” in 1879. The second memorable scene is the one where Adam and his like-minded son Tom decide to set off an entire box of fireworks after midnight early Christmas morning. The two adults shout and cheer as the explosions, lights and whistles fill the darkness of still night that results in neighborhood dogs barking and neighbors complaining. But the scene underscores Adam’s attitude and commitment to spend his last Christmas literally and symbolically as loudly as he wants.

There is also a scene where Adam’s grandchildren awaken their grandfather who is sleeping on the couch on Christmas morning. It’s a small detail, however, some may recognize that the two children use a Yogi Bear plush toy to wake up their grandfather. This toy was most probably chosen because this film was executive produced by Joseph Barbera--the same man as the TV animation giant from Hanna-Barbera Productions. But a children’s movie this is not.

Though this film’s story takes place in a quaint, snowy New England village, it was actually shot in Northeast Ohio. The house they used for the Thornton home is located in Hudson Ohio on the campus of The Western Reserve Academy. The outdoor footage used in the opening scenes of the film when Adam is walking with his doctor discussing the outcome of his terminal diagnosis is located in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Thornton/Asner stands on a bridge looking over the railing at the river below before he walks along to the edge and down a staircase which leads to a beautiful waterfall. This is a popular destination for couples as well as shoppers right in downtown Chagrin Falls.

This touching holiday film is one that many viewers have missed in previous years. However, I saw it broadcast last Christmas on the Gospel Music Channel, which is a good sign that we can expect to see it again in December 2010.

Chagrin Falls Then:

Chagrin Falls Now:

The House Then:

The House Now:

Hey everybody, that's Joanna! Cool sunglasses!

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Christmas in July People!

At least it is at Christmas TV Companion! Joanna asked me to do a guest blog on whatever Christmas treat I wanted and lo and behold, Nestor, the Long Eared Donkey instantly came to mind. My favorite of all Christmas Specials, this Rankin and Bass classic means the world to me and I was so thrilled to get to spread the long eared donkey love... and I don't care how dirty that sounds!

So please enjoy the linkage. Hopefully it will get your mind off the heat!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Thought I'd Have More Time

My college advisor - he don't take no crap!

But 24 hours a day just isn't enough...

I keep promising myself I'm going to update my blog, and then the day is gone. Who am I kidding? The next couple of weeks are going to be T-O-U-G-H! Like a dumbbell, I took two shortened summer courses and boy are my arms tired! Paper upon paper upon test upon online discussions, my eyes are bleeding academia and I can't seem to get my gumption going! I have a review almost written, but the idea of sitting down and getting images, proofreading and all that jazz is just too daunting at this date and time.

School is only for the next three weeks and the load should actually be pretty light after next week for the most part, so I promise a Made for TV Mayhem extravaganza... or at least I promise to finish that review I wrote...

I'm so disappointed because I just got a ginormous load of TV movies, but with not time to watch 'em and no energy to write 'em, well, I just have to be disappointed for a couple of weeks, I guess. Lame, I know, but the great thing is this blog never goes away. I know where to find it and I know how to seduce it! And it's easy like Sunday morning.

Can you tell I have no idea what's going on?!? For now I bid adieu... I will post as soon as possible! Everyone take care and please read some of my older reviews... I have a ton of material at your fingertips and I really appreciate all the visits!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Don't Go To Sleep: The Grassroots Movement

You know what they say, if you can't bring Mohammad to the mountain...

Word on the street is Don't Go To Sleep is playing on YouTube! Just ask the awesome guys at Kindertrauma if you don't believe me! They are trying to get folks to watch it this weekend and then post their thoughts in the comments section. You can read about it all here. It will link you to part one of the movie, and, just for kicks, if you click on the link for Made for TV Mayhem, it leads to my review of the movie. It's all cylindrical and stuff!

This is a rare movie and should be seen by all horror hounds, TV Movie nuts and otherwise!

Now git!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oh... and this too!

I almost forgot! I have a review of He Knows You're Alone at Retro Slashers. It's a movie I kind of adore.


I also just got my grubby paws on a very rare TVM and my review should be up soon. It's salaciously awesome!

I'm, Like, Totally Famous!

Even Bert is lifting a glass!

If you get a chance, check out my Bloggenaire at Final Girl! I talk about all things TV Movie and I even threw in a little slasher goodness to keep it relevant! I'm coy, I know! I think the pics and layout are great. Thank you Stacie for letting me fill out your fun questionnare! Lovin' it all!