Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Christmas in July

Christmas in July, 1940
Dir: Preston Sturges

Not all comedies are satires, but all satires are comedies. Right? Sturges is practically Hollywood royalty with cinephiles, and let's face it: he made good films. Sullivan's Travels (1941) impressed me even before I started to think seriously about film, but unconsciously I think once you have taken in a certain amount of films, you have already begun to build an aesthetic of what you like and dislike, and not in a pretentious way. Once you become conscious of it, staying true to it is the only way to be unpretentious. Christmas in July is not dense, nor really funny, and maybe not even witty, but it stands as testament to the Depression that many films in the 30s couldn't even get right because filmmakers were too busy letting people escape reality instead of making people actually think about it.

I think "South Park" is funny, because I love potty humor. But its biting satire is the only reason why it remains relevant. Would people watch if it wasn't "funny?" I mean, shit, dudes: Alexander Pope wrote satires, and ain't he a barrel of laughs?! I am a product of my own time when it comes to comedy (though it's not truly that simple), and I'm guessing if Trey Parker and Matt Stone emphasized brain work over laughs (though "South Park" is clearly much smarter than your average TV show) it would have gone off the air ages ago. Christmas in July never really made me laugh. It has some "smiley" moments, but they are kind of entrenched in Screwball, a form of film comedy that just doesn't make any sense to me. Maybe it is not supposed to make sense, cause it's so ZANNNNNY! But thankfully, I wouldn't say this is a Screwball comedy (though in some reviews I have read have labeled it as such).

Any sort of connection to Screwball surely comes from the events in the film once Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell) wins a radio contest that results in him getting $25,000, and he goes out on the town with his girlfriend Betty (Ellen Drew) to buy all kinds of stuff! Unbeknownst to him, it was actually the handy work of some of his co-workers that he got a telegraph stating he had won, and once the truth comes out, it comes as a pretty hard blow.

His new "wealth" had gotten him a promotion, a sense of pride and a new direction in life, and once it's stripped away, he is not really prepared for the consequences, especially to be labeled a thief and a "swindler." This is the best part of the film. When Betty pleads with Jimmy's boss to let him keep his promotion, it's most definitely wrapped in some sort of ideal American ingenuity that still pervades most Hollywood films today, but it seems like it was placed at the right moment. Of course, he's given a "chance" to prove he can do it. The satire in the film has a great deal to do with the desperate fantasies of opulence developed during the Depression, and scenes of the dreaming couple on the roof at the beginning, and then the proto-Il Posto (1961) drone work of Jimmy's job only hammer this yearning home. The prevailing sadness in this film definitely makes it interesting as a "comedy," even if I wouldn't say it was really funny.

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