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Scrooge U : Part I -- Have a Short & Silent Night

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Scrooge U : Part I -- Have a Short & Silent Night

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Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving officially ushers in the holiday season. Between now and New Year's Day, you won't be able to turn your television on without encountering some holiday special.

Which brings us to the subject of today's article. Which (I should warn you) is the first installment of a brand-new 40-part series here at JHM about "A Christmas Carol."

"Why exactly are you writing about Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale?," you ask. To be honest, I blame Brian Henson.

"And what does the Co-CEO of the Jim Henson Company have to do with any of this?," you query. Well, about a year ago, I was prepping a story for JHM about the new DVD version of "A Muppet Christmas Carol" that Buena Vista Home Entertainment was then getting ready to release. And -- as I was digging through the bonus features on this disc -- I was struck by something that Brian says. Which is that:

" ... 'A Christmas Carol' has been produced more times probably than any other book."

(Lto R) Rizzo the Rat, Brian Henson & Gonzo the Great
Copyright 2005 Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Henson's off-handed comment got me thinking. Exactly how many versions of "A Christmas Carol" were there? As a baby boomer, I was sure that I'd already seen a large number of these films & TV specials during the billion or so hours that I'd spent in front of the tube. But had I actually seen them all?

So I Googled "A Christmas Carol." And then -- for the next year -- I spent hours prowling around Amazon.com, chasing down VHS and DVD versions of the various movies & TV shows. And those that I couldn't find there, I pursued through eBay or ordered through Netflix.

In the end, I was able to acquire 40 different versions of "A Christmas Carol." One for every day now through New Year's Day. And my goal is to post a review / appreciation of each of these motion pictures & television specials right here on JHM. One a day 'til January 1, 2007.

(Don't worry. This doesn't mean that I'm going to stop writing about the Walt Disney Company 'til January of next year. You'll still get your regular assortment of Mouse-related material Monday through Friday. Just think of JHM's "Christmas Carol" series as ... Well ... as your holiday bonus. Something that will hopefully help you get into the spirit of the season.)

And what better way is there to get this series started than by taking a look at one of the very first film versions of Dickens' classic tale that was ever produced.

Copyright 2001 Kino Intl. Corp.

This movie version of "A Christmas Carol" was reportedly produced back in 1910 at the movie studio that Thomas Alva Edison had built in the Bronx. And though this silent film is only 10 minutes & 30 seconds long, it still does a pretty fair job of summing up Dickens' story.

Of course, what's really intriguing about this version of "A Christmas Carol" is its use of then-state-of-the-art special effects. And -- no -- I'm not talking about that double exposure which was used to superimpose Jacob Marley's head on top of the door knocker ...

Copyright 2001 Kino Intl. Corp.

... or create a transparent version of Scrooge's long-dead partner to frighten the old miser in front of his fireplace.

Copyright 2001 Kino Intl. Corp.

No, I'm talking about this film's use of triple exposure. Which was pretty mind-blowing stuff 97 years ago. Audience back then were reportedly wowed by the sight of a transparent Ghost of Christmas Past suddenly gesturing and revealing a ghostly scene from Scrooge's past. Whether it be a younger version of Scrooge driving his fiancee away ...

Copyright 2001 Kino Intl. Corp.

... Or the Ghost of Christmas Present showing how the Crachit family spends its holiday ...

Copyright 2001 Kino Intl. Corp.

... Or the Ghost of Christmas Future showing the miserable miser his gravestone. Which reads: "Ebenezer Scrooge -- He lived and died without a friend."

Copyright 2001 Kino Intl. Corp.

Mind you, given the cost involved with all of these triple exposure sequences in this 1910 version of "A Christmas Carol," some corners obviously had to be cut on the production. Which is why all three Christmas Ghosts are played by the same actor.

Speaking of the acting, Marc McDermott does a pretty fair job as the miser, while Charles Ogle does what he can with the role of Bob Crachit. I mean, let's remember that this is the 10-minutes-and-30-seconds-long silent version of "A Christmas Carol." So there isn't a lot of time or opportunity for subtle performing.

Still, it's kind of intriguing to see how well this story still plays in this severely truncated form. By that I mean, you can't help but smile when Scrooge unexpectedly turns up at the Crachit home and gives Bob the bird.

Copyright 2001 Kino Intl. Corp.

Speaking of turkey, I've got my own holiday dinner to get to. So let's close today's column so that we all can then go spend some time with our families.

By the way, if you'd be interested in scoping out this very early version of "A Christmas Carol" yourself, you can find it on Kino on Video's "A Christmas Past." This great little DVD features other holiday rarities like a 1905 film version of Clement C. Moore's poem, "Twas The Night Before Christmas" as well as a 1925 film about Santa Claus that has to be seen to be believed. Where a film crew actually journeyed up to the Arctic to get footage of S. Claus interacting with real Eskimos as well as culling individual deer out of this huge reindeer herd to be part of his sleigh team.

Anyway ... Tomorrow, we'll take a look at "Scrooge," the 1935 film that's one of the very first talking-picture versions of Dickens' holiday tale.

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  • Perhaps Jim has been visited by some ghosts of his own . . . the ghost of Unfinished Series past, present, and now . . . future!!
  • What a great idea for a series....I love the Christmas Carol....especially the muppet's version!
  • I can't wait until you get to the Patrick Stewart version (which is my favorite). As for the 40-part series, I'm almost always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. I trust that you'll finish this one.
  • "As for the 40-part series, I'm almost always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt."

    ...Unless it's John Lasseter or Pixar, then, no.
  • Are you going to the "A Sesame Street Christmas Carol" which was released Direct-to-DVD just 9-days before this series started.  No one makes a better Scrooge than Oscar the Grouch...and the Muppet Ghosts are great. I hope it is one of the 40...or you expand the series to 41.

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