Saturday, December 14, 2013

I had not managed to snag a home video copy of A Christmas Story, the beloved holiday film from 1983. I like the film (yes, it was actually in theaters), and I stumbled across a $0.99 copy of the 2008 Blu-ray release. So I snatched it up.

Canadian director Bob Clark was 44 years old when he made A Christmas Story. Up to that time, Clark had been known primarily as the director of sexploitation films (1967's She-Man), horror films (1974's Dead of Night and Black Christmas), revenge thrillers (1976's Breaking Point), and dark comedies (1973's Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things). In the mid-1970s, he'd moved up to A-list, directing a Sherlock Holmes movie (1979's Murder by Decree, with Christopher Plummer and James Mason) and dramas (1980's Tribute with Robby Benson and Jack Lemmon). Clark returned to his raunchy roots with the classic teen sex film Porky's in 1982, and it's kids-against-the-censors sequel, Porky's II: The Next Day, in 1983.

But Clark took an absolute drubbing from critics, parents' groups, politicians, and Hollywood insiders for the "Porky's" films and their scenes of teenage boys in the 1960s-era Deep South having sex with any hole they came across.

Bob Clark vowed to redeem himself with A Christmas Story.

More about this great film behind this link..............................

It kind of/sort of/maybe worked. He did Rhinestone in 1984 with then-hot Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton, and then Turk 182! in 1985 with Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton. He moved into television, directing an episode here and there. He returned to feature films with 1994's It Runs in the Family -- the sequel to A Christmas Story. It flopped horribly. His last films were Baby Geniuses (1999) and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) -- both minor successes.

Bob Clark died in 2007 at the age of 67. He and his 22-year-old son, Ariel, were killed in a head-on automobile collision on the Pacific Coast Highway near Los Angeles on April 4, 2007. Hector Velazquez-Nava, an illegal Mexican immigrant driving an SUV, had a blood alcohol level of three times the legal limit and no driver's license. Velasquez-Nava was sentenced to six years in prison and faces deportation back to Mexico upon his release.

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From 1956 to 1977, raconteur and humorist Jean Shepherd had an overnight talk/comedy radio show on WOR in New York City. He published three semi-autobiographical short stories in Playboy in 1964 and 1966. These were republished in the 1966 book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd often read his short stories on the air. One of these was the unpublished story, "Flick's Tongue." Bob Clark heard "Flick's Tongue" on the radio in 1968, and became convinced it would make the basis for a great movie. Shepherd later became a noted TV and film writer, had a show on PBS in the 1970s, and influenced comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and the comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead."

Clark secured the rights to the book in 1975, and immediately hired Shepherd to write the screenplay. But it took them nearly a decade of discussion and script drafts to get it done. Shepherd received help from his wife, Leigh Brown, and Clark himself did a one or two scenes that got him co-writer credit, too. The three Christmas stories in the book formed the basis of the screenplay, along with some additional material Shepherd had used on the college comedy circuit in the 1960s. The idea of having a narrator -- and a narrator who is able to address the audience, even though he apparently exists in the past -- was a classic Shepherd narrative technique he'd developed over the years.

At first, Bob Clark wanted Jack Nicholson to play the Old Man. Nicholson was interested, but due to a communication error Clark didn't learn of his desire to the do film. MGM didn't want to pay Nicholson's fee anyway. So Clark chose Darren McGavin, with whom he'd worked before on several films. Melinda Dillon was cast because she'd just been in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Peter Billingsley was Clark's first choice for the role of Ralphie, but Clark began second-guessing himself. After auditioning a large number of other child actors, Clark decided that Billingsley was right after all. Clark had just as many difficulties casting the role of Randy. Several hundred children were auditioned for the role, and none were right. The production was almost ready to begin when Clark auditioned Ian Petrella, and he was cast just days before filming began. Actress Tedde Moore ("Miss Shields") had appeared in Murder by Decree, which also a previous Bob Clark film.

Location scouts looked at 20 cities before Clark selected Cleveland, Ohio, as the principal site for filming. The actual Higbee's department store on Cleveland's Public Square was used for both exterior and interior shots. Casting director Julie Matthews had such a hard time finding enough extras to fill Public Square for the parade scene that she had to go on local television to beg people to show up. Although Higbee's was well-known for its massive Christmas displays, it did not have a gigantic "Santa's North Pole Mountain." That was built specially for the film. (For years afterward, Higbee's would reassemble the prop and use it. Higbee's is now the Horseshoe Casino, which decorates 15 windows to mimic the movie's window displays. The "Santa's Mountain" prop is now on display at Castle Noel in Medina, Ohio.) The Christmas parade on Public Square was filmed at 3 AM so that 1960s- and 1970s-era buildings would not be visible. Cleveland antique car owners donated the use of their vehicles and drove around and around the square to mimic traffic. The streetcars used in these shots used Toronto Transit Commission PCC streetcars, imported specially from Canada. A house at 3159 W 11th Street in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland was used for exterior shots of the Parker home. Interior shots were done on a soundstage in Toronto, Canada. (The house still exists. In 2004, it was purchased and renovated so that its interiors matched the sets of the film. It exists as "A Christmas Story House and Museum" today.)

Most of the rest of the film was shot in Toronto. The flat tire scene was shot at the foot of Cherry Street, and the Christmas tree lot was nearby. The alley where Scut Farkus intimidates Ralphie is in Toronto's east end, and the streetcars. The "Bo Ling Chop Suey Palace" was a storefront in the Toronto's Chinatown. The idea for the name came from the film's assisant director, Ken Goch. When he was a child, Goch's mother mistook a bowling alley with a burnt out "W" for a Chinese restaurant. The sign (complete with burnt-out "W") was recreated for the movie. Caterers used five or six actual Peking duck dishes for the "Christmas turkey" scene, but they were shellacked to mimic a just-out-of-the-oven appearance. The interior and exterior Warren G. Harding Elementary School scenes were at Victoria School in St. Catharines, Ontario. The fire engine (a 1938 Ford La-France) which rescues Flick from the flag pole is owned by the Chippawa Volunteer Fire Fighters' Association in Niagara Falls, Canada.

Martin Malivoire made the leg lamp for the film. Seven lamps were made for the film, but they were all destroyed after the production ended. There are no original leg lamps from the film today, only replicas.

The Red Ryder BB gun shown in the film was also fake. The Daisy BB Gun company never produced a gun with the exact configuration mentioned in the film. Indeed, the gun used in the film was a left-handed gun (with compass and sundial on the right side of the stock) because actor Peter Billingsley was left-handed.

To get Flick's tongue to stick to the flagpole, a hidden suction tube was installed in the flagpole.

A lengthy dream sequence in which Ralphie and Flash Gordon defeat Ming the Merciless was filmed but cut from the picture.

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A Christmas Story was released a week before Thanksgiving in 1983. The $4 million film earned about $2 million its first weekend. The top films that year were Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment, Flashdance, Trading Places, WarGames, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, Staying Alive, Mr. Mom, and Risky Business. A Christmas Story was up against Terms of Endearment, Sudden Impact, Scarface, Yentl, Silkwood, and Christine, and basically had no chance. Furthermore, Christmas-themed movies were not popular at the time, and MGM was not willing to spend much money on A Christmas Story; it was much more interested in promoting Barbra Streisand in Yentl and earning an Oscar.

Film critics were not kind to the picture. Most felt it lacked characterization, depth, and detail, and excoriated it for its treacly and nostalgic tone. Many felt it was heavy-handed in the way it manipulated people's emotions, while others concluded that the film lacked a truly unifying element or plot. The acting, critics argued, was all right, but there were no standout performances in the film.

By mid-December 1983, MGM believed the picture was "played out." Although the film was still screened in several hundred theaters, the studio pulled it. There was a significant public outcry, and MGM was forced to re-book it in hundreds of theaters just before Christmas. By late January, when MGM pulled the film again, it was still playing in more than 100 cinemas in the United States and Canada.

Box office was about $19.3 million, making it the 39th most popular film of the year.

But A Christmas Story quickly sank into obscurity. It emerged on home video in 1984. Blockbuster Video, then one of the world's largest entertainment and book stores, began carrying large numbers of rental copies. Blockbuster was controlled by a board of directors who were conservative Christians, and the company was routinely demanding that R- and PG-13 rated films undergo extensive censorship before the chain would carry them. A Christmas Story, however, contained no cursing and was just the sort of family-oriented entertainment the company wanted to promote. That same year, HBO ran the film several times near Christmas. Now, at the time, most movie studios didn't want you to buy their films on home video. Films would be released at a very high price (usually $100), discouraging purchases and forcing people to rent films from video stores. A year later, after rental income was played out, the studio would release the film at a more reasonable price (usually $25). In 1985, MGM released A Christmas Story at the lower price, and sales of the film were quite good.

In 1988, Fox and Superstations WTBS (Atlanta) and WGN (Chicago) began airing A Christmas Story on Thanksgiving. Although Fox soon stopped its airings, WTBS continued to air the film. In 1996, TBS began airing it consecutively over several days close to Christmas. In 1997, TBS's sister-network, TNT, began airing "24 Hours of A Christmas Story". When TNT shifted to a more drama-focused program schedule in 2004, TBS took over the marathon duties. In 2010, more than 57 million people tuned in during a 24-hour period to watch all or a portion of the marathon.

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Ted Turner purchased MGM in 1986. Although he held onto it for just 90 days (cash flow problems required him to sell), he retained the MGM film library. Turner sold his media empire to Time-Warner in in 1996. With it went the pre-1986 MGM film library.

In 2003, Warner Bros. released the first Blu-ray version of A Christmas Story. This version contained a cleaned-up print and mono sound. There were also a number of special features: 1) An audio commentary by Bob Clark and Peter Billingsley; 2) "Another Christmas Story" 20th anniversary featurette; 3) "The Daisy Red Ryder," a featurette about the film's BB gun and the character that inspired it; 4) "Get a Leg Up," a featurette about the film's now-famous leg lamp and how it came to be a marketing sensation after the film was released; 5) some script pages; 6) the original theatrical trailer; 7) a trivia game; 8) A Little Orphan Annie decoder game; 9) an audio-only reading by Jean Shepherd; and 10) An advertisement for the leg lamp.

The Blu-ray edition was re-released in 2008. It's exactly the same as the 2003 release, although the last four special features were not included. (What the fudge?)

The 2008 release has some color correction and lack of saturation issues, some scratches and dirt, and generally a slightly dark overall look. Warners did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to clean up this print. There is also some compression noise in solid patches of color.

The audio soundtrack is Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. Not even stereo!

Unless you are a total A Christmas Story fanatic, this Blu-ray release is no different than the HD airing that you can see on TBS this Christmas.

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