Monday, December 24, 2012

The Twisted Logic of The Nutcracker

Posted By on Mon, Dec 24, 2012 at 11:49 AM

We were watching probably the worst version of The Nutcracker ever made - more on that in a moment - when suddenly it came to me:

Young Clara’s crazy old godfather comes for Christmas and gives her not a scholarship to Wossamotta U, a gift certificate to the local mall, or even an Easy Bake Oven he might have gotten from ebay.

No, this crazy old man gives her . . . a nutcracker.

Now, I like nutcrackers. I like nuts, and so nutcrackers have often come in handy for opening the little devils. But a nutcracker, no matter fancy schmancy it might be?

Really?

A nutcracker?

And this young girl (who doesn’t seem to be suffering from any particular form of insanity) goes round the moon for this lovely offering from a man who doesn’t seem like he is exactly living on the street. He is, after all, a councilman and a magician.

In a fit of childhood pique,friend Fritz (oh, Fritz!) breaks her nutcracker, causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Clara’s part. And thus the magical story begins.

But honestly.

A nutcracker?

It sort of makes you wonder if he might have slipped a can opener or two in the pockets of another child, as their “special” present. Perhaps a corkscrew? A cheese grater?

Young Fritz has always been portrayed badly in all of the various productions of The Nutcracker I have ever seen, but I have begun to see him as a budding anarchist (perhaps even a socialist? Future labor leader?) worried about young Clara’s spiritual and political development, her emotional growth in a world in which the cruel and mean-spirited are so often rewarded, while so many families live in want.

Where such a handsomely crafted nutcracker could provide for families whose only hope of survival is to end up in the work house.

Where the life of a “mudlark” meant one of unending, wretched poverty - no matter what country you lived in, there were similar names.

Yes, Fritz the young anarchist, the young boy who was so unpleasant at family gatherings because he longed for something more honest, wanted - in his own immature way - to teach Clara something about the world around her.

Fritz’s profile in courage only lasts a few seconds, and I am sure that he spends the rest of of the Christmas season confined to his spacious bedroom, playing the an early version of World of Warcraft, using carrier pigeons to stay in touch with fellow players.

Still, from tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow.

But, Clara? A nutcracker? Really? Well, now that you have had your treasured night, in January, I’d start dropping hints to my family - and maybe even that crazy old councilman/magician - about Wossamotta U.

After all, their list of Alumni is pretty damned distinguished.

******

The Nutcracker movie that rivals Plan Nine from Outer Space

One night a few weeks ago we happened upon The Nutcracker: The Untold Story (originally called The Nutcracker in 3D) starring Elle Fanning (wow, the flip side to the Baldwin Brothers? Only sober?) which not only seems to have no dancing whatsoever, but does not give screen credit to the original The Nutcracker and the Mouse King story, or its author E. T. A. Hoffman.

Something for which they should be eternally grateful.

In this version, young Mary is visited by her Uncle Albert (keep your jokes to yourself) on Christmas Eve and given . . . yeah, a Nutcracker.

The 2010 film, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, was universally bashed by critics.

After receiving her gift, young Mary has a bland dream about bland people - the only “highlight” of the dream being where she meets Nazi-like rats.

This may have been the sequence which inspired film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times to write:

"One of those rare holiday movies that may send children screaming under their seats."

Oops.

While there are some songs, don’t look for any dancing, as the producers were do doubt afraid that anyone with nimble feet would no doubt find the exit sign. There are songs in the movie, though, based on Tchaikovsky's work. They aren’t very good.

Tchaikovsky's music plays over the end credits, as a sort of final insult to anyone masochistic enough to sit through this entire movie.

Some of us watch these movies so you don’t have to. We are the “Unsung Heroes of America.”

*****

The magic of actor Ed Barth

Thinking of the travesty of The Nutcracker in 3-D, and the insult of using Tchaikovsky's music over the end credits made me consider the horrible remake of Fame a few years ago, when the famous title song was only used over the end credits.

Which brings us to . . . Ed Barth.

Ed Barth, one of my favorite character actors, played the taxi-driving father of one of the students in the original movie. He also played Shaft’s police friend in the otherwise unremarkable TV series back in the 1970s.

Which brings us to The Invaders.

We were watching an episode last week when “architect David Vincent” - you’d have to watch the show to get the humor in that - leaps into a taxi, and gives him some instructions. The driver nods. A minute later Vincent tells him to turn, the the driver responds with just two words, and I sit up in my chair.

“Was that Ed Barth? From Fame? In a taxi?”

Sure enough, looking over the end credits, it was indeed.

It was sort of like that moment near the end of My Favorite Year when the taciturn fellow in the control room says, “This make me happy.”

****

Whatever day you celebrate this week, have a good one!

Merry Christmas!

Have a Fiery Festivus!

And everything else in between . . .

***

Quote of the Day

One of the odd things about being in a hurry is that it seems so fiercely important when you yourself are the hurrier and so comically ludicrous when it is someone else. - Christopher Morley

rsdrake@cox.net

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