Friday, December 23, 2016

Miracle (or Nightmare??) on 34th Street

A Discussion of Miracle on 34th Street 

Between Prof Thug & Stoned Willy Poonhound

Prof Thug: Hey everybody, welcome to the first Discussion between Prof Thug and Stoned Willy Poonhound. Since it 'tis the season and all, we figured we'd take a look at the greatest "classic" Christmas movie ever, Miracle on 34th Street.

The original 1947 film has everything a good Christmas movie needs: Santa Claus, a memorable setting, children imparting wisdom on adults, anti-commercialism, characters with infallible hope, discussions about imagination vs. reality, and redemption for the hero.

As a self-described film buff, I love the film for technical reasons, too. Old films have such a unique feel. It's fascinating to watch them and see the styles and fashions of the day, as well as the technical capabilities of the era (this film has a black and white version and a technicolor version!). Even the style of acting, the pacing, it's all very--

Stoned Willy Poonhound: NERRRRRRD!

PT: Oh, hey Willy. Stoned Willy Poonhound everybody. Welcome to the discussion. Jerk.

SWP: Waaaaaaatuuuupppp.

PT: Let's get to it. Not only is Miracle on 34th Street much better than most so called "classic" Christmas movies, it's also much deeper. It's an examination of society as a whole. It explores what happens when a truly good person tries to do the right thing. He's questioned as crazy, locked up, and put on trial. 

SWP: Dude is crazy!

PT: Relax. We'll get there. But to be clear, I disagree with that assessment. 

SWP: Of course ya do.

PT: The film opens with a guy who looks like Santa in regular clothes and goes by the name of Kris Kringle. He's in the middle of New York City during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kringle runs into the guy who's supposed to play Santa in the parade, and he's drunk. That's unacceptable to Kringle (and anybody with morals) so Kringle complains to Doris, the event director. She persuades Kringle to play Santa. He owns the role so hard he's hired to play Santa at the biggest venue in the world: Macy's on 34th Street.

He's every single thing you want Santa to be: friendly, cheerful, helpful, wise. 

SWP: And delusional! Dude really thinks he's a fictional character! He calls himself Kris fuckin Kringle, n he's serious bout it! That lady Doris asks him to quit playin n tell her daughter Susan he's not really Santa, n he refuses! She jus went thru a rough divorce n she's tryin to teach her daughter ta avoid fantasies n honestly confront tha realities a life, n this asshole's like, "fuck that, embrace those fantasies girl!"

PT: Stop. You and I both know the mother is being overly restrictive on Susan's imagination and destroying her faith in humanity. When Susan goes to Macy's, Kringle's interactions with the other children restore that faith and sense of wonder. He speaks perfect Dutch to a scared little girl who didn't understand English. The girl was just recently adopted and brought to this country and he's the only one who comforted her. There's some magic there. He can call himself Topo Gigio for all I care. 

SWP: Kris Kringle. More like Kreepy Kringle tha Killer K--sumthin. Wutever. Nice Santa Clause refrence, tho. Gimme Santa Clause over this shit any day. 

PT: The Santa Clause dealt with similar themes! The idea of a real Santa Claus living among regular society and society's reaction to him. But that had a regular guy turning into Santa. And it came first, of course, so it-

SWP: Ok ok, back to 34th Street.

PT: Right. So when Kringle is at Macy's, just killing it as Santa, he tells a shopper that another store has an item she can't find at Macy's. The lady tells Julian, the head of the toy department, that she'll shop at Macy's forever now.

SWP: Except for that particular item, apparently.

PT: Kringle later tells another customer about some sweet ice skates that she can find at Macy's archrival Gimbels. Doris thinks this behavior is "crazy." He's too generous, too nice. And he keeps calling himself Kris Kringle. She fires him.

SWP: She should be applauded n promoted.

PT: Yeah, well, his "crazy" tactics actually help the store! He's generated so much positive publicity that Mr. Macy himself promises to give Doris and Julian bonuses for finding their new Santa. Then, just to satisfy Doris's misgivings, Julian makes Kringle take a psychological evaluation. He passes easily, and then starts messing with the doctor's head by questioning the doctor's own mental health.

SWP: Gaslightin him. Typical sociopath behavior.

PT: He's just smarter than the guy. So now the store expands Kringle's referral concept. Macy's becomes the store that cares most about their customers. To avoid looking greedy, Gimbels implements the same policy throughout their entire chain. Eventually, Kringle unites the bitter rivals Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel. He's a modern day saint! And his "crazy" ideas actually helped the businesses and regular every day citizens. We should embrace him, not reject him!

SWP: Wutever. I think he's got ulterior motives...

PT: Of course you do. Anyways, Kringle becomes friends with Doris and Susan. He becomes quick friends with her neighbor Fred as well. Fred and Kringle make a deal with each other to try to make Susan and Doris less cynical Kringle will work on Susan and Fred will work on Doris.

SWP: "Work on." Yeah. What tha hell is an old man hangin round this little girl for?

PT: He's Santa!

SWP: Come on, man. So any perv can just claim to be Santa n he's good to hang out wit little kids?

PT: You are seriously jaded.

Kringle has a talk with Susan about imagination. Susan believes it's demeaning and childish to pretend or to believe in fairy tales. She wants to be like adults. But Kringle says that's not always so smart. Imagination is an important part of life. He shows her how to pretend to be a monkey and she actually enjoys herself.

This is an important lesson, and the overall theme of the movie. Fred lays it out plainly for Doris: "Look Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile." Paradoxically, imagination can help us see the world for how it truly is. Kids see people for who they are and they see things for what they are; because of their imaginations, they can envision a better reality. That doesn't mean they don't understand reality.

SWP: Right, it means they're escapin reality. So live in a fantasy world? Thats yer advice? 

Me: You're a talking cartoon dog!

SWP: Dont try ta distract from tha point here. What tha hell is an old man doin alone wit a child in her bedroom?

PT: It was a different time.

SWP: Oh, tha Bill Cosby excuse.

PT: You're ridiculous. Not all old men are perverts. Obviously, her mother trusts Kringle enough for him to be there.

SWP: I guess. I mean, she was jus callin him crazy so...

PT: People change their minds when confronted with facts. Hopefully you'll be open to that.

SWP: Wutever.

PT: Ok, look. You know the Einstein quote, "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination"? That's what Kringle is all about. It's like how Kringle's attitude and referrals are helping Macy's and Gimbels. He's showing that they can be creative and do things the right way while still being successful.

SWP: But what does he get for helpin out tha stores? He musta got some kinda bonus. 

PT: No, he gets treated like a crazy old man and called "maladjusted." Kringle learns that the psychiatrist convinced his friend (the young janitor, Alfred) that he is mentally ill, simply because he is a good person! When Kringle confronts the psychiatrist, he tells him that he has respect for psychiatry, but not for "quacks pushing lies." The man is dangerous, and Kringle knows there is only one way to deal with him: he smacks him on the head with his cane.

SWP: Man, never thought I'd see you deny science n defend violence!

PT: No no no. Kringle even says he "has respect for psychiatry." It's just that this psychiatrist is full of shit.

SWP: So he only respects it when it tells him what he wants to hear?

PT: No, this guy only thinks Kringle is crazy because Kringle is "unusually" generous. Plus, the guy exaggerates his pain from the blow to the head so he can ship Kringle off to Bellevue Hospital. What kind of doctor is that?! He's a buffoon!

SWP: He's jus lookin out fer everybody's safety in my opinion.

PT: You're entitled to that. You're wrong but you have a right to be wrong.

Kringle thinks Doris was in on the scheme to send him to Bellevue, so he purposely fails his mental exam when he gets there. He's dejected, defeated by society. But Fred persuades him not to give up.

SWP: Enabler. Always one around.

PT: More like a true friend. And it's a good thing he is around. Kringle gets his day in court, and Fred leaves his prestigious law firm to defend him. He tells Doris: "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles." That's what this is all about.

SWP: Fred lost his damn mind, too.

PT: At the hearing, the District Attorney gets Kringle to claim he is Santa Claus and rests his case, thinking it's a wrap.

SWP: It should be.

PT: The DA requests that the judge rule that Santa isn't real, but the judge's adviser explains the problem with that ruling: it would ruin his chances for reelection. The judge decides to hear evidence.

SWP: Think a tha children judge! But really, think a yer career!

PT: Well, yeah. Basically. So now it's Fred's job to prove that Kringle really is Santa Claus.

SWP: Cu-ckoo.

PT: Fred calls Mr. Macy as a witness. When the DA asks if he really believes Kringle is Santa, Macy looks unsure, then he starts thinking about all the negative press he would receive from calling his own Santa Claus a fraud. He considers all the positive press (and yes, business) that Kringle has brought to his store, and finally declares that he does believe it. Macy leaves the stand and immediately fires the quack psychiatrist.

SWP: Another good man loses his job because of Kringle. That's at least two now.

PT: Wait, you mean the drunk Santa at the beginning?

SWP: Yeah. Alcoholics need jobs too, pal.

PT: You're definitely reaching now. He was drunk on the job know what? I'm moving on.

So now that Macy has testified that Kringle is Santa, Fred calls the DA's son to testify...

SWP: Dirty move.

PT: ...and the young boy says his father told him Santa was real. That's what you call a power play. The DA's own words used against him. 

SWP: It was a good move, no doubt. But now Fred's gotta prove this geezer's "the one and only" Santa Claus. And there's gotta be sum kinda authority behind tha claim, not just sum stupid kid.

PT: Very true. This is the main conflict of the story. Fred starts to panic a little.

Meanwhile, Susan now believes in Kringle and writes him a letter to cheer him up. She addresses the letter to the courthouse. When a postage worker sees the letter and the address, he suggests clearing out the thousands of letters to Santa in the dead letter office and sending them all to the courthouse.

SWP: Ahhh, tha perfect setup. Another US government conspiracy. Gotta keep tha kids believin in Santa! Keep tha economy rollin!

PT: If eyerolls made a sound, everyone within a mile radius of me would be deaf right now.

SWP: Yer a sheep.

PT: Fred gives the judge a few letters addressed to Santa Claus and delivered to Kringle. He claims the US Post Office, and by extension the federal government...

SWP: See?

PT: ... has therefore officially acknowledged that Kringle is Santa Claus. When the judge demands more proof, mailmen dump over 20 full mailbags onto the bench. He dismisses the case.

SWP: Mail? Mail won tha case for this madman? Where have I heard this before...

PT: It was a genius move, be honest.

SWP: Yea, but it only worked cuz a tha stupidity a tha opposition. Again, somethin we seen before...

PT: Hey, the ruling stands, despite how you feel about it.

So Christmas morning finally arrives. Susan is disappointed she didn't get the house she wanted.

SWP: She's really startin ta annoy me. She wants a house fer Christmas? Not even like a ipad or even a pony, a whole damn house?

PT: Hey, dream big. While Fred is driving Doris and Susan home, Susan sees the house of her dreams with a "For Sale" sign in the yard. She's ecstatic.

Fred stops the car and they get out to look at the house. Fred finds out that Doris was the one who encouraged Susan to have faith in Kringle, which led her to write that letter. He is so moved, he basically proposes to her on the spot and suggests they buy the house.

SWP: This guy really thinks things thru before actin, huh?

PT: He's a romantic. He jokingly brags about his skills as a lawyer. He did the impossible: he proved Santa Claus was real and living among us.

SWP: "Proved."

PT: Proved in a federal court of law, yes. Anyways, Doris and Fred see a red cane inside the house that looks just like Kringle's. Doris says maybe the previous owners left it, but Fred replies, "Maybe I didn't do such a good thing after all." He realizes that his lawyer abilities didn't really win the case; all he did was prove something that was true all along. 

SWP: Or, he realizes this dude Kringle is a lunatic m he fucked up by getting him out.

PT: Oh please. Why would you even think that?

SWP: What kinda phrasin is that: ""Maybe I didn't do such a good thing after all." Yeah, ya let a creeper buy a house for a little girl n now he's probly sumwhere in tha house, ya dummy. He's jus now realizin he fucked up, but it's too late. Kringle owns em.

PT: Willy, I...

SWP: Seriously, break it down. How did Kringle get tha house? It's implied he bought it, right? Where'd he get tha money? He got paid off by tha store owners who created a monopoly on tha market. There's yer "Christmas spirit." He was in it fer himself tha whole time. He buys a house fer these people he jus met? Who does that? In any other situation, we'd recognize that as tha actions of a crazy person.

And what does he want in return? His cane is there like a warning: this place is mine. I come n go as I please. Bow down.

PT: I...

SWP: Ya see it now, right?

PT: I....

SWP: Ya see how crazy dude is? N ya see how crazy this fuckin movie is?

PT: I...I'm sorry everyone. I didn't know how far gone Willy really is. He does a lot of drugs.

SWP: Don't gimme that ad hoc bullshit. Ya know my argument is right so ya jus attack me instead. I know that move, Professor. Besides, I only do weed n alcohol...n shrooms...n sum other hallucinogens.  

PT: Right. Well, it's been...interesting viewing with you, Willy. I think this movie a classic for the ages. It's about the power of the imagination and the importance of spreading love and generosity. The true spirit of Christmas. Merry Christmas everybody!

SWP: Nah. It's sum bullshit bout a maniac who cons evrybody he knows, includin little kids. Happy holidays bitchez!

We Love You All...Spread World Peace!

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