Alternative Christmas film, anyone?

Cornerhouse Chief Projectionist Garry Watson gives us his top 3 film picks over the festive period…

This Christmas I’ve selected a season of films exposing a slightly darker side to the season of good will, The Other Side of Yuletide...  I dare say they could all exist without the Christmas setting – unlike, say, Miracle on 34th Street or Elf – but they all benefit significantly from the textures and moods the season brings.

In 1985, Keith Gordon wrote a strange but wonderful indie film called Static. In it he plays an intense young man who invents a television capable of receiving images from heaven, which he unveils on Christmas Eve – but unfortunately only he can see it, while everyone else sees static. Alas this film seems to be out of circulation, but a similar sense of strangeness and unease runs through his 1992 directorial debut A Midnight Clear. Adapted from the novel by William Wharton and starring an ensemble cast of then up-and-coming actors (including a young Ethan Hawke) it tells the story of two groups of soldiers, American and German, who attempt a Christmas truce as WW2 draws to a close. Internal tensions soon erupt, however, with violent consequences, in what is, for me, one of the best films of the 1990s.

As far as I know, the Raymond Chandler novel on which Lady In The Lake (1946) was based wasn’t set at Christmas. But Chandler himself co-wrote the screenplay, so it’s unclear who decided to give it a festive spin (let’s face it, Christmas and Noir are strange bedfellows). Yet the apparently opposing moods work together well and give Lady In The Lake its unique ambience, and the film almost feels like a proto-slasher movie at times (Black Christmas, anyone?). It’s all here… corpses in lakes, character desperation and pitch-black morality, although its first-person-perspective photography was a novelty that didn’t really catch on – after all, who wanted to pay good money to see the leading man or woman only occasionally reflected in a mirror? Though I suppose the device eventually got its day in the ‘stalk and slash’ craze of the 1970s and 1980s. But Lady In The Lake remains a fascinating oddity; I particularly like the haunting choral music used in place of a conventional score.

Cat People (1943) is an acknowledged classic but I actually prefer Curse Of The Cat People, made the following year. I think there may be a shot of a black cat somewhere along the way but the link to the first film is tenuous at best, though actress Simone Simon does return (albeit in a different role). The film is a charming, poetically-filmed fantasy with vaguely dark undercurrents, with much of the action taking place at Christmas – and it’s this snowy, enclosed world that’s so evocative. Co-director Robert Wise went on to a long and varied career, directing such hits as The Day The Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. What more recommendation do you need?

Whichever of our alternative Christmas films you come and see I hope you enjoy them, and maybe get a new perspective on this familiar time of year.  Let us know what you think, and have a great Christmas.

The Other Side of Yuletide…An Alternative Christmas runs between Sat 14 – Mon 23 Dec. View the whole season and book your tickets here.