Time for another round-up. The first three items are from Reuters.
1. Eyal Arad, one of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s top strategists, is helping to promote Steven Spielberg’s historical counter-terrorism film Munich in Israel. Interestingly, George Jonas’s Vengeance, the book on which the film is based, claims that Sharon, then a major-general, was present at the initial meeting between Prime Minister Golda Meir and “Avner”, and describes Sharon as one of Avner’s “early heroes” — but unless my ears blinked, I believe the film leaves him out of that scene.
2. The movie version of Watchmen, the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is now in development at Warner Brothers, after being in development practically everywhere else — but no director or stars are currently attached.
In White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, Jody Rosen makes the case that the subject of his book transformed the American Christmas. There are a couple of what we now think of as seasonal standards that predate Irving Berlin’s entry into the field, but neither became a pillar of the Xmas repertoire, because until ‘White Christmas’ came along there was no such thing. (‘Jingle Bells’ was written for Thanksgiving.)
In the decade after Bing Crosby introduced the number in Holiday Inn (1942), Berlin’s colleagues responded with ‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, ‘Frosty the Snowman’ – all the ‘Yule Day gravy’ (as Variety put it) that in a slightly different order makes up every Christmas album from Andy Williams to ‘N Sync. Rosen doesn’t say so, but, in a fragmented culture, these are now the last songs we all sing, whether our tastes incline to rap or country or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They represent the zenith of a universal popular culture we’re unlikely to see again. . . .
Christmas was not kind to Irving Berlin. At 5 o’clock on the morning of Christmas Day 1928, his 3 1/2-week-old son, Irving Junior, was found dead in his bassinet. ‘I’m sure, ‘ his daughter Mary Ellin told me a few years back, ‘it was what we would now call “crib death”. ‘ Does that cast ‘White Christmas’ in a different light? The plangent melancholy the GIs heard in the tune, the unsettling chromatic phrase, the eerie harmonic darkening under the words ‘where children listen’; it’s not too fanciful to suggest the singer’s dreaming of children no longer around to listen. When the girls grew up and left home, Irving Berlin, symbol of the American Christmas, gave up celebrating it. ‘We both hated Christmas, ‘ Mrs Berlin said later. ‘We only did it for you children.’
To take a baby on Christmas morning mocks the very meaning of the day. And to take Irving Berlin’s seems an even crueller jest – to reward his uncanny ability to articulate the sentiments of his countrymen by depriving him of the possibility of sharing them.
Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch with an evil iciness that could snap freeze whole congregations, had not read the books when Adamson first approached her. A long-time collaborator with the now-deceased queer filmmaker Derek Jarman, she is probably the least likely actress in the world to join forces with Bible bashers. “The Christians are welcome,” she says, with composed irony. “As everyone is welcome. Honestly, the connection had to be explained to me. And the more I got to know about Lewis … I know he was a very devout Christian and that he was capable of writing, as he did his entire life, very obviously Christian tracts. This is not one of them.”
Narnia is undoubtedly spiritual, she says, but its world derives from myths and legends that prefigure the religion of tracts. “In fact, if anything – and I cannot believe I am going to say this – I think it is almost anti-religious,” she says.
“What I mean by that is that it’s about children learning to draw not on any kind of dogma or doctrine but on their own resources, outside of the box. Outside their family, outside parental guidance, outside anything. The thing about Narnia is that it takes you to the heart of yourself, your own conscience and your own experience, and so I think it is so much wider than any religion could be, actually.”
If there is evil in the world, she thinks it lies in the lack of doubt. “The incapacity to be compassionate, to be humane and changeable. I am very intrigued by the idea of the righteous. I am suspicious of it, being human. I think that human nature is so much more interesting than that; doubtlessness is not helpful to human beings. So to start the year as the Angel Gabriel in Constantine – and that is the film for the Christians, by the way, not this one – and finish it with the White Witch is a sort of little meditation for me on that idea.”
To which she then adds:
Swinton, however, never saw her character as human at all. “She is not a person; she does look like a human but she isn’t one,” she says. “The Witch is a force of evil and Aslan is a force of good and they are absolutely in balance one with the other. I am Narnia, in a way … One of the things I enjoyed developing was the costume, because I was determined that her costume should not look as if it had been made. That it should look like Narnia, that her dress be the side of a hill or her crown should be made of ice.”
Ah, Tilda, Tilda. And thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for the link.