no. 15: Celebrate Christmas with some feminism

in which Kelly explains how Miracle on 34th Street is actually a feminist classic and Francesco reminds us of Little Women's Christmas spirit

no. 15: Celebrate Christmas with some feminism
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I love the Christmas season. Despite the darkness of winter, the holidays are filled with joy, laughter, and time spent together. This year, Thursday Matinee is releasing two issues featuring writers discussing some of the best Christmas films ever.

I'll be back with your regularly scheduled issues next week!

Miracle on 34th Street: a feminist triumph

by Kelly Clancy

Still from Miracle of 34th Street

The late 1940s were a brief, wondrous post-war period in the United States. Soldiers were returning from war, but the culture machine had not yet pushed women back into the kitchen and away from public life. Miracle on 34th Street was born from this moment. Most holiday movies are best watched with your nostalgia radar turned way up and your critical lens turned way down (I’m looking at you, fatphobia in Bridget Jones and Love Actually). Miracle on 34th Street is different. It is a delight to watch, even as it distinguishes itself a feminist, anti-capitalist triumph.

The movie opens on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, where Doris Walker, played by the impeccable Maureen O’Hara, finds herself needing a replacement Santa—the one she hired, she fired because he was drinking on the job. Mrs. Walker is a smart Macy’s executive and successful enough to afford a plus apartment overlooking the parade route. She’s a single mom to the delightful Susan Walker (Natalie Wood’s debut role). Susan and Doris display one of the great on-screen mother-daughter relationships in film history. Their relationship even passes the Bechdel Test (two named female characters on screen talking about something other than a man) as they struggle to figure out the boundary between fantasy and reality. 2021 is awash with misinformation, and it’s refreshing to find a film that treats seriously questions of fact and fiction, fairy tales and reality (even as it tries to prove the existence of Santa).

Miracle on 34th Street is also remarkable for its skepticism of capitalism. As Kris causes an existential crisis across Macy’s as he sends parents to arch-rival Gimbels to find the perfect Christmas toy, the movie consistently worries about capitalism encroaching on the true meaning of Christmas. As Alfred, the Macy’s janitor who moonlights as Santa Claus, bemoans: “Yeah, there's a lot of bad ‘isms floatin' around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it's the same.”

After the Macy’s psychiatrist conspires to get Kris Kringle institutionalized (in a searing indictment of the psychoanalytic industrial complex), Doris, along with her precocious daughter Susie (Natalie Woods’s debut role) and her suitor Fred Galey (the dashing John Payne) conspire to free him. The twelfth-hour hero of the movie is the most wholesome of governmental agencies, the US Postal Service. Best of all, the movie delivers the promised happy ending. In the end, Doris can have it all – a smoking hot lawyer husband, an awesome career where she nets a bonus and praise from Mr. Macy himself, and a renewed faith in the magic of life. A whole catalog of movies exist that are only made palatable by nostalgia. Miracle on 34th Street isn’t one of these. The performances, the magic of the story, and the politics all make it a delight to watch. This season, I invite you to experience the magic of holidays, late-1940s style.

Little Women: a forgotten Christmas classic

by Francesco Bacci

Still from Gillian Armstrong's version of Little Women. The sisters surround huddle around with their mother to read a letter from their father during the Christmas season.

It’s almost Christmas, and we are amidst the holiday-movie season. Every year, tons of Christmas films come out on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hallmark Channel, and everybody keeps discussing and revisiting classics and fan favorites such as Love Actually and It’s A Wonderful Life.

But what about an incredible classic movie with the same warmth and spirit of the festive season, such as Little Women? Gillian Armstrong and Greta Gerwig each directed a cinematic adaptation that is perfect for this cold time of the year. It is not by any coincidence that—“My sisters and I remember that winter as the coldest of our childhood”—is how Armstrong opens her adaptation. It is a redundant argument to claim that non-holiday-centric movies must be considered as “Christmas movies,” and in the case of the Little Women, it is clear that a film about family, love, and solidarity (with even scenes of Christmas celebrations) needs to be watched and rewatched as the new addition to the long list of must-seen films like Home Alone.

Indeed, the source material—Alcott’s book opens on the 25th of December with the March sisters complaining about their impoverished Christmas in Concord, Massachusetts. The story celebrates the resilience of four sisters navigating their coming age among tumultuous tragedies and big changes.

Gillian Armstrong uses a more traditional approach in her cinematic version of this classic of American literature. The 1994 movie is full of comfort deriving from familial affection. It is also a story of melancholic estrangements - it resonates even more with the current state of the world. This version focuses on the March family’s love for each other and how all the characters are guided by a strong sense of hope and kindness. Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Kirsten Dunst, and Claire Danes are perfect in the roles of the March sisters in this timeless story. It is a more conventional and linear iteration, but emotions run high throughout the 119 minutes of the film.

Greta Gerwig changes the structure of the story, and she transforms some aspects of Alcott’s book to adapt it to the current years. Gerwig focuses more on the process of formation of the four sisters played by Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen, and Florence Pugh with the American Civil War as a backdrop. Viewers get to empathize even more with each of these characters that are forced to mature into womanhood when their lives are affected by a series of unavoidable changes. Still, to guide them is their tender mother, played by Laura Dern, and the missing presence of their idealistic father. Once again, the core of the 2019 Little Women is the emotional bond that connects both the March sisters and the whole family. Despite tragedies, fights, rivalries, and uncertainties, they all try to stick together. The movie ends with an evident ‘Christmas miracle’ that connects the parallel tracks of the two storylines: their father returns from the front. The final scene is another symbolic ‘Christmas miracle’—Jo’s baby sees the light of the day: she publishes Little Women.

Little Women is a celebration of all the same tropes that Christmas is based on. The strong pathos, warmth, and sadness contribute to creating an ideal charming movie for the holiday season that reminds us that we should celebrate life and its nuances. We all have similar dysfunctional families attempting to keep it together.

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