Saturday, December 24, 2005

Day 85: The Nightmare Before Christmas

It's become tradition for Tara and I to watch this every year on the 23rd of December. I've seen this movie many, many times and listened to the soundtrack even more often. When I saw this film, I was a sophomore in high school and it had a profound effect on me. Immediately after seeing it, I began making ill-fated stop-motion projects of my own on a VHS camcorder with no one-frame advance. I'd press record, listen to the mechanism within, and if I managed to press pause at just the right time, I could get record a reasonably short amount of time on the tape. It was painstaking, terrible animation, but the most rewarding thing I'd ever done with my life. This eventually led to some horrible high-schoollish live-action films and then, I guess I can say, an undergraduate degree in filmmaking and the semi-lucrative job I now have.

It's no exaggeration then, to say that this is one of the more important films of my life. In recent years, because I'd gone so absolutely bonkers over this movie when I was in high school, I began to distance myself from it. It's probably partially the "goth" association with the film, or the fact that you can buy Nightmare Before Christmas swag at Hot Topic now. And, while the film still had some pull, for the first time, I was able to see some notable flaws in the thing that my enthusiasm had previously blinded me to.

So, figure for the past five years, I've been slowly distancing myself from The Nightmare Before Christmas despite having both the score and the songs embedded in my memory for the rest of my life. I watched it last night and I went absolutely nuts in love with it all over again. Despite the many times I've seen the movie, I'm still finding new stuff tucked away in the background, noticing details I've missed in the set direction. And when Jack Skellington tears off his Santa costume to reveal his "proper" outfit underneath, crying, "I AM THE PUMPKIN KING!" I was impressed at how effective this very simple gesture (the tearing off of a self-imposed costume to reveal the true character underneath) works every time.

This film made me an Elfman fan for life, as well, not that he had much work to do after Edward Scissorhands and the Batman music. I think that this may be the high point of Danny Elfman's career, and it was certainly the peak of the first wave of his film composing (he's moved on to less melodic, more textural work in recent years), bringing to bear every musical trick he'd used prior to this film.

I don't like Christmas, not really. But I like the feelings associated with Christmas: the excess of kindness, the gluttony, the bright colors and gaudy displays. The sheer exuberance of it all. It doesn't "fit" me well, or at least, I've never felt it did. But this movie does. And always will. Despite any of its flaws... because of its flaws. It's a messy film, but a beautiful one and one about which I cannot write anything but a sloppy personal essay. I'm smiling just thinking about it.

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