Christmas calls for a BB gun and a leg lamp

December 24, 2006|By Susan Reimer

I HAVE TO CONFESS, IT WAS my daughter who introduced me to A Christmas Story, the movie about Ralphie Parker's quest for the BB gun even Santa thinks is a bad idea: "You'll shoot your eye out, kid."

She asked for a copy several Christmases ago and, for a while, I thought she had had a conversion experience and was asking for a dramatization of the Nativity.

My feelings were kind of hurt. I'd prided myself in my comprehensive management of the cultural literacy in the house - we had covered the classics from Sleeping Beauty to West Side Story - and here was a phenomenon that had gotten right by me.

Now, thanks to TBS' annual 24-hour Christmas Story marathon that has begun each Christmas Eve for more than a decade, the movie is as much a fixture of our holiday as the ham after Mass and my husband's late-night gift-wrapping frenzy.

It has replaced A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life for the next generation, although I still like to watch both of these movies because they make me cry, purging my heart of the holiday tears that are never far away.

But there is something about the combination of the nostalgia and the smart-aleck in A Christmas Story that puts a different spin on what can be a dangerously sentimental time of year.

For those of you who have not seen the movie - all, like, two of you - it is humorist Jean Shepherd's recollection of a 1940s Christmas in the Midwest. That is his practiced radio voice narrating.

The film, made in 1983, is a kind of Christmas noir - classmates are idiots or bullies and the adults are either clueless or a bitter disappointment. Even Santa will kick your fanny down the slide.

And what could be more dismal than Christmas dinner alone in a Chinese restaurant, with the wait staff serenading you with garbled carols?

The perverse message of A Christmas Story has pushed the movie to the front of the stage in this country's annual holiday pageant.

College kids can repeat huge chunks of dialogue - just like they can with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The leg lamp has found a best-selling life on the Internet - and for an extra 100 bucks you get the wooden crate stamped "fra-ge-lae."

Cingular has re-created Ralphie's kitchen so his mother can deny him a cell phone. ("You'll run the bill up.")

Even Baltimore's Senator Theatre, where the movie is showing today, dresses its lobby up with Christmas Story memorabilia instead of a Christmas tree - complete, Gayle Grover says, with dogs, the staff's pets.

"We could probably get them to steal a turkey and eat it," she said.

And, as we find new ways to merge memory with merchandising, the Cleveland house that the filmmakers used was sold on eBay and is now a tourist stop.

When owner Brian Jones stands in front of the carefully restored house holding a Red Ryder BB gun, people driving by roll down their windows and shout, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid."

All that is needed to complete this Christmas tableau are petals in his pocket.

A Christmas Story will be shown at the Senator Theater today at 1, 3:15, 5:30 and 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $5.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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