I know it damages my streetwise punk rock atheist dandy bona fides to enjoy something as commercial as Christmas, but what can I do? I enjoy Christmas. And I’m not just talking about dark Pagan Yule, though I certainly place that front center. I’m talking the full-on materialistic “go see the windows at Saks” and listen to “The Little Drummer Boy” and “O Tannenbaum” version of Christmas with a dash of old Victorian noel glee. I enjoy cold weather, short days, long nights, and blinking lights. This love of the holiday season manifests itself the same way most of my loves manifest themselves: with the obsessive assembly of a playlist. Well, a playlist, a viewlist, and a drinklist. So in the spirit of giving, so long as that giving requires almost no effort whatsoever on my part (just ask my family how long it takes me to work up the energy to visit the post office), I present to you the 2016 Teleport City viewing, listening, and drinking guide.
BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas
Many decades ago, the BBC decided to air an adaptation of M.R. James’ classic ghost story Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to you My Lad on Christmas. It proved so wildly popular that it became a BBC tradition, and in fact, a British tradition, to spend Christmas with at least one chilling tale. Over the years, the BBC Christmas ghost stories have produced some fantastic fare, often experimental, sometimes horribly depressing (The Stone Tape, written by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, being a personal favorite). But when it comes to actual Christmas ghost viewing, I tend to stick to the more traditional end of the spectral spectrum (though still with plenty of doomed souls). I also tend to watch on Christmas Eve (which I myself prefer to Christmas morning, since I’m not a morning person). My suggested Christmas ghost line-up is a triple punch of M.R. James ghoulishness. Best of all, all three are (at least currently) on YouTube in the entirety.
The Ash Tree
A Warning to the Curious
Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad
The Avengers: “Too Many Christmas Trees”
An annual tradition in my house is a viewing of one of the very best episodes of The Avengers. “Steed Hangs Up His Stocking; Emma Asks for More.” The only (free) online version I can find looks like someone pointed a faux-widescreen camcorder at the TV, which means half the picture is missing. So I can’t in good conscience recommend it. I can, however, recommend in good conscience that you buy The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset. Do that, and you follow up the nice with naughty, and watch the episode “A Touch of Brimstone.”
The Man from UNCLE: “The Jingle Bells Affair”
The funny thing about my annual viewing of this Christmas episode of a favorite spy series is that, unlike the thoroughly wonderful “Too Many Christmas Trees,” it’s terrible. I mean, really terrible. Like, legitimate contender for “worst Man from UNCLE episode of all time” terrible. Among other things, it features what amounts to a lengthy commercial for Macy’s, a Russian spymaster named Radish, the obligatory dying children demanded by all holiday specials, more Macy’s, and Ilya swatting a bomb away with a shovel. On the plus side, in 1966 Macy’s was trashed by rioting fans who had been unable to see David McCallum appearing to sign autographs. So maybe this episode was a “sorry about that” to Macy’s? Also, if you enjoy vintage footage of New York, there’s a lot filler shots of the Macy’s Parade. For whatever reason, I still watch this episode every year despite the fact that the expressions Ilya and Solo have throughout the whole thing pretty much reflect my own. Hey, not every Christmas tradition is enjoyable!
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Released on Christmas Eve, 1931, Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has everything you’d want in a Christmas season movie: monsters, bestial grunting, drooling, sex, breast fondling, sexy gams, violence, and top hats. It was one of the most controversial and sleaziest horror films of the pre-Code era, and for that christmas miracle, truly I am thankful. For some reason, while the spectacular silent version starring John Barrymore and the dull 1941 version starring Spencer Tracy are both readily available on home video, the 1931 version (the best version) has slipped out of print in the United States. So if you own the DVD, cherish it by gathering on Christmas Eve with your loved ones to watch a slobbering, murderous beast-man grab the half-naked Miriam Hopkins’s breasts.
The Thin Man
The Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a couple of elegant amateur sleuths with a penchant for cocktail parties, are all-time favorites of mine, even the post-Code ones where they made Nick switch from cocktails and spirits to non-alcoholic cider, then saddled the couple with an annoying kid. Of course, if you’re only going to watch one, then the first one is the best, and it’s also set around Christmas time, which makes it perfect holiday fare, provided you like your Christmas awash in cocktails, booze, murderers, petty thugs, elegant outfits, and witty banter. I can’t think of any other way to cap my annual Christmas viewing.
Music: Classical and Classic Carols
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas music. I loathe “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” and hope the creators of “Christmas Shoes” burn in hell for at least as long as I had to hear the song when I had to make a long drive during the Christmas season and seemed able to only pick up radio stations playing that song. I like Nat King Cole. I like ye olde time carols. I like music from the Victorian era and earlier. And I like classical music regardless of whether or not it’s holiday-specific. So, via covers, here’s my Christmas album playlist.
I do enjoy a good drink. I even enjoy an average drink. Generally under the influence of The Thin Man and a steady stream of pre-Code joys, I tend to spend my holiday season on a selection of classic cocktails: the Sidecar, the French 75, the Brandy Crusta, and whatever hot toddy the local bar might have on hand. And I do enjoy a good bar at Christmas time. For those of us away from or without family, the local barkeep is as fine a companion as Santa and better at mixing drinks than baby Jesus. I’m not opposed to a powerful eggnog, but as I’m watching my figure this year, I will be sticking to straight spirits as supplements to my cocktails: Laubade Hors D’Age Bas-Armagnac, Groult Pays d’Auge 8 year old Calvados, and maybe I’ll crack open my last bottle of the original Dalmore Cigar Malt single malt scotch whisky, or just finish that beloved bottle of single barrel Nikka Coffey Malt. After that, well then it’s time for bed. Or, at least, the floor nearish the bed. Merry Christmas.