Every Christmas ushers in the same tired, commercially driven garbage – lame movies like Jack Frost, and crappy Christmas tunes like Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. But rather than folding your arms glumly with a defeatist attitude and reluctantly donning that weary-looking Santa hat, you should probably be watching Mitchell Kezin’s heartwarming documentary Jingle Bell Rocks!, following the heroic endeavours of a group of vinyl junkies to create the ultimate alternative xmas playlist. Rejoice!
Teeming with nostalgia and romance, the documentary features former Def Jam publicity wizard Bill Adler (who's now addicted to making festive mixtapes), Run-DMC’s Joseph Simmons (whose “Christmas In Hollis” notably painted a grittier portrait of the festive season), John Waters (whose whacky xmas compilations feature gems like Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson’s “Fat Daddy Christmas”), slow-core band Low (who released a less-than-cheery but nevertheless atmospheric Christmas record), and the flamboyant Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips (who appears in a snazzy xmas sweater like the Messiah of the festive season and chats about his band's awesome "A Change At Christmas"). All share a love of dust-laden records with hilariously kitch cover art. And all share a profound nostalgia for obscure musical gems from yesteryear.
Opening to The Moonglows’ sombre yet warming “Just a Lonely Christmas”, Kezin walks us through the clouds of romance that gloriously engulf his entire doc. From the filmmaker’s own personal connection to Nat King Cole’s equally melancholy “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot”, it’s the notion of the comfort of music and its power to stir the emotions during the snowy season, above all, that Jingle Bell Rocks! admirably illuminates.
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips shares his thoughts on xmas music.
The greatest thing about the documentary, aside from the witty insights from the aforementioned array of characters, is undeniably the abundance of great xmas tunes (most of which you’ve probably never heard of) and the way in which the film beckons you to your local record store to join in these obsessive’s epic search for that forgotten, creatively-titled festive oddity. (To name just a handful of colourfully named songs: “Fat Daddy Claus”, “Santa Claus Is A Black Man”, “Santa Claus Came On A Missile”.)
While the film laments the decline of old analogue formats like vinyl, and celebrates the joy in resurrecting little-known songs, it inadvertently reminds us of the exact same issues and characters in the film universe – i.e. the Tarantino-like movie geek endlessly sifting through bargain bins hoping to get their hungry hands on a VHS tape of an early Akira Kurosawa movie. The consumption of film, like music, is undergoing a rapid transformation, and that’s exactly why we need filmmakers like Mitchell Kezin as well as restless vinyl obsessives, to remind us of the glowing works of art (yes, a weird Christmas song can be a work of art) that lay in the shadows of history.
So, rather than shed tears of hate over Rod Stewart’s questionable Christmas efforts this year, do what these guys did and curate your own thoughtfully selected festive-themed playlist and sift through your local bargain bins or the online labyrinths of YouTube and Spotify, to guarantee your mom has the best Christmas gift ever. Just make sure you do a better job on the cover art than this guy.
Opens Friday, December 6 at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Also plays Monday, December 16 at Vancouver’s Vancity Theatre.
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