Wednesday 4 December 2013

JINGLE BELL ROCKS! - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Who DOESN'T love Christmas Music? Dirty Pinkos! That's Who!

Filmmaker Mitchell Kezin always thought he was the only person in the world obsessed with obscure Christmas records until he made this film about his virtually fetishistic desire to discover choice vinyl in second-hand music stores in every nook and cranny of North America. His incredible journey yielded a massive underground of similarly fixated deviants. - G.K.

Is this lone hulking figure stalking the L.A. pavement, silhouetted‎ against neon and shrouded in the darkness of night, the one and only Moose Malloy in search of "his" Velma in Farewell My Lovely
or is it Vancouver filmmaker Mitchell Kezin on the prowl for Christmas vinyl? You be the judge!

Jingle Bell Rocks! (2013) ****
Dir. Mitchell Kezin

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Before I (purportedly) kicked my collecting addiction (one of many afflictions I enjoy) and found myself in a used record store a long, long way from home after engaging in the deep-sea dive that would yield an absurdly huge stack of discs, the last thing I'd ask myself upon coming up for air is whether I could actually afford what I'd selected for purchase. My usual thought ignored the maxing-out of credit cards, but rather, how in hell I was planning to transport everything on an airplane without having to check-in any baggage. One of my infinite number of obsessions is to never board an airplane with the knowledge that I'd have to stand in front of a carousel waiting endlessly for stuff I should have been able to sneak onboard, allowing me to zoom outside and smoke a cigarette or two before jumping into a cab (or a shuttle to airport parking).

That's me, though.

Director Mitchell Kezin begins his feature documentary Jingle Bell Rocks by engaging in the act of deep-sea diving at the legendary Amoeba Records in Hollywood, California and daring, on-screen, to wonder how he'd be able to pay for his stack of delectable finds.

We all have our crosses to bear.

I can deal with that. Obviously, so could Baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem on the joyous occasion that's celebrated by the music Kezin loves so dearly. Kezin, however, neglectfully evades the cold, hard fact that the swaddling-adorned Babe in the manger would, 33-years after Its Virgin Birth, be scourged, then nailed to a crucifix and hoisted upwards to die a cruel, painful death for all of our sins - record collecting merely one of them.

As per usual, though, I digress.

What Kezin has wrought is a supremely entertaining, funny and ultimately moving portrait that's as warm as Christmas and Hanukkah combined, yet imbued with enough of an obsessive quality to imagine what might have happened if legendary Canadian filmmaker Alan Zweig took each and every one of the record-collecting subjects (and then some) from his first documentary feature Vinyl and chose to make individual features on each and every one of them and their respective accumulation specialties. This suggestion, of course, does a slight disservice to both Kezin and Zweig, for finally, they are in genuinely different territory altogether. Given though, that comparisons are inevitable, Jingle Bell Rocks is such a genuinely solid picture, why not mention it in the same breath as one of Zweig's modern masterworks?

Kezin's obsession began with first hearing the heart-wrenchingly sad Nat King Cole rendition of the song “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” which, as a child, became a kind of personal yuletide anthem for him. When his parents split up, ensuing seasons of joy became instead, a time of loneliness and misery for Kezin. It is, in fact, this otherwise unremittingly bleak reality so many people actually face - especially during the Christmas portion of the Yuletide season - is what lifts the journey of Kezin and a wide variety of his fellow Christmas-music enthusiasts into one that is as giddily joyous as Ebenezer Scrooge's demeanour on the morn of Our Lord's Birth. I dare proclaim that Kezin might have crafted a whole new potential classic that deserves to become a perennial favourite in the same way we've come to view A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life and, of course the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol.

BLUE CHRISTMAS thanks to the
incomparable BOB DOUROUGH
Kezin's partners in the search for the sublime include such luminaries as filmmaker John (Pink Flamingoes) Waters, famed Def Jam flack Bill Adler, The Flaming Lips' Mr. Cool Kitsch himself Wayne Coyne and a whole whack of others. One of the most extraordinary sequences involves Kezin meeting the legendary Bob Dorough who wrote and sang vocals on the immortal Miles Davis (yes, MILES "FUCKING" DAVIS!!!) Christmas recording of "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)". The treat in store for us here is too delicious to spoil, but the movie is alone worth the price of admission for it.

This is really quite a picture! Kezin delivers a bounty of great interviews and deep-sea-diving expeditions into a myriad of used vinyl stores - all of which are set to a staggering array of mouth waveringly cheesy album covers and perhaps the finest selection of Christmas carols you'll ever hear in one movie (most of which, you'll have never heard of).

For me, the biggest musical discovery in this movie is Clarence Carter singing "Back Door Santa". I kid you not!




It's enough to remind me of the line in Carter's "Strokin'" (immortalized on the end title credits of Friedkin's Killer Joe) that goes:

" . . . if muh junk ain't tight enuf, yew kin sticks it up muh . . ."

The picture also delves into how many of the aforementioned and frankly, hundreds, if not thousands of similarly afflicted zealots meticulously and passionately create Christmas mix-tapes as gifts for friends and family. I personally received such a mix from someone whom I barely knew and though it's the only such mix I've ever gotten, it's one of my all-time favourite Christmas compilations - maybe because it is the only homemade version I own.

Jingle Bell Rocks! would not be complete, however, without zeroing in on the actual creation of alt-Christmas tunes and I think it's this very thing that knocks the picture right out of the park. It's something that's almost always hovering very cannily in the background of the film, but once it hits. it hits like the proverbial ton of bricks and the picture's final 20-minutes-or-so is as rapturous as anything would want from any movie - especially one destined to become a Christmas favourite. Anyone - and I do truly mean ANYONE - who is not soaring during the climax of Kezin's wonderful picture is simply not human.

The only major flaw in Kezin's film is that he does not showcase
Rudy Ray Moore's immortal Christmas album
"This Ain't No White Christmas!"
I had wanted to not be a total film curmudgeon here, but there's one tiny aspect of the movie that needled me enough - kind of like a minor abrasion on my favourite vinyl - that I'm compelled to mention it. There are a series of interviews with Kezin himself where he talks about a number of personal issues and events that contributed to this magnificent fixation of his as well as his expert rumination on the world of alt-Xmas-tunes and vinyl collecting. There's not a damn thing wrong with anything he says, nor even the placement of said monologues within the film's overall structure, but what feels somewhat off-kilter is the manner in which he's chosen to present them. Kezin's often seen sitting in a chair, angled slightly away from the camera's perspective and he seems to be looking at some off-camera interviewer whom we never see or hear. Given that the movie is already replete with so many guests and, dare I say it, sidekicks, I kept scratching my noggin as to why a relationship with whomever he appeared to be talking to wasn't established and, in fact, used.

Either that, or, given the obsessive qualities of the film, a simple to-the-camera Spalding Gray approach (or better yet, the insane to-the-camera monologues Richard Burton spits out in Sidney Lumet's film adaptation of Equus) might have been exactly what the doctor ordered. Then again, given that Jingle Bell Rocks! is both Canadian and linked to the collecting of vinyl, such an approach might have been seen as derivative of Alaz Zweig's Vinyl and, for that matter, the entire "mirror" trilogy of documentaries he made. What Kezin says is often funny, moving and pertinent. I also believe it's there to hammer home the personal aspect of the story. Even so, I suspect this approach feels like something that was not 100% thought-through or perhaps, was even an exigency of production issue. Look, Jingle Bell Rocks! is such a good movie that it's the one thing I wish had worked a bit better than it does. And if the potential of Zweigian copy-catting was an issue, it could easily have been framed within simple homage. All that said, it doesn't ultimately detract from the overall punch the picture delivers. Just call me Ebenezer if it makes you feel better.

I must also admit that Kezin's film so inspired me that I might even add obscure Christmas music to my already-ridiculous vinyl collection of movie soundtracks from the 50s, 60s and 70s and, of course, my beloved Easy Listening, PLUS the pride and joy of my accumulations (the following of which were enabled upon me by Alan Zweig himself) of Hammond Organ discs (mostly Ken Griffin and his tribute artist grinders) and Don Messer (with as many regulars from his CBC-TV "Jubilee" broadcasts as ever existed).

You know, here's the deal: Kezin is not only a filmmaker, but after Jingle Bell Rocks!, I think it's safe to say he's made a picture that qualifies him as an enabler of the highest order.

"Jingle Bell Rocks! opens via KINOSMITH at the BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA TORONTO.
Showtimes are:
Fri, Dec 6 8:45 PM
Sat, Dec 7 8:30 PM
Sun, Dec 8 8:45 PM
Tue, Dec 10 9:30 PM
Sat, Dec 21 8:45 PM
Director Mitchell Kezin will be in attendance for the Dec.6,7,8 and 10 screenings.
It also OPENS FRIDAY IN MONTREAL at the Cinema du Parc.
For some odd reason there appears to be only one day it's playing in Vancouver on Dec 16, 8:45 pm at the Vancity Theatre