Tuesday, December 24, 2013
170 years of Scrooge
Charles Dickens wasn’t the first author to write about Christmas, but he is easily one of the quintessential authors — if not the quintessential — with his 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol,” which has been a Christmas tradition the world over for the past 170 years.
Outside the birth of Jesus on Christmas, “A Christmas Carol” is considered the definitive Christmas story, according to George Popovich, director of theater and the virtual theatricality lab at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, where he also teaches film classes.
The story occurs in London circa 1843 on Christmas Eve, centering around Ebenezer Scrooge. Although he’s a wealthy and powerful businessman, Scrooge is a reclusive, angry, bitter, old miser who hates everyone and everything, including Christmas — which he calls a “humbug.” He abuses his overworked and underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit, who’s afraid of Scrooge, and alienates his kind-hearted nephew Fred, who always invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner every year and is always rudely rebuffed.
That evening, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his late business partner who died seven Christmas Eves prior. Marley, who rivaled Scrooge in terms of bitterness and selfishness, wears chains about him that represent his sins. He informs Scrooge that his chain is longer than Marley’s and he’ll be weighed down by it upon his death. However, he also tells him that there’s still hope for him and he’ll be visited by three spirits later that night.
The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come take Scrooge on a journey through his life, showing how he went from being a benevolent young man in love to becoming a greedy miser. Scrooge sees Cratchit’s family and takes a particular interest in his youngest, Tiny Tim, a sickly child whom Scrooge meets before his encounter with Marley.
When seeing a possible future, Scrooge not only witnesses the death of Tiny Tim, but his own death. He is shocked that people aren’t saddened by his passing — they’re better off, actually. Upon seeing his tombstone, Scrooge cries and repents, begging for a chance to change for the better and prevent the “shadows of what may be.”
Scrooge awakens in his bed Christmas morning. Elated that he was spared and not going to waste his second chance, Scrooge’s generosity and kindness eventually surpass his greediness and bitterness. He accepts Fred’s dinner invitation, donates a substantial amount to the poor, anonymously sends Cratchit a prize turkey for Christmas dinner, gives him a raise and is willing to pay for Tiny Tim’s medical treatments — something Cratchit cannot afford. As a result, Tiny Tim gets well and doesn’t die; he also sees Scrooge as a second father.
“Actors generally consider the ‘born again’ scene at the end where Scrooge goes giddy and ecstatic, dancing, kissing everyone, and giving things away. I guess this is my favorite scene,” said Popovich, who provided the special effects for a stage adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” in 1995.
“A Christmas Carol” hasn’t left print since its initial publication; numerous editions have been released, including an annotated edition from W.W. Norton in 2004. At least 70 actors have played Scrooge in many TV and film versions, which include faithful adaptations, modern adaptations (in some cases, Scrooge is a woman), tributes and parodies.
Notable Scrooges include Reginald Owen in 1938’s “A Christmas Carol”; Alastair Sim in 1951’s “Scrooge” (a role he resumed in 1971’s animated adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”); Albert Finney in 1970’s “Scrooge,” a musical version; Disney’s Scrooge McDuck in 1983’s “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” which was recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray for its 30th anniversary; George C. Scott in 1984’s “A Christmas Carol,” which has been praised for closely following the book and for the actors’ performances; Michael Caine in 1992’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol”; Patrick Stewart in 1999’s “A Christmas Carol”; and Jim Carrey in 2009’s “A Christmas Carol.”
Popovich enjoys Sim’s Scrooge, but that’s not his favorite.
“I am going to be a little blasphemous here and point to the (Carrey) version — except the last 30 minutes; let’s pretend that did not happen. The motion capture Scrooge puppet animated by Carrey is a terrifying and wondrous thing — that long, thin body; those fingers; that twisted and warped face. That just could not be done with live action. It’s like Carrey created his character from the way the digital Scrooge puppet looked, working from the outside in. Yes, I know the eyes are weird, but I think that adds to it,” he said.
Popovich described in one word what gives “A Christmas Carol” such staying power since 1843: Hope.
“It’s the story of hope — that anything can be fixed, reversed, redeemed, no matter how hopeless,” he said.
This post was written by Kurt Anthony Krug for Digital First Media. Reprinted with permission.