Longtime pal of mine and great critic/pop culture pundit Curt Holman introduces me to many fascinating creative folks through his writing–and he has for years. And every once in awhile he literally introduces me to talented people. The latter is the case with this week’s interview subject: Alonso Duralde, the author of Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. Duralde and Holman are old friends–and while he and I have exchanged pop culture email exchanges in the past, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to discuss Duralde’s pop culture work with him. His latest book (published by Limelight) aims to be “the first film guide written specifically for holiday film viewing, including traditional classics alongside more unusual choices of films that are set at Yuletide without being thought of as ‘Christmas movies.’ The guide will spotlight Christmas-themed adult comedies, dramas, action thrillers, foreign films, and horror films—even a documentary—as well as movies for the whole family.” My thanks to Duralde for the interview (and Jamie Scot for his assistance in making this interview happen [as well as my pal Holman]). As a longtime Frank Capra fan (my late father had me watch It’s A Wonderful Life when I was seven), it’s an early Christmas present for me to encounter a critic who appreciates Capra as much as I do. After reading this interview, be sure to check out this preview of the book.
Tim O’Shea: In considering these holiday films are there certain ones you grew to see in a different light, be it more positive or negative?
Alonso Duralde: I was really surprised how politically progressive and bold the two Frank Capra films are. Both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Meet John Doe” have things to say about corporate greed (and control of the media) and the disparity between rich and poor that are amazingly relevant to 2010 audiences. Capra gets a bad rap for being corny and sentimental, but I think he was making very incisive movies about what was going on in Depression-era America, and his messages remain very timely.
O’Shea: How hard is it in books like these, to convey a great deal of information while also making it engaging to read?
Duralde: The best compliment I’ve ever been paid was when a friend told me that reading me was like talking to me. So I try to write in a conversational tone, and in doing so, it’s my goal to present facts in an interesting way, just as if we were sitting down and talking about these movies. I hope I succeeded.
O’Shea: How much research did you have to for the book; and were there certain movies that proved more challenging to research than others?
Duralde: I watched or rewatched practically every movie covered in the book, and then I spent time at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, going through old press clippings and publicity notes to find out new and interesting things about the film. Finding interesting factoids about “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” is pretty easy, but you have to dig a bit to get anecdotes about “The Ref” or “La Bûche.”
O’Shea: Some of the chapter topics are quite quirky. What inspired the heist holiday films chapter?
Duralde: Well, there was no way I was going to write this book without talking about “Die Hard,” and over the course of putting together my list of titles, I realized that it wasn’t the only action movie to be set during the holidays, so it was easy to group it with other films like “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and the Philip Marlowe mystery “Lady in the Lake.”
O’Shea: How hard was it to make your way through the Thomas Kinkade film?
Duralde: That was pretty much where the combat pay starts kicking in, although I should have watched it with friends (and a couple of open bottles of wine) to make it more fun.
O’Shea: Exactly how many Christmas Carol films did you address in the book (and how many are there)?
Duralde: I write about 22 different versions, which covers just about all the major ones, although I know I missed a silent film from 1913 and the half-hour made-for-TV cartoon by Richard Williams. I did, however, cover “Carol for Another Christmas,” which was written by Rod Serling and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, which aired one time only in 1964, so I feel like I’ve done justice to the subject.
O’Shea: Are there certain obscure films that you were really pleased to include in the book?
O’Shea: In chapter three (excerpted by your publisher), you complete surprised me by including one of my favorite Cusack 1980s-era films, Better Off Dead. What surprised me even more was to hear the director express how little star John Cusack thought of the film. If you ever were interviewing Cusack down the road would you be tempted to ask his opinion
Duralde: I might, although he’s got a reputation as being not the most forthcoming celebrity interview. That’s the kind of question you save for last, just in case they hang up on you.
O’Shea: Is there anythink about the book you’d like to discuss that I did not ask you about?
Duralde: One of the main themes of Christmas movies is that they’re very often stories of redemption, and in that way, I think that “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Home Alone” are all variations on the same story; a person who doesn’t appreciate what he has is given a glimpse at an alternate life that makes him embrace his current circumstances. And I think we’re all attracted to the idea that we — or the seemingly hopeless people we might know in our lives — can have a second chance.