Monday, December 31, 2007

The year in mixed media

I used to spend quite a bit of time and energy at the end of the year coming up with top 10 lists of favorite movies and books. Nowadays, I don't see enough good movies to make a top 10 list so I'm mixing it all together for a list of the favorite media products I consumed (how's that for obfuscating technical language?). In no particular order:

I see very few movies in theaters anymore, though I do try to catch up on the smaller indie and foreign releases from Netflix later. Three movies I saw during their theatrical released and liked quite a bit are worth mentioning:

1. Breach, in which a young CIA agent helps bring down a turncoat; Chris Cooper, of course, was excellent as the bad guy, but Ryan Phillippe was surprisingly good as the "kid" who gets Cooper to take him under his wing so he can betray him. The fabulous Laura Linney is fabulous, though she doesn't have enough to do. Same goes for Dennis Haysbert; this is really a two-man show.

2. Grindhouse, the B-movie double feature from Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez. I like the Tarentino half better, though my partner makes a good point that Grindhouse should be considered as one whole since the two films were presented as one program, complete with fake trailers, film scratches, and projection room glitches. I probably wouldn't want to sit through the Rodriguez half again, but I'm also angry that the two movies were released separately on DVD. Once they've gotten their money out of those, watch for a greedy repackaging of what should have been packaged together in the first place.

3. Hairspray, the movie of the stage musical of the non-musical movie. It's not the second coming of the musical, but it's fun and fluffy and colorful, and survives the miscasting of John Travolta in Divine's role. The final number, "You Can't Stop the Beat" was glorious on stage and is just as good on film, one of the all-time great show tunes, and frankly, I'm happy to have a recording of it that isn't ruined by Harvey Fierstien's croaking as on the Broadway cast album.

4. The Vamp and Camp double feature of She Done Him Wrong and Cobra Woman at the Ohio Theater in Columbus. I haven't seen an audience have this much fun in a theater since the Sound of Music sing-along.

5. On DVD, I was pleased to catch up with Dick, the 1999 Watergate comedy with Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams (great 70's soundtrack) and The History Boys, the 2006 comedy/drama about a group of English working-class students spending a year preparing for entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge. The play was almost certainly better, but the film has fine acting all around. Richard Griffiths gets all the acclaim, but the other teachers (Stephen Campbell Moore and Frances de la Tour) are just as good.

6. This was my year of living dangerously and immersing myself in the works of Leni Riefenstahl, German actress, dancer, and director of the notorious Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. I read two books about her, rewatched Triumph and the first half of Olympia (the second half never came from Netflix), and saw a number of her earlier mountain films, which are fascinating quite apart from Riefenstahl's participation--I'll be reviewing them in January on my Moviepalace blog.

7. Seeing Godard's Contempt and Breathless for the first time. Breathless in particular was quite enjoyable (with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, above), though I don't know how much else of the French New Wave of the 60's I'll try to track down.

8. Books I enjoyed: Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (I'm not sure I'm ready for the Bold Print Atheist label, but I liked that fact that Reason now has a movement and some smart public voices--I'm gonna catch up with Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens soon); No Applause Just Throw Money, a history of vaudeville; a chilling office politics novel called The Exception by Christian Jungersen; well-written biographies of Stepin Fetchit (by Mel Watkins) and Phil Spector (by Mick Brown); a wonderful graphic novel/kid's book called The Arrival by Shaun Tan which finds brilliant visual metaphors for the disorientation an immigrant feels in a new land.

9. On TV, there was Pushing Daisies and Burn Notice and The Big Bang Theory, and then this damn writer's strike! I'm tired of going through Jon Stewart withdrawal!

10. Finally, a complaint: American Life Network, a pathetic little cable channel, dropped the three reasons they were worth watching at all: 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, and Surfside 6, all early 60's detective shows. I have vague memories of them from my childhood, and though they may not be great TV, they are fun (and are filled with handsome young men). Now American Life has dropped these hard-to-find shows in favor of the same old shows that you can find in syndication all over the local and cable dials, and even on DVD. 77 Sunset Strip (see Efram Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Moore at left) is an especially good show which is now in limbo, available nowhere, and since American Life Network seems to pay no attention whatsoever to e-mail that they themselves ask for, I have no use for them.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Tin Man

Wizard of Oz puns and references are just too easy, so my title for this post is just the title of the TV show I'm reviewing, a six-hour miniseries on the Sci Fi Channel. It's a re-visioning of "The Wizard of Oz" which is based on both the original book and on the beloved MGM musical. The heroine DG (for Dorothy Gale, get it? Of course you do!) gets ripped off of her Midwest farm during a storm and finds herself in what I guess is a parallel world called the Outer Zone (O.Z.). On her quest (finding her real mother and father, as it turns out she was born in the O.Z), she has the help of Glitch, a lobotomized guy with a big zipper in his head, Cain, a cop or "tin man" who happens to have spent several years stuck in a big metal body jacket, and Raw, a somewhat cowardly beast/man. Soon they run across a shape shifter from DG's past named Toto (her childhood name for his position in the family, Tutor) who frequently turns into a dog--and who may be a spy for DG's nemesis, her wicked sister Azkadellia.

Anyone settling in for six hours of this stuff is going to be on the lookout for clever references to the movie, and in this respect, the series does not disappoint. My favorite was the presence of lions and tigers and a bear in the forest, but I also liked the flying monkeys which are tattoos on Azkadellia's chest that come to life, and the chanting guards in front of Azkadellia's castle. The effects are pretty good for a cable TV production, though the story is a bit too convoluted, especially in the middle third. Zooey Deschanel is very good as DG, and Alan Cumming, who I sometimes don't care much for, is wonderfully whimsically befuddled as Glitch. Though Glitch is obviously the Scarecrow, here the "tin man" (Neal McDonough) takes the Scarecrow's place as the character we have the most invested in; McDonough is good, though he's too cold to warm up to (though I realize his coldness is thematic, since the Tin Man didn't have a heart). Richard Dreyfuss has a thankless role as the Mystic Man (i.e., The Wizard); he has nothing much to do and the character goes nowhere. Kathleen Robertson is a bit too Disney Channel-evil as the wicked sister, but I did like Callum Keith Rennie as her main henchman. I sort of wish this had been either a little shorter, or quite a bit longer, like a 9 or 10 episode series that would have developed the characters and the situations better, but I'm glad I stayed with it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tim Burton tries to kill the movie musical

We saw Sweeney Todd this weekend and, while I respect Tim Burton for keeping the material operatic (there's only about 10 minutes worth of spoken dialogue, with all the rest sung), the man just cannot shoot a musical. Stephen Sondheim's musical play, based on a figure of 19th century English folklore, is about a man who goes mad and becomes a serial killer because of his desire for revenge. A barber by trade, he sets out to kill the judge who sent him away to prison, stole his wife (which apparently led to her suicide), and currently has his grown-up daughter under lock and key. In addition to wanting to kill the judge, he's also decided that all of mankind is worth getting rid of, so he starts slashing the throats of his barbering patrons, and his landlady, who runs the pie shop downstairs, gets the bright idea of using the corpses to make meat pies.

The stage production was gory and bleak and so is the movie. Most of the color has been bled out, so to speak, leaving blacks and grays and blues, with bright red for the frequent slashings. Johnny Depp is not a great singer, but he's good enough here, and Helena Bonham-Carter as the landlady is even better. Alan Rickman was born to play the sleazy judge, though the actors who play the younger romantic pair are total washouts. The movie hasn't been opened up much, but the real problem here is that Burton seems to be actively fighting against the idea of shooting a movie musical. Granted, there are no real "production numbers" in the stage version, though there are some choreographed dances, but perhaps in order to heighten the darkness and claustrophobia, Burton has used almost all close-ups and tight two-shots, resulting indeed in claustrophobia, but also making an ugly movie in the process. Every time the movie feels like it's going to shoot off into movie musical heaven ("A Little Priest" and "God That's Good," both songs dealing with the meat pie operation), it plops right back down to earth. It's good enough to make me wish that it was way better, and it makes me feel sad about the state of the movie musical. One step forward (this year's Hairspray), one step back, I guess.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Last-minute listmaking

Being unable to resist any reason for making a list (and maybe checking it twice), here is my last Christmas music post of the season (probably): a list of my 10 favorite carols. I was raised Catholic but do not believe in the reality of any religion--frankly, I'd rather believe in Zeus and his compatriots than the Christian god because it's easier to understand why the Greek gods behave the way they do--but I think the Nativity story is a lovely, magical, hopeful myth, and I love immersing myself in the music of the season. These are the carols I like regardless of who performs them:

1. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"--lovely melody, angels, and messages of peace and mercy.

2. "Good King Wenceslas"--no obvious connection with the Nativity, but an equally magical story.

3. "Carol of the Bells"--currently on the verge of overkill, but still a powerful melody which goes from a whisper to a full onslaught of voices (or bells) and back

4. "Soulcakes" ("The Souling Song")--apparently more appropriate for Halloween (or November 1st), as it was sung when English youths went begging for pastries in exchange for promising to pray for the dead.

5. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"--an Advent carol, minor key and almost spooky

6. "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming"--a beautiful, beautiful melody

7. "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"--a most magical skyful of angels

8. "Wassail, Wassail" (aka the Gloucestershire Wassail)--a grand Saturnalian caroling song, with cheer and eating and drinking, and even a threat of violence if the food and drink aren't produced quickly enough

9. "Patapan"--Nicely rhythmic drum song, less drudgy than The Little Drummer Boy

10. "We Three Kings"--Speaking of drudgy..., but still all its lyrics are ingrained in me, and it's got a weird little twist in the way it conjures up both joy over birth and sorrow over death.

Merry Christmas to all!!

Friday, December 21, 2007

More harking and jingling and decking

My Christmas music roundup entries wouldn't be complete without mention of a few more beloved CDs, starting with George Winston's December, the granddaddy of the entire New Age music movement. A beautiful, spare recording of solo piano pieces which evoke not just Christmas and December but all of winter, it established the mold for dozens, if not hundreds, of other New Age pianists who continue to ply their trade to this day. 20 years later, this album still sounds fresh. It's not lush or sappy, but sharp and crisp with interesting arrangements and moments of almost hypnotic beauty. His versions of Pachelbel's Canon and "Carol of the Bells" are second to none. He also does "Some Children See Him," a beautiful hymnlike song by Alfred Bart, best known in an equally gorgeous version by Tennessee Ernie Ford on the album The Star Carol.

I have a couple of albums of Christmas music played in the Baroque style; the one I grabbed on the way out the door this morning is Christmas Goes Baroque by the CSSR State Philharmonic Orchestra. It's on Naxos, and my understanding is that there may not really be such a body as the CSSR State Philharmonic Orchestra, that some of their albums are recorded by "house" orchestras under various names. Still, these are lovely arrangements of carols in the Baroque style, which means they all sound like Bach and Handel. I own Christmas CDs by Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Perry Como, and the Roches. Some of my favorite contemporary holiday songs are "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John, "Happy Xmas" by John Lennon, the Eurythmics take on "Winter Wonderland," and the Roches' fun version of "Sleigh Ride" with its robust male "Yoo-hoo!, Yoo-hoo!" I am most assuredly not a Mariah Carey fan, but I don't mind her "All I Want for Christmas Is You." I bought a Christmas remix album a few years back and didn't care for most of it, but I do enjoy the Beef Wellington remix of Bing Crosby's "Holiday Inn" and Mocean Worker's mix of a brass version of "Joy to the World." I feel one more Christmas blog entry in my bones, maybe tomorrow.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wassail, wassail!

Out of the 125 or so Christmas albums I own, I really only dig out a handful to play during the season. I've already written about the Carpenters, Leroy Anderson, and the Royal College of Music Choir. Two more of my favorites are both out of print but worth searching out. "A Victorian Christmas" by the Robert DeCormier Singers, from 1984, sounds a little like a very good local church group that went into a studio and put their hearts into this one chance to cut an album. I mean that as a compliment; the performances are excellent, but the ambiance is a bit dicey at times, like it's a homemade recording. The singers are accompanied by an ensemble with keyboards, guitar, harp, flute, etc. The songs are all traditional carols, sometimes with interesting arrangements, such as a version of "Jingle Bells" titled "The One Horse Open Sleigh"--same lyrics, slightly different melody in the chorus. We used to put their boisterous "Gloucestershire Wassail" ("Wassail, wassail, all over the town...") on our answering machine in December. There's an American carol called "There's a Song in the Air" which was new to me, in addition to perennials like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Coventry Carol."

The other album, from a group headed by guitarist Ed Sweeney, is somewhat misleadingly titled "A Dickens' Christmas... Inside Fezziwig's," conjuring up the festive holiday party at which the young Scrooge made merry in "A Christmas Carol." It's a fine album, with traditional carols played on "authentic acoustic instruments" such as guitar, banjo, handbells, fiddle, and concertina, but it's a far more somber affair than I imagine when I read about Fezziwig's party. I certainly don't know what English music of the 19th century sounded like, but the sound of these "authentic" instruments puts me more in mind of "A Little House on the Prairie Christmas" than Dickens. Nevertheless, as an instrumental Christmas album, it's a lovely alternative to full orchestras or the abundantly available new-agey sounds of people like Tingstad and Rumbel. There's a nice assortment of 17 songs, with many of the usual suspects and a few interesting choices, such as a medley of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and "Angels We Have Heard On High," and an Irish carol called "The Leading of the Star." Both of these albums are in high rotation on my car CD player this month, and every December.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Too much Stardust, or not enough?

Stardust, the 2006 fantasy based on a comic book series and novel buy Neil Gaiman, is enjoyable in fits and starts. It feels like someone took a semester-long master class on the generic conventions of fairy tales, then tried to cram everything he learned, whether it fit or not, into a two-hour-plus movie. Inevitably, some of it works and some doesn't. I enjoyed the movie, but not until I gave up looking for narrative coherence and interesting characters. In a fairy-tale England, a long, dilapidated wall separates the human world from the magical realm of Stormhold (nice name, but not a storm in sight). A young man sneaks past the wall, has a one-night stand with a woman, and nine months later gets delivered a child--I assumed with my smattering of folklore knowledge that his "changling" status would be important, but I don't think it is. Anyway, he grows up (into the handsome Charlie Cox), falls in love with an obnoxious blonde beauty (Sienna Miller) and as a gesture of his love, vows to retrieve a falling star which he saw fall behind the wall. The star turns out to be Claire Danes, and other people want her as well; aging witch Michelle Pfeiffer thinks Danes holds the power to make her young again, and the sons of the late King (Peter O'Toole) compete to get hold of a pendant she has which will legitimize a claim to the throne. Cox finds her and, in the process of trying to get her back to his village, falls in love with her.

The plot sounds simple, and it is easy to follow, but I didn't always know why certain things were happening. At one point, a witch turns Cox into a mouse, but there seemed to be no reason for the transformation--Don, who holds a degree in folklore, said rather tersely that she did it because it's a fairy tale and "because she could" (OK…). I also didn't know: 1) why and how a star would take human form; 2) why the star's pendent bestows kingly power; 3) why a single fragile old man guards the wall and why more people didn't try to get out just for the hell of it; 4) why, at the end, humans and Stormholdians are mingling for a coronation ceremony. Robert De Niro puts in an appearance as the leader of a group of sky pirates; he's tough as nails on the outside, but prissy and girly (and a bit of a transvestite) in his private quarters. Many critics have lambasted De Niro for his "sore-thumb" performance; his character definitely doesn't feel organic to the story, but I rather enjoyed his scenes. Other things I liked: 1) as the King's sons die off, they hang around in ghostly form to watch the proceedings; 2) Michelle Pfieffer (above) is by far the most interesting actor (and character) in the movie and was a joy to watch; 3) the ideas of the wall, the village, and the magical town are fun, though details weren't fleshed out as much as I'd have liked; 4) the special effects, sets, and costumes are all top-notch. I also liked Ricky Gervais' cameo and his sparring with De Niro. Danes is also good, and masters her accent quite well. With its hodgepodge of fairy tale conventions, there's almost too much going on, but at the same time, maybe not quite enough in terms of character and plot. An interesting misfire, I'd say.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The anti-Lord of the Rings

We saw The Golden Compass this weekend and I quite liked it. I have not read the book; my partner has and loved it (and the other two books in the series as well), and I think he was a bit disappointed in the movie as, with a running time of under two hours, it leaves out huge chunks of the book. I suspect that's one reason why I liked it: it was short, to the point, had good effects, built up an interesting fantasy world, and left you wanting more. While I appreciate what Peter Jackson did with his epic production of Lord of the Rings, each movie was far too long and I felt exhausted (and not in a glowing, happy way) after each film. There are battle scenes in Golden Compass which, if Jackson had made the movie, would have lasted a good half-hour or more; here, director Chris Weitz gets us through them in five or ten minutes, tops, and they are all more effective for their relative brevity.

A narrator spends the first moments of the movie setting up a fascinating parallel world, a sort of Victorian-era fantasyland with airships in the sky and lots of animals on the ground, which are actually people's "souls," externalized as accompanying animals called daemons. The main character, a young girl named Lyra, is trying to find out what's happened to the children who have been vanishing off the streets (think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). She is helped on her quest by a grizzled adventurer with his own nifty airship (like Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon) and a magical bear (the effect is a little like Aslan in the Narnia movie), and hindered by a beautiful but wicked and powerful woman (yes, just like the Witch in Disney's Snow White). There's also an unexplained substance called "Dust" (The Force??) and an big battle between good and evil (Tolkien), and a resolution which was satisfying to me, but might not be to fans of the book.

All the fuss over the movie being anti-religious is ridiculous; the institution of the Magisterium, which in the book is apparently a stand-in for the Catholic Church, is, in the movie, much closer to being a stand-in for a Orwellian fascist government that thinks free will is bad. Of course, you can see where the connections once had been (the word "heresy" gets thrown about a bit), but nothing in this film, which strikes me as perfect family entertainment, will lead a child down the path of Questioning Religion. As with most fantasy epics, the acting is not the reason people go see the film; here, Dakota Blue Richards does a fine job as Lyra, Nicole Kidman is excellent as the wicked Mrs. Coulter, and Ian McKellan's voice gives the animated bear Iorek a real personality. Sam Elliott is a smidge too old as the cowboy; Daniel Craig, despite his special billing and ubiquitous presence in the movie posters, is only in the film for about 10 minutes, but he strikes many handsome, commanding poses in that time. The film may not do well enough to warrant a big-budget sequel, but I enjoyed it and would consider seeing it again.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

December snowflakes

Well, the Christmas tree is up; my partner's birthday was December 6th (which, he would want everyone to know, is also Santa Claus's birthday--or at least the feast day of the real Saint Nicholas, who died on that date, and who, so says Wikipedia, was never officially canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Chuch, though he became one by popular acclaim, so to speak--you learn something new every day!); we had our "Christmas" with my brother's family this weekend; and there is snow on the ground, so I guess for all intents and purposes, the Christmas season is officially in full swing, which means guilt-free Christmas media indulgence!

So the other night, we watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas," my favorite seasonal TV program of all. I remember seeing it when it was first broadcast in 1965 (I would have been 9). My mom was making bourbon balls for a school bake sale (and she tells me that they all sold before they made it to the sales floor), my dad was reading American Rifleman or Argosy or some other kind of manly magazine, and my kid brother of 4 was probably getting ready for bed. We were living in Arizona at the time and temperature was in the 60s with no promise of snow (though it did snow at least one Christmas day while we lived there), but the show had such a warm Christmassy feel to it that the weather didn't matter. Obviously, the fact that I remember so much about the circumstances of my first viewing shows the program made an impact on me (I also remember a TV Guide cover that week with Charlie Brown and Lucy), and I continued watching it most years even when I was in high school (and too cool to watch cartoons). It's become a must-see every December; even in the years when I'm feeling Scroogish, I still watch this and the Pee-Herman Christmas special.

The show is now lionized in some circles for its "bravery" in being a kids Christmas show that dares to include a Biblical reading referencing the Nativity, but I think the real reasons it's remained popular are the same reasons that the Peanuts strip ran so long: its dry humor, its self-deprecating satire. and its use of children as portrayers of adult foibles. We've all been Charlie Brown at one time or another, the kid who champions the scrawny Christmas tree even though he knows he'll get laughed at by the crowd. What's kind of odd here is that Charlie is actually redeemed at the end, something that rarely happened in the comic strip, and maybe for that reason, its an ending that still makes me tear up just a little. I always identified more with Linus (yes, I had a favorite blue blanket as a kid, and my partner Don might be persuaded to tell people about my continuing connection with a worn and nubbly brown blanket I still wrap myself up in on cold nights) and I imagine that he grew up into a bookish and somewhat shy but nerdishly charming gay guy (not at all like me). The music is also fabulous--even though the jazzy score by Vince Guaraldi feels so right to us now, I bet it was a daring choice back then for what was marketed primarily as a kids cartoon show. And one last bit of identification with Charlie Brown: I think most of us have, at one time or another, felt that free-floating anxiety which Lucy diagnoses as pantophobia: the fear of everything!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Good, better, and best humbugs

A blogger named Woolgatherer has rated the Scrooge performances he's seen over the years, inspiring me to do the same. One of the pleasures of watching the movie and TV versions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is seeing how each one differs. Each actor who plays Scrooge has to play a mean and stingy villain in the beginning and then undergo a credible redeeming change into a life-embracing, Christmas-loving softie by the end. But each actor usually finds some small way to make the part his or her own. My own favorite is the 1951 British film with Alistair Sim, officially titled Scrooge, but called A Christmas Carol in America; almost "film noirish" in tone, it's dark and creepy as befits a ghost story, and Sim makes a wonderful Scrooge, not melodramatically wicked but hard and cold and greedy, and his backstory gets fleshed out a bit more here than in other versions. He is equally fine as the transformed do-gooder, leaping and singing to himself with abandon. Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddley are excellent Cratchits. The spirits are OK, and, as with most versions, the less said about Tiny Tim, the better. (It's not usually the fault of child actors--it's basically an impossible role to do well.)

My second favorite is the 1984 TV version with George C. Scott. The visual production is outstanding, not so much dark, but snowy and misty. Scott throws more of his actorly weight into the role, which leads to his almost (but not quite) going over the top on occasion. He is better as the mean Scrooge, but still does a nicely nuanced turn after he turns warm-hearted, and is especially good in the final scene with Bob Cratchit (well played by David Warner). I don't care much for Angela Pleasance as the Ghost of Christmas Past, but Edward Woodward makes the best Christmas Present ever: realistically larger-than-life, jolly yet able to scold Scrooge when needed (all the more impressive when you realize he's scolding George C. Scott and holding his own).

Third is the 1938 MGM production with Reginald Owen, a reliable supporting actor who specialized in stiff-upper-lip Brits in American films of the 30's and 40's--toward the end of his career, he was Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins. This version is the shortest and has the lightest touch and probably the biggest budget, leading to a nice glossy look which is pleasing even if it works against the gloomy ghostly aspects of the story. Owen is fine, even if he doesn't truly make the part his own. What makes this version a little different is that Bob Cratchit seems to get almost as much screen time as Scrooge. Gene Lockhart shines in the role (pictured above), especially in a long scene in the beginning in which, while horsing around with some children in the streets, he knocks Scrooge's hat off his head with a snowball.

Those are my top 3. I also like the 70's TV movie An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler as a mean landlord foreclosing on a handful of families during a Depression-era Christmas. The animated Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, in which the nearly blind actor Magoo plays Scrooge in a theatrical production, is surprisingly serious for much of its running time, confining the humor to the bits of Magoo crashing into things offstage. Like Woolgatherer, I am not a fan of the Bill Murray Scrooged, a modern updating of the story--nice idea, but it falls flat, and Murray's final improvised speech is the most cringe-worthy moment in mainstream Hollywood cinema, bar none. There's a 1935 British version with Seymour Hicks who made a specialty of playing Scrooge on stage for most of his career, but the public domain versions I've seen of it are incomplete and murky. The Muppet and Mickey Mouse versions have not stayed with me, so I guess they are ripe for rediscovery.

Cable TV versions really should get their own entry, as there seem to be at least one or two new ones popping up every year. The only ones that stand out to me are Ebbie and A Diva's Christmas Carol, with Susan Lucci and Vanessa Williams respectively as female Scrooge figures, and a cute variation called Karroll's Christmas with Tom Everett Scott as a man to whom the three Christmas ghosts appear by accident--they were supposed to visit his cranky neighbor, Wallace Shawn. Robert Zemeckis is working on an animated version for 2009, but if it winds up anything like the dreadful Polar Express, I won't be in line to see it.