THE NEWSPAPER POSTIMEES recently asked me for Christmas movie recommendations, in light of the recent publication of my new book Jõulumees (“Santa Claus”). I sent them the following:
- A Hard Day’s Night. There was a time, almost two decades ago, when Kalamaja was an apocalyptic ghetto neighborhood behind the Baltic Station, when I lived in a small apartment, munched on gingerbread from Säästumarket, and watched little Estonian children sing “Jõuluingel” in a singing competition. That Christmas long ago, for some strange reason, ETV broadcast The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. Yes, really. Now, I know what you are thinking. A Hard Day’s Night doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas. Nothing. There is no shot of John, Paul, George, and Ringo decorating the tree or singing Christmas carols. If anything, the next Beatles movie, Help! is more like Christmas. This is the Beatles movie where they hide away in the Alps and can be seen sledding and skiing. But they that snowy evening they showed A Hard Day’s Night. And forever more, I shall associate gingerbreads, glögi, and verivorst with shots of Ringo Starr wandering aimlessly around the city in his trench coat. So, to be honest, A Hard Day’s Night is a holiday favorite.
- Then there is Love Actually, which I don’t mind at all, because it’s like having all my favorite Brits over for Christmas. I mean, if Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson, Keira Knightley, and the late Alan Rickman all turned up at your house for Christmas, wouldn’t you let them in? I think a lot of you would prefer their company to your own families. There is nostalgia in this film too. Long before COVID-19, long before Boris Johnson, long before Brexit, there was Love Actually, a fictional Britain where Hugh Grant was prime minister. Unfortunately, this never happened, but each Christmas we can imagine what could have been.
- There are a lot of American Christmas classics going back to It’s a Wonderful Life from 1946. My father loves It’s a Wonderful Life, and one Christmas set a record when he watched it about 25 times. He knows every word. None of these classic Christmas films are my favorite though. I much prefer Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer from 1964 and A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965. These are the movies that I saw year after year as a child. A Charlie Brown Christmas has an excellent soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi Trio that one can even hear played in Estonia today in shopping centers.
- There are also quite a few Estonian Christmas movies out there, and the one that comes to mind is Eia Jõulud Tondikakul, which touches on all the popular domestic themes, workaholic parents, mixed families, gingerbread, the healing properties of nature, and bad guys who want to destroy the forest. It’s also nice to see a movie about Estonia with a happy ending.
- I actually do have one more favorite Christmas movie. It’s called Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas and originally aired as a TV special in 1977. Emmet was an otter living in a poor rural community and his mother was a wash woman, who washed people’s clothes in her washtub for money. Then Emmet borrowed her washtub to make a washtub bass, an essential part of any proper jug band. He formed a group and they took part in a music competition. I think people from this part of the world would appreciate this movie. There is something about a bunch of forest animals forming a folk band that reminds me of the groups that play at the Pärimusmuusika Ait here in Viljandi.
So, whenever I hear otters playing folk music, I know it’s time for plenty of gingerbread and to remind myself: it’s Christmas time again, and all will be well in the world, just like in the old days.