Rev. December 20, 2015.
This essay details aspects of A Christmas Carol (1971, animated; The Stingiest Man in Town (1978); and A Christmas Carol (1954, TV, Basil Rathbone/Frederic March)).
Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, I am certain, lodged itself in the modern-culture secular way of keeping Christmas, in his lifetime, then its telling spread, or he took it to America, and then on stage, and then on film, by repetition, thus becoming part of the routine mechanisms of the holiday. This is likely due to the fact that as a whole the story is a redemption story, but a figurative or even allegorical one, in which Scrooge is not actually an old man, but the oldness in all observers and motion-goers of daily life, in a civilization, who let civilization and its affordances and limitations to sour them and turn them into reactionaries, and the ghosts are sent to knock him out that state and back into a free and easy state of relational acceptance of others based on their humanity. Because modern man has been being worn down by civilization for at least 150 years, this allegory of “getting into the Christmas spirit” is a key event in the telling.
But, for me, the Carol, many versions of which I have reviewed as ghost stories, also lends itself to analysis of how animators and movie maker choose to render the various ghosts, vis a vis Scrooge, and in terms of the state of dream or not that he is in. By studying what various directors did with a single ghost, for example, one can not only gain a sense of the instrumentalization of the ghost, but also the target state of mind. For example, the visitation of Marley. In this sequence, Scrooge appears to be awake, and yet he is visited by a ghost. As such, this could be construed as the only viable ghost sighting in the story, because he was awake when it happened. The three ghosts can all be alibi’d as figures of figmentation in a dream. But not Marley. Scrooge is settling in for the night, and he appears. So, the renderers of his appearance have a few special challenges.
In the Oscar winning 1971 animated version of the story, the appearance of Marley is one of the highlights of the whole film. This suggests that the telling is tilted in a bias in favor of Marley, that is, the sighting of real ghosts, and the belief that real ghosts can appear to waking humans. But, this version plays with the possibility that the whole sequence is already thrown in to an alternative state of consciousness, simply by taking place in the past, and in mythical London. As the movie opens, we do a vertical ferris wheel spin of the “camera” over the animation, which extracts physiognomies of haunting presences from the facades seen this way or that
In this climate, there is a heightened sense of being able to pick physiognomies out of things, there is, then, a kind of figural fog placed over all, representing….what? A physiognomy is a face seen in a pattern or a facture due to a heightened activity of the apophenic capacity, charged to action by fear. That is, in a state of alert, the arousal creates a state where agency is activated, and in that aroused state a person is more likely than not to see a face in the pattern of a building. What this means is that even in his waking life, or, it is even possible, in our romantic-mythic retrospect on essentialist old London, the ground of the contemporary, 100 years ago, we are in a fearful, turned on to fear state, and aroused. For that, the space is magic, and activated by the appearance of temporary gods (as Cassirer called them). Thus, while Scrooge imagines he is fully awake, and in charge of his senses, in fact he is in a heightened state of fear, and therefore more susceptible to being haunted. He is, in short, in a hypnagogic state, but waking, a vigilogogic state (as I am calling them), in which the lattice of his life is weighed down by a persistent haunting thought: Marley. For that, it is no surprise that at his door knocker, he sees the lion wrongly as Marley
The lion preexisting provides the physiognomy of the face an alibi to call it a mere ‘seeing things’ but in this version the closeness of the sighting, and the fact that they appear to look each other in the eye, means that he is aware of it, and in the same space as it. This version, then, unique in my viewings of many versions, then reverses the seeing of the face, by seeing Scrooge’s face as a phantom in the darkness in his own home. They are both placed, then, in a waking altered state, and state of being spooked
What this means is that, though he protests later, his rational modern mind has been compromised, and he has been cast back, like a new pagan, into the state of man prior to the solidification of reason as a blockage to superstition. Like an ancient greek he stands in magic space, the world alive with animism. Every thing is also a spirit and a god. I have commented in another note on the fact that it strikes me that in A Christmas Carol Dickens was writing up a modern version of an ancient Roman rite of worship of the gods of Saturnalia. All of the functional gods of ancient Rome were simply the phases and steps of life’s processes, figured out, given figure, so in this case Scrooge is in a state of seeing everything as a figure. If seen waking, though in a spooked state, then Marley manifests as nothing more or less than the equivalent of the presence of a functional god in ancient Rome. And in this case he is the god of the doorway, Fornuculus, he has about him some of the tasks of Mercury too, offering warnings, and, then, too, somehow, Dickens knew that in ancient Greece some statues were thought to be invested with troubled spirits, and to prevent them from wandering far the Greeks would actually chain them down to the spot, and make them keep still.
But this Fornuculus is also the god of the whole room and every surface in the room. This version has what is by far the most imaginative rendering of Marley ever. Every shot is a byplay between the whatamIseeing transparency of the ghost and Itsjustyourimagination appraisal of the elements of the décor of this room. It is as if Scrooge, sitting spooked in his high chair, cannot look at any surface in his empty room, and not think he is seeing a ghost. Thus, this Marley opens his mouth wide, his head foreshortened to create the effect that he is imagined as from the grain and the wood of the ceiling and its timbers
That is, you can imagine Scrooge gazing in spooked state up at the grain of wood on his timbered ceiling, and think, what is that (this is not a novel effect, it shows up in Demon Seed, and in the 99 version of The Haunting, that is, ceiling bearing down on the spooked, as representing a figure pressing in. This Marley is also recursive. That is, after figuring him out of one position relative to the room and what he gives face and figure to, the scene shifts and he gives new figure and face to an apprehensive sense of that. Here, his mouth is now reimagined as emitted from the wainscot, and his eyes are reformatted as made of the wood grain knots on the ceiling, all of this disposition likely suggested by the similarity between the molding style and a row of teeth, around which a ghost is formed
More conventionally, that gaping mouth, caused by rigor mortis, and prevented by the tie under the chin, according to burial lore then, can be seen in the woodgrain of the walls too, routinely so
That is, having seen his knocker, but with Marley on his mind, he sees the ghost of Marley, and is spooked, the ( ) space between Marley and the knocker is activiated, he is officially spooked, and then in his spooked state, having seen Marley in the doorknocker, he cannot help by in fear cower and counter to also see Marley in the molding, in the wood grain on the wall, and in the ceiling timbers too, in all the space, all around him, on three sides
I have said before that this haunting, using the door as the primary alibi for ‘its only imagination” rationalization, makes of Marley a Roman threshold god, a literal psychopomp, telling him what to expect, leading him into the world of spirits. It’s amazing, that it is here, lying deep in the subconscious of a British writer in the early 19th century, deep Roman haunting. But, then, two odd things happen, to make the haunting catch, or stick. Up to now, the haunting has been taking place in the middle ground of distance from him, in terms of proxemics, in the lattice, let’s say, of the space about him. But now, it comes in closer. The ghost out in the physical world, made real, extraverted, if you will, now introverts, it is sucked back inside Scrooge, as an externalization of his inner fears. This graph makes it known simply that he manifests a second time, swinging back over into the internal psychological space of Scrooge, inside that parentheses
Than by that second scare, convincing him of his reality, he knocks Scrooge upside down, now entirely under his control, as such
He is reduced by this complete frightening, into a deer in the headlights situation, that is, he is kind of paralyzed, and also, as is common in horror, rendered disemboweled, or scared shitless, unable to move, weak, depleted, emptied out. There is a name for that state, it is not effigy or mannequin, he is made into a target, for now I will just say that a deerintheheadlights target, a two dimensional being. But then, the big thing here that changes everything is that now the entire reality of the ghost can penetrate him, and in such a way that there develops a weird relation between two fixed states that I can only at the moment identify as a mirror relationship, in which the ghost takes the form of himself as seen in a mirror, his relationship with reality now also being a mirror relationship only. These are hag attacks very, very close to the body, here the pointing finger imagined up from the sight of own nose
Then the actual pointing finger being composed of seeing the shadow of one’s nose in front of your crossed eyes
then even seeing the ghost as a reflection of his chair, or a reflection of himself, in his nightshirt, in his pointed hat, in his pointed shoes, it is all just an externalization of his disemboweled, emptied out sense of self, reflecting itself on the world—I guess a kind of homunculus, but not quite, because of the mirror effect involve.
This version also then magic slates it all away too (this also happens in the Finney version), so that he can momentarily think it all a hallucination. But these long shots, what do they say?
For now, I will simply say that they seem to take the mirror effect relationship established in the intimate level of haunting, and then projects it out to all sense of all reality, so that the rest of the drama has dream room to move in, an extreme externalization. This movement ends with the vision of all the ghosts hidden behind the reality we live in, in this case it is a hecatonchir of a hundred hands, odd, since according to rhizome theory, our checkerboard rational perception of space in daily life, is, in fact, underlain with a hundred associations and linkages little appreciated by us, in fact, like this
From this, then, it is apparent that the vision in the doorknocker cast Scrooge into an agency-activated fear state, in this state all the surfaces of his life doubled, and were suspect as haunting by figures. When the intensity of that latticing of it all was not enough, the ghost enraged clanged his boxes, to get his full attention. This then broke into Scrooge’s soul, inside his mind, and emptied him out, resulting in him becoming a depleted “victim” being haunted, and so paralyzed as to now reimagine the ghost as even more intense, as consisting of reflections of his own image and accessories projected into the world.
The Stingiest Man in Town (1978), a later telling by Rankin and Bass of a 50s TV version, has a different take on the nature of the haunting of Scrooge by Marley. In this version, Scrooge is already in bed (!, unique in my screening of many versions), and he appears at the end of the bed, in blue, meaning that he is simply being imagined as a classic hag attack. A hag attack is a feeling of discomfort during sleep which then manifests as the feeling that one is suffocating, then figured out, in dream form, as a hag sitting on your chest.
It starts with a flickering of his lamp, in yellow tint, notice the wavering, and the pattern on the bedspread
Then a shadow takes form at the foot of the bed
His blueness, and his positioning vis a vis the bed, at the foot of it, at his feet, then too here the visual parallel between him and the pillow, it all reinforces the notion that this is a hag attack in male form by a body sleeping in bed.
I know this is odd, but in this simple conceptualization, this version is not much different than Fuseli’s (or tradition’s) conception of a Nightmare
by means, then, of a rather chanting, haunting song, or not exactly a song, it is as if Marley drives Scrooge down into a deep dream state, to envision through an iris, his greed and selfishness. Oddly enough, this is where we confront Scrooge’s past, as he envisions gold coins, playing the part here of the visual static of something on one’s mind, before one drops off to sleep
But then it montages to another scene, and here too, we are now in a reverie in dream of coins, as the whole iris vignette, starting with figures, ends up being walled over, by gold coins, again unique
this scenario even casts Scrooge in his restless hypnagogic static-state into the remembrance of the death of Marley, the death that is of the pointing blue finger imputing this iris whirlpool of musing into him, the very figuring out and making narrative of his pointing finger, with his tombstone on the end, the cemetery. But, then, in a scene of remarkable creativity as Scrooge walks away, the tombstones having apparently momentarily banished through of riches out of his mind
No, he as if a magic elf, comes upon, in a gully in the cemetery, a new finding of another pile of gold, and is entirely enchanted, here in a dream state
His eyes boggle, one imagines him glutting his imagination on it, and perhaps that signals that he wakes up, because the movie then makes another startlingly clever transition to envision his whole bed set up, its blanket, the light, the glow of the lamp, the ghost, all of it as all a great pile of heaping gold
With the blinding light of the static reverie in light sleep, induced by Marley’s haunting, now resolving back to being “awake” to the haunting, in his room (meaning that in this version they decided to simply format the Marley haunting according to that of all the others too).
At present, I can only graph out the dynamics this way. A, Scrooge settles into his array of agencies, his bed, its cover, the light, but then his body passes through it all, nervous, still spooked, and as he nods off this elicits the appearance of the hag attack ghost, that ghost then points his finger at Scrooge, this finer reaches all the way up around the array of his bedding to as it were dig a hole in his head, in the iris of which we get an xray of what is on his mind in the static stage, still thinking of Marley and gold and the past, and then as the iris weakens, and concludes, it fades back to an appreciation of the bedding, and he returns to being awake, a triple loop, as it were, of a hag attack (this is not entirely satisfactory)
This is very well done! Not only have I conjectured, in several versions I have reviewed, that the story in fact is paced and spaced out to the concern of three ghosts, because it is in fact Dickens’ very keen insight into the reality of the sleep of the elderly, repeatedly interrupted. The fact that this pile of gold envisioned in a static hypnagogic state fades back to the reality of his gold colored mound of bedspread, this too, is entirely interesting and realistic, as it is in the restless sleep of the elderly that the covers are repeatedly kicked off, the cold invades their sleeping body, they momentarily wake to pull it all back on, and on and on it goes, until things wake up all twisted all over the place (this motif played with a lot of the in the 1951 Sim version too). It could be said by this approach that Marley is a psychopomp in a more surgical way. That is, he comes in upon Scrooge, to core out an iris in his sleeping mind’s eye, down which now the further states of dream can rise up. That is, in his pointing finger, he cores out a spiraling down space in his head, a wormhole, if you will, and now Scrooge in other visits will spiral down in. Meaning that the further dreams are hypnagogic states-vis a vis-static state, that is sleep dysfunctionalisms, plummeting down. Then, once Marley leaves, we are left with the array of Scrooge in his bedding, as specified, light, goldbedspread, and bed, and then his “dreaming of” his exterior bodily self in different stages of sleep, prompted by having already been irised and bracketed, therefore, by a concern for gold, goes down the levels of sleep
Each ghost then takes him on a climbing or not journey in the complicated layerings of dreaming, all of it prompted by static obsession with gold, its inducing thematic element
This would explain then the fantastical depiction of the world of the ghost of the past as a musical interlude entirely embodying in a vision of gold Scrooge’s vision of his dreams, not the ghost’s showing him, astonishingly creative. The facets of the chandelier closeup, then the spiral of the dance, send him down in
and then at the bottom of that chamber of the brain, deep dream state dropped through the whoosh from the static, they live in a pure dream, all gold, living eidols of the portrait of the queen, wonderful
This is how I map out the particular journey that the Past takes him on, in this version, starts with gold static, stays with it, drops to his dream, prompted by added push downward by musical interelude fantasy allowance, then rises back up to them in that dream gold house, dancing in the lattice under the chandelier and the eidol of gold of their future royalness embodied in that mystic little portrait in the bottom of his static-dreaming dysfunctional plunge
the ghost of the present also takes us down through the golden door composed of the stuff of the static dream stage
but then that substance also whooshes and in fact tumbles him down, miniaturizing him, as, as you fall down the turned around telescope, you do quite literally undergo a reduction to accommodate the micropsia below, in an admittedly odd sequence of tiny Scrooge under the tree (imitated by the Carey version later)
this interior descent even allows the dreaming mind to touch down on rock bottom of under the tree essence of Christmas, and even bring in a religious element as a crèche is down there at the bottom of the whoosh
and this then swells back up like lava up out of a volcano to momentarily reimagine the whole golden static veneer of his dreaming as a religious awakening, odd, unique
And this is how this remarkably weird sequence goes, a different path, a static entry, a quick zap plunge down, deep inhabitatiotn of total deep dream surreal state, but then a psychopomp bug even there, to coopt it and hop it over to a religious moment, on that that then riding the lava back up the dream shaft through the stained glass, and the rose window, to the vision of the mandala, and back to consciousness. Weird.
This is all that I have at present for the manifestations and movements of the ghosts in psychopomp patterns in Scrooge’s arrayed dream states. But, then, there is one other depiction of Marley’s visit, in modernist outings, that is decidedly weird, in several ways. And this is in the 1954 version where Frederic March Plays Scrooge, and Basil Rathbone comes in as Marley. Here, too, as in other versions I have noted here, the Marley section gains the most attention, that is, the warning, and then it goes from there.
In this version, Scrooge never goes to bed. He also lives in a very small little room, and its smallness bothers him as as soon as he gets home he wants the maid out, and complains of the noise of carols still coming in from the street . The maid is an apprehensive employed, backing out grovelingly cautious to his temper
He, therefore, is more in a waking annoyed state, a cat on a hot tin roof, trying to calm down, to get comfortable, to undo the haunting he has had out front. He cant do it, and so no sooner does she leave that then door is busy again and now Marley comes in as if a personification of the door, but the return in annoyance of the maid, but as a ghost
he then warns him as he will, and as he has in so many versions, in this one here a physiognomy of a picture on the wall, and there had been his portrait on the mantel in the office, and as a face seen in the patterns of his wallpaper, nothing more, it is OK, but not terrific
But, then, something very strange happens. When asked if he can sit down, he does, and at his table. Now it is as if he is back to as was ante status quo of seven years ago just sitting at the table with Scrooge, and this body language and proxemics would be entirely comfortable and taken for granted by Scrooge, but also spook him, for it to be back. And then, in the most thrillingly odd touch in this version, he touches, he takes hold of Scrooge
Scrooge recoils, with revulsion, to be touched by a ghost, full of miasmic bad air, and decay and corruption, notice that this scene takes place well within sight of a washing bowl and a towel. But then they have a full on engagement, a conversation
He brings out, from the floor below, a physical artifact, proving his reality, breaking through the barrier of dream, in the world of his life, the counting book
It is just very odd. This version made no attempt to position Marley’s appearance inside the appearance of a dream, or inside Scrooge’s head, it is played as if a revisiting memory of an everyday engagement with his erstwhile partner. That touch, however, would represent it all as a common dream phenomenon, as people asleep do sometimes think they feel a touch, so perhaps this is a sleepwalking episode. I am not sure. But, then, the main point is that this haunting gets most interesting when Marley visually departs. Because as he does he goes on a chant and then that chant takes hold of Scrooge as if an earworm that whirls around in his brain. And it haunts the whole room, and makes him spin in it, it is as if is occupies all the night and all creation, it resounds, and Scrooge spins one way, a genre picture representing his whole reality permeated by it
and then another
and then he spins around again, now truly haunted, but by the noise, by the effect of the presence of Marley, spinning in, coring down in his ear, and head, and making of his head an echo chamber where the difference between material and ghostly reality disappears
this even, then, causes him to fall, it is, then, a dizzy spell too, a complete disorientation of an old body, and he falls in the corner by the furnace, and even cowers, he is entirely undone by it
at present, simply using the excavation of dream state model developed earlier in this outing, I am going to posit that while most of Marley’s visit happened in conscious space, when he took hold of Scrooge’s hand, he flinched, and then the figures on the pages of the counting book made real rooted the visit at the level of the glass onion, a world of figures where they lived, and then it is from this state, the whir of all those figures, all the time they wasted, all the bad business they did, but represented symbolically only by that book, as proof of the haunting, that that stirs up, also with the wake gust of his departure, and then unnerving Scrooge by touch, as a nervous reaction in him, to the static level from the GO level, the whirring haunting threnody, but then something weird happens. And I am not entirely sure how to chart out this fact. It is as if by switching from a visual clue, by the effort to imagine the impact of a nervous breakdown on his mind, to an aural one, the pulse of the dreaming umbrellas out across the property provided for it, to represents its whole encapsulation of his world, that genre painting that he backs himself up against
And by that device, fans out through the stages, to create a true ‘echo chamber’ below, something like this
And it is in this echo chamber, where all stages echo on all others, that SONG takes over, and SONG is the primary medium by which the dream states are conveyed. Now, on that point, most of the songs are terrible, but as it moves through, it is of some interest, in keeping with the descent of the dreams from the device portal of the genre painting, that the windows of his room
Simple opyn up to the ballroom, just adjacent to it, as if an echo of it, again a kind of mirror image (indicating to use the above model that he is fixated, an thus only seeing a world mirroring his projecting fears)
then too, as in the Edison version, his room is simply the vehicle by which other spaces are imagined, his bowl of porridge
Then dissolves into the Cratchits table, right there
But then, it is as if as the utterly ridiculous scene where Tiny Tim sings some anthem, his body begins his dreaming mind to wake up, and as he rises up, his body begins to worry about itself again, and we see in the worries of an old body, wondering as if by an overvoice of rationale, how would Tiny Tim get up to the top of that tree, and so as we climb back up and in we get what is by far this version’s strangest manifestation, the triple decker chair stack by which crippled Tiny Tim is allowed to climb up to put the star on the tree
But then to prove that in this version it was all about an old body worrying most of all about death, the disastrous intervening scenes retract back directly out the Cratchit window, to see a bird in a tree, on set, and that chanting death threnody begins again, eerily, as before, haunting
As if to pick up again on the fact that all of this is entirely but the echolations of the original death spiral chant that spun an earworm in Scrooge’s head, and then the camera swings round that bird, almost like a bird in Whitman’s poem on Lincoln’s passing, and we swing by it
into the foggy cemetery, step by step, dollying, really, quite done up, pulling apart, as it were, the whole piece
through the spooky sticks to the graveyard scene
meaning that this version was pretty much all about that all the time but then Scrooge is back in his bed, done
The whole thing suggests that the weird in between dream states were in fact attempts by his unconscious mind to block out what the implications of Marley’s touch and his nervous response to it meant to him, ie that it was the touch of death, and that it unnerved him, so in the echo chamber created by that unnverving, were musical orbitings of good cheer designed to relieve his mind of the weight of it, which existed in conscious life, that is, errant dream states blocking, obscuring, moving out laterally, away from the whoosh, lingering fuguelike in light sleep
and then at the end, after his mind again begins to surface, wondering on how Tiny Tim got that star up there, and seeing that awful makeshift ladder of unstable chairs, and thought of that, in the back of his mind, and the touch of that star, associated with the touch of death,and so his mind surged upward in a dream dysfunction almost akin to sleep paralysis, to rise up from deep dream to static state just shy of consciousness, and hear that awful lament again haunt him, to then wake him, to be relieved to be awake, redeemed, alive
By its emphasis on Scrooge’s disgust with the touch of death, the flight of dreams is less helpful than in other versions, in fact might be construed as blockages, but then the version pulls one out of the hat with that bizarre detail of Tiny Tim’s ladder, and the star, which makes an associative nightmare connection with that dreaded touch from the haunting, and he surfaces, terrified, only to then be relieved to be awake and alive, for that to redeem. All in all, then, all these three versions oddly seemed to emphasize Marley, and how as a psychopomp he not only announced the dreams to Scrooge, but laid out the landscape or map of how the dream states would be navigated for specific dream redeeming purpose in each version. Great variations, with my treatment attempting to figure out why each version had its strengths and weaknesses.