Rev., December 21, 2016.
It is not easy to work out the dream structure of Scrooge (1970), the Albert Finney telling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, for the primary reason that it would appear that the movie as a whole is formatted along the lines of rationality and includes elements of dream theory it might of picked up by way of common tropes in movies, and has little deeper understanding of the dynamics of actual dreams. For that, there are a smattering of dream effects, but then it would also seem that in each level, though I do not think there is a coherent working out of the levels of an actually experienced dream, there seems to be a reflection of all other levels, almost as if the movie magic slated back to square one to work through dream tropes as they knew them in each level, regardless of their connection to the previous level. This network of rationalization over the whole film, of course, much of the time keeps it from becoming art, as rationalization is usually involved in making something appear such and such a way for “political” reasons, but, for that, there is enough to document, simply in terms of the fact that it did serve as a vehicle to pass along tropes of dreams in movies.
Let’s start with Scrooge’s trip to hell, which descends from a graveyard. He is with the ghost of the future, and sees Tiny Tim’s dad, Bob Cratchit, at the grave, talking to his dead son
a graveyard is the ultimate “glass onion” space in modern civilization, as complex beings are reduced to bodies in tombs lying underground but presently symbolized only by a field of signs of all kinds, and occasionally statues and figures. But, apparently Scrooge had it in mind that he would never die, and so when he sees his name on a grave he does not go, “well, I’m not really surprised, I’m kind of surprised I’m still here actually”, he absolutely freaks out. And that freak out then becomes the basis for what amounts to a vertiginous panic attack as the grave opens up on him, and he begins to fall down
and then he spirals down a classic wormhole whoosh, spiral formation
which eventually turns red, meaning we are getting to the hot part of earth
and then he lands in hell, but in a pit in hell dug in the shape of his grave
this is what I call the splat figure at the bottom of a spiral fall, you go splat, and lie flat and are crushed splat at the bottom, like the image of wicked witches and vampires reduced to their robes only, that is the crushing effect of the vertiginous downward spiral of a nightmare. The only problem is, he does not exactly land in a REM dream state but lies on a flat red glass surface a half foot underground, and then has to rise up out of it, to see what’s what, and everything all about is burning to the touch
and then, him being in hell, he has to walk through a field of hell, but, again, this is not deep dream hell, it is not even hell that would be constructed if he had splatted at the bottom of the whoosh, then stayed put, this is hell as imagined by the entoptic imagination, a consistent field of like forms on the irregular surface of which one can see faces of demons and presences
this is a large matte painting, which film of him walking was then inserted over. But as a field, it is heat, and it is red, and it is all stalactites, and it is regular, it is not, then, exactly, a dream field, but a dream field as imagined in the light state sleep stage called the entoptic. Somehow, then, Scrooge had, in his fall, fallen up, he is closer to consciousness than he was when he was in the cemetery. The emphasis on faces indicates that this is happening close inside his own face, sleeping, and the pareidola, suggesting Doresquely that some of the damned are stuck in the stone like figures stuck in trees, as Macrobius calls them, mists.
then he meets Marley again, Guiness, and there are other, gooier faces in the hot rock
and the faces are between them
and then there are more when they reach the door of the prison office
then he is shown where he will stay, a frigid office, in reflection of his own office, where he let Cratchit freeze for all those years
and then out of the red also come the executioners with his chain
faces materialized, and then they drop them on him , he strangles
and then he wakes up to the bedsheet having turned and tossed to strangle him
and then he kisses the bedpost, because it is his, and seeing it means that he is alive
There is little doubt this is a nightmare, but it is a rather shallow nightmare, and possibly ill informed of the traditional dream theory that Dickens was working with, which I will now attribute to the likes of Roscher.
What this all means, to me, is that in this version the bed is the lattice upon which all nightmares form and take shape, folding it inside out, into scenes, sets and scenarios. In that lattice he encounters the demon Pngalion, the thriller, the strangler, his nightmare effect was burning heat, that is, the sweats, and then choking to death, being weighed down by a thing until it strangles him. But the actual dream is generated by him light-sleeping in his bed, and reimagining his bed in light-sleep ways, and in this sequence whereas his mind has sunk to the lattice level to see out and around and transform in his mind his bed, the dream actually wakes him up some so he floats up to the glass onion surface of his lying there, but reimagined, and hot, and then he is taken zigzag through a maze to a adjunct space transposition of his bed, folded back out into his office, at this point, his blankets are kicked off, he is out of his bed, and then the chains come and that is him getting tangled up in his sheets. But while this hell begins in the glass onion, it is primarily imagined as an entoptic field, meaning that he is being woken up as he dreams. The route of this dream is so uncertainly imagined one can safely say that it really only was the bed multiplied rationally through the appearance of Marley and then the counting house, then flipped into a entoptic field, there to play out as its mirror form. But, for me, this is a rationalized space internalized from his everyday space, and let lie out there, with poetic, stagelike effect, but no truth to dream.
I have noted before that it might very well be that Dickens knew about how older people, like myself, sleep, rarely dropping into deep dream states, and, for that too, rarely having full on nightmares, according to both Macrobius and Roscher; but this shallowness of the conceptualization of dream might be the very reason why this ghost story is often told in popular culture as if it is not in fact a ghost story at all, the ghosts more or less taken for granted as allegories of aspects of time. But, even if shallow dreams, actual dreams of that nature would not have the structure noted.
A similar shallowness shows up in the dream of the ghost of the present. Again, I am going to say that the structure of the dream is that the bed itself serves as the lattice, it is the structure that is reimagined in the dream. But then, his imagination being limited, it is reimagined by way of an extension, which is expediently composed of the elements of his house and surroundings.
As noted, it may be that his dream of the present is nothing but a figurative internal visualization on a metaphoric level of his wrestling with his sheets as he tosses and turns, which he does a lot of. This is explicitly suggested by the fact that when he drops back in, ie wakes up, from the present dream, he is in fact under his covers
and the shallowness of the whole outing is reinforced earlier by the fact that when he “lands” in Camden town, to see the Cratchits, he lands in snow, suspiciously similar to his bedsheets, then Present tumbles in on top of him, crushing him, and in the fabric of his bed curtains, and he is again under the covers
and then when he tries to get up they cling to him, with the snow on his back too, in this shot Present and his robes having taken on the aspect of his bedcurtains
all this suggests that Present stays very close to his conscious mind, and to entoptic sleep too, it is as if he is almost thinking about Cratchit, as he might if he had insomnia, and it only levels out at the level of the glass onion because, as in keeping with its more figurative form, its narratives amount to symbolic pushing about of ideas he is mulling over (a negative proof of the unconscious emphasis on the bed curtains as one of the presiding structural fabrics of the movie is the fact that this version is quite rare in having no imps of Want and Ignorance under the robes of the Present, and in the sequence of the ghost of the Future, there is no bargaining for his bedcurtains, or any curtain play in the dreams at all. This means that the curtain is in fact too close to him, for it to figure out in story in the dream, but remain the underlying fabric of them).
Another curious thing happens in this version when the Present leaves. Scrooge cannot believe that it happened, yet he half thinks it was a real event in his rooms. That is, he was half awake during it, and now thinks that there is an intruder in his house. So he goes out. But in this version, as in others, his rooms are presented as absolutely empty, unlived in, a chamber of desolation
he goes to the chair and goes to the mantel, to see that there is nothing there, that is, he does not quite believe it was a dream, or know if it was real
in this chamber of desolation, the clocks have stopped, and are covered in webs, as is the vase and whatever else sat on the mantel. The mantel serves no purpose as a mantel, symbolizing the hearth of a house held as home in the world, but remains vacant of any cultivation. Most importantly, for my interest, there are absolutely no images, no portraits, no paintings in the house
by far the most interesting home magic device I have read about this Fall was the chamber of desolation kept in the house of the serial Killer in de Quincey’s The Avenger. The killer actually turns out to be avenging the death by public lynching and hanging of his mother and wife, and to steel himself as a Jew to the history of exile and persecution that the Jews had suffered he kept what he claimed was the traditional device of a chamber of desolation, that is, one room of the house that he had done up entirely in its furnishings and the like, and then he trashed it, and kept it like that, to enter into it now and then, to remind him of the history of his people in Europe. The footnote to the edition I read then said that there was no such tradition among European Jews and De Quincey probably got the idea from another tradition where a square of wall space just inside the door of a Rhineland Jewish home was scratched back through the wallpaper and plaster to the stone or wood below, to in that way remind them of the destruction of the second temple. A parallel concept in English country house fiction would be the hidden room, and there are some, as in House of Long Shadows, but a very interesting one shows up in the otherwise not too thrilling Zeferelli version of Jane Eyre (1994), where Grace Poole the mad wife is kept in a room that, while acknowledged as better than a mental institution, is still entirely stripped of all furnishings, but for a rug and a bed, and no pictures
Scrooge’s rooms, by being unfurnished in this version, provide evidence that he is kind of mad, in the Victorian sense that miserliness was in fact viewed as a kind of mental disease. Later, when he runs through the house the morning after, there is nothing, here and there a piece of furniture that he has commandeered to store papers and the like, his notion is to mess it up is to bring it to life, we’re not entirely convinced we see that his outer halls, in his quite capacious surroundings, are so unkempt as to be coated with thick wads of dusty cobwebs
the place is basically an abandoned house.
The notion of the desolate room is a trope of some frequency in the movies of the British 60s, with, I guess, the most famous one the ice palace of Varekyno in Dr Zhivago. The idea is that nature has overrun the house, culture has stopped, and so his mind has stopped, and he is kind of mad. But, in terms of the mechanics of the movie, this leaves his rooms as a wide open space for fearful imaginings by a half awake mind as it projects images of the bed out in glass onion dream state into that space. That is, he dreams through the lattice of the bed, but upward into the glass onion and entoptic space of the rooms around the bed and in his house in general. He is deeply haunted by his vacant house, and on this one night he feels it (I once encountered an apartment of this sort in NYC, which was more or less completely uninhabited. The resident claimed that it was no bother, sleeping so close to the dunning noise of Houston Street, but when I tried to spend a night there, this woman, who claimed it was no bother slept under a barricade of pillows and when they fell off kept saying ‘oh, those trucks’ in her sleep. I consider this then the same sort of haunting; at present, I will expand Roscher’s comment that the type of bed covering figures forth the dream, to claim that the bed itself acts as a printing press for the dream, and then the house beyond is the paper upon which it is printed broadly. I will call it a house dream.
And this is the only explanation for the strange dynamics of his encounter with the ‘giant’ of the ghost of Christmas Present. It is more explicitly noted that when he completes his checking out the haunting rounds of his empty house, content that there is nothing there, going back to the hauntings in the early part of the movie, he is back at his door, coming back to his bed, and his bed itself, its bedcurtains have taken form as the ghost of the Future, that is, this is classic lattice “figuring out”
and here is the bed curtains come alive in his glass onion state dream of the bed alive
but the thing is, the Present is also a projection of his bedcurtains, only propelled by a slightly lighter state of sleep to the distant space of all his rooms lying without the bed. And what does he see when he gets into the outer room, or imagines himself from his bed in the outer room, but his bed and all its coverings made over into a smorgaboard spread of culinary wonders, and then his walking bedcurtains plus chandelier in the form of the ghost
simply put, the lattice bed has been sensed by him, but in a state of light sleep, in this way, he reimagines in a glass onion light sleep dream way, as expanded to his rooms as a whole, and then while the four posts become the room in whole, the curtains become the ghost, the blankets the layout of food, and he is then let to float over it all.
Now there are three wonderful things here, that correspond to actual light sleep dreams. He floats, or is elevated by the ghost; the ghost is described as a giant, as such a personification of a house, if furnished, therefore with a chandelier crown, and the entire exchange happens in the upper register of the room, in more or less the upper wainscot. Thus, he flies over his blankets at the behest of his bedcurtains. The fact that the action is shifted upward to the wainscot means two things. On one level it reforms the room in accordance with it being imagined as a projection of elements of his bed, probably the underside of the canopy. This places all the action in a dream space. Two, he parcours up onto the mantel and goes through the song from that perch. This too me brings back into focus the molding and the architecture effects of the room that inhabiting souls would definitely notice, but not him. It also is something he is more likely to have noticed only on his bed, now projected to the parlor. But the most interesting part to me is that this eccentric close up on the architectural detail corresponds to a similar device to be seen in Roman sarcophagi carvings, and as such emphases death, and that he is in a state thinking about death. It is quite odd to have him placed up on the mantel to do his drinking
and in my view this is a foreshadow of his casting down into hell, when he flies across tomblike spaces carved abstractly out of the wainscot
the most Romanly wonderful aspect of this strange set up is that thinking through his bed out to the room a connection is made to the other piece of furniture he spends all his time in, his chair, but in this scenario his chair is lifted up into the death space
and, just to note, what a terrific idea it is that his sitting nursing a bowl of soup in his dreary conscious life can be transformed and expanded upon in his reverie of his haunted rooms into a throne on top of a cornucopia of everything in the world to eat, and the best effect is that, while the high candelabra haunt his lack of a chandelier, the highest piece of furniture in the room is a pork on a roasting device
I really do wonder how they came up with the notion of creating this space in this way
but then it also serves to allow them to launch out the window, and it is by this falling that this segment of the dream now does in fact plunge into deep sleep, and the visions of the other houses. This is my favorite shot in the movie, his haunted rooms, seen from outside of the window that has just been poltergeisted away from by the ghost
it is possible that the shape of the room was meant to echo with the forms of the city he dreams of being in, as this cornice in the public square, also a wonderful space in the movie, and a dream space, imagined by him, from his rooms out, looks an awful lot like it
at one point they even have to whisper not to wake the baby, showing off the form more
now, I want to make one other comment, based on recent reading. I strongly suspect that laced all through the whole section of the present are art direction devices meant to rhyme with the room’s look, and remind us that we are not in fact seeing reality but dreaming of a reality as imagined in a light stage sleep by Scrooge, multiplied through his own bed and his rooms. The Cratchits house could be construed as an imagining under a bed, with emphasis there too on mantel, and then a paper streamer, and then the town itself as I have noted, mythical London, not real London. And in this mythical London it is London imagined by someone who has not given thought to it for some time, so it is construed in an ideal and reductive singular way in nostalgia, thus it IS a projection of his bed and his rooms into a cityscape. This is most wonderfully worked out in the encounter of the Merry band, and church letting out, in the square, where it really is spaced and sized, for the church to be the bed, the fountain one of the bedposts, the snow is the blanket, the architecture the projection of the unconscious appreciation of his bedposts, and all of it as it were happening in a projection of his land of counterpane
but the thing that has always amazed me about this version, and sometimes oppressed me with an enthusiasm I could never hope to aspire to, is its wild blow out celebration of Christmas. It is manic, or, rather, it is a panic. Why?
Pan’s panic in the Christmas morning riot in Scrooge (1970).
Dec. 20, 2016.
Roscher’s Pathology of the Nightmare has some quaint ideas, which nonetheless touch upon traditional folk dream theory. Roscher has salvaged for modern readers Macrobius’s dream theory, and he talks about fantasma coming in waves, between waking and sleeping, in a state they call sleep-drunkenness, especially that if after waking up from a dream, but not knowing it, from mists (entoptic), wandering forms (the glass onion), to a weight (the lattice), then to leapers (the whoosh)–you fall deep in the whoosh, but never entirely down through into deep REM dream, and as a result suffer a reflection of bodily discomfort, thrash about, then pop back up, that is a nightmare. The whoosh part Roscher ascribes to “Ephialtes”, the leaper, and both the Greeks and Roscher ascribe these forms of panic nightmares to Pan. But, then, the thing is, on the flip, waking side, Pan also presides over “panicky terror” in animals, especially shepherded animals, in herds, and these usually happen at noon, and then too if transferred back to a type of dream it occurs in a noonday nap by the shepherd. Panic attacks occur under the aegis of Pan too, similar as they are to the stampeding of animals. This idea is quaint, but in line with two other materialist notions he likes, that the type of blanket you lie under results in the forms of demons in your dreams, which is why goats persecuted Greeks in nightmares, and Pan is a goat, because they slept under goatskins (he also quotes an incubation ritual where after goat sacrifice adorants slept on their skinned goat skins to have prophetic nightmares). Equally interesting is that food is one of the major ways by which bad dreams, or the gods themselves, come into the body, as, for example, Dionysius lives in food, as do other gods, including Pan, and thus flatulence is one form of source for dream communication (and Scrooge, of course, dismissed Marley as a bit of spoiled beef causing him stomach upset, an actual folk dream theory spoken in the story). An even more interesting area of study is that Pan is the presiding god over panic and stampedes caused suddenly by random noises or supernatural voices in the atmosphere, something I have been really interested in. All of this, very briefly skimmed over, contributes to some understanding, relative to dream theory, why in Scrooge, the morning after is the morning of redemption, and of happiness and redemption, and then, in this version, he is positively manic, it is a depiction of panic, and something to watch.
After Scrooge runs about throwing papers about, he comes down to the ground floor, by the rather hackneyed device of sliding down the bannister, this is the whoosh in waking form, the start of the panic, the excitement from this gets his goat up
then he starts building his parade, first with the turkey on its own sled, to be pushed by some boys he has hired to do so
then he has an absolute bewildering episode of manic behavior in the toy shop, taking one of everything
he stops by next door, gets bottles of wine, and for both the toys and the wine, entourages of boys are required, so he is acting like the Pied Piper, a variant on Pan. He passes out wine, then his energy begins to take off and spread, causing the whole city to stampede as it were in celebration of Christmas. Since this is a musical, the music of various sorts is the equivalent of the supernatural voices that started stampedes, and first entering into it are the pantomimers (the connection of this sequence to the English tradition of the seasonal pantomime I leave to another time)
they have flutes, of course, and he does some rather funny rude dances
then, in this version, they quickly wrap everything up with Fred as he witnesses this mania, surprised, but happy
now the mania spreads to the level of him having to be equal to the ghost figures in his dreams, and for that he requires an elevating transformation of character, which he gets from a store window, becoming Father Christmas
now the mania spreads through on the level of I don’t know what, a celebratory welcome of a guest to the city (a Roman triumph)
in one of the most panicy terrifying reversed sequences the bells (as they had at first haunting in his house) sound too
this is classic glass onion dream behavior, in conscious life
then he visits the Cratchits, who, while the whole “he is crazy” bit is not played up quite as frantically as in the ’39 Hollywood version, it is played up, Santa Claus comes to visit on Christmas morning, which does not quite make sense, and gives the Mrs. a turkey that will take a week to cook
at this point, things expand again to the eternalization of the entoptic phase, with the whole population of people he knows, who owe him money, meeting up, he cancelling the debts, and so a reprise of Thank you very much, for a blow out in extremis
to remind us this is a kind of panic dream made waking, Punch and Judy show up
and, then, oddly, he backs off, to go up to the next level, and preside over the mania he has caused to catch fire, does he become Pan himself, presider of the panic?
this (below), in fact, is my second favorite shot in the movie because it exemplifies the fantasy of the bird’s eye view of life combined with the being at the center of the action view, to entirely and completely satisfyingly involve him in the full life of the metropolis, which he has in his misery blocked out and hated, and it is from the balcony that he becomes as it were the grand marshal of the parade, passing out his favors (calling across to give money to the poor). It’s a sweet scene of old mythic London where, this story imagines it, everyone was deeply connected to the physical hustle bustle of community life, and not alienated and separated as we are now.
and not only is that balcony a transposition of his bed, but the building opposite, with that cornice again, is likewise a transposition of his parlor, so the point of this panic is to fill up his rooms like Present did, but projected out into the city
this is also a nifty afterpostshadow of the chair and the floating in the space of the parlor, a lovely involved spatial dynamic of dreaming in waking life, a vigilogogic state of mind
then, finally, the wave encompasses the church too, and that square
another medley of different types of song from the British cultural catalog
the city as transposed bed (a land of counterpane)
him, at last, having set off the fireworks, touched off the stampede panic, but in a positive form (I am not sure what the name of it would be, the opposite of a riot), and he withdraws to return home
content, entirely spent, and convinced that in one night he has entirely transformed his being by pulling up all of his dreaming into daylight and touching off a panic of joy resounding throughout all things, in a deep and enriching catharsis of his turned-against-life orneriness. He then leaves his borrowed persona’s beard as a trophy on the doorknocker that haunted him, replacing a haunting with the opposite of one, an enriching with a positive good luck charm to wish well and goodness to come
It is my argument then, that, in this version, the morning parade, evincing an urban liveliness so unusual in all but major cities on Christmas morning, is composed of the events of the night before, the nightmare panic, reversed into a daytime form, sparked by supernatural voices and the sounds of nature, to touch off a morning panic which he then acts as Pan to create a stampede of positive feeling about Christmas which expands in waves from lattice, to glass onion, back up to entopty, to float up to happiness, in a new waking life.