I shared some of the music that helps me to stir the Christmas spirit but there’s more. I thought I’d add a list of viewing - movies and television - that can help in the same way.
It’s A Wonderful Life - 1946
This movie is one of the mainstays of the season. I know it can seem like a cliche to include it but this movie is filled with the themes that we espouse at ABG. The small town of Bedford Falls, George Bailey and his locally-owned savings and loan, the relationships he and the business have with the locals, the ever present bigger bank breathing down his neck, and his earnest efforts to keep them from taking over his town. It's the power of relationships in a small town and how things can be set right The messages are timeless, Jimmy Stewart is a legend and this is some of his best acting. It’s a Christmas must-see.
A Charlie Brown Christmas - 1965
An animated classic but this one isn’t just child’s play. Charlie Brown is frustrated by the commercialized Christmas he sees surrounding him. So he sets out to find some real meaning in the holiday only to be harried and harassed at every turn by the flashy expectations the commercialized Christmas has given to his friends. I gotta say that Linus standing on stage and reciting from the Book of Luke is one of the finest moments in television history. So simple but so profound. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
A Christmas Story - 1983
For 24 hours each year, Turner Broadcasting puts this little jewel in the player and hits repeat. You can turn it on and then go on about your way. When you walk in the room you can stop and laugh a bit before you move on. It’s not nearly as profound as the previous two on the list, but this is the funniest Christmas movie ever made. It’s nostalgic and gives us a chance to recognize our own reality in the comical dysfunction of normal life. So many quotes from this movie have become common in our cultural jargon. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” “It’s a major award!” And even the maniacal adaptation of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Used by the shopping mall Santa. When you hear one, you know where it’s from.
A Christmas Carol - 1984
Whichever version of this Charles Dickens classic you watch is totally up to you. I’m kinda partial to George C. Scott. Regardless of the version, this is a how-to guide to getting into the spirit at Christmastime. The crustiest curmudgeon to walk the Earth is transformed into a tender hearted benefactor in the course of one night. And if Scrooge can get in the spirit, surely you can.
Again, these are a few and I'd love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share them with us!
I typically like my drama to be in the movie rather than about the movie. So I’ve been curious about First Man. With so many complaints about the depiction of the flag planting, the portrayal (or lack) of Neil Armstrong’s patriotism, and whatever else has been stirring, I really wanted to see this one.
From a stylistic standpoint, this is a well made film. The use of camera effects and angles, music, perspective, all contribute to the storytelling. Building drama in this story is hard because (spoiler alert) Apollo 11 was successful. Making a well-known success still be suspenseful is hard. But this film does that. One of the greatest triumphs in human history has you on the edge of your seat, even 50 years later.
As hindsight is 20/20, it is easy for us to think the moon shot was an simple task. In our mind, there was no chance that Michael Collins would have to return to Earth alone, leaving his two teammates to remain forever at rest on the lunar surface. There is no thought of something going wrong somewhere along the half a million miles the mission covered from the Earth to the moon and back. It could have easily gone very differently. This film shakes your assurances and awakens you to the truth that Apollo 11 was a frighteningly dangerous mission. In doing so it gives a picture of the courage and adventurous spirit that was required to pull it off.
While there has been much talk about the flag, it’s there. You plainly see if standing proud alongside The Eagle at Tranquility Base. There is no scene depicting Armstrong and Aldrin planting it but that is not something I missed in the story. I didn’t walk away thinking that the story suffered from that omission.
On the contrary, this story is not about the flag, it’s really only about the moon because walking on the moon is what Armstrong is famous for. He is the subject of the movie. And the story gave me an appreciation for him as a person. Seeing the man struggle with so much while pressing forward into iconic status in the pantheon of American history. Armstrong is a pragmatic engineer with a stoic outward appearance but a deeply emotional core. Viewers are privy to his inner thoughts and emotions while those who love him most are often left curious. But the Armstrong we get to know in First Man is the hero America needs. He’s not arrogant or selfish. He’s confident without bragging and courageous without carelessness. He’s quiet and reflective yet competent and inspiring.
Ryan Gosling sold me Neil Armstrong. I bought it. With a larger than life character, that’s no easy task. But he does well with it and helps you emotionally connect with an American legend.
Claire Foy, who was so convincing as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, never gives a hint of the Queen’s English. Her passionate portrayal should get her some buzz come awards season.
Jason Clarke, who I loved in Mudbound, is excellent in his supporting role as Ed White.
You can’t make a NASA movie without Deke Slayton and Kyle Chandler is quite convincing in that role.
At the risk of being repetitive, the key to appreciating First Man is to read the title again. It’s not about America. It’s not about the moon, the moon landing, or the space program. It’s about Neil Armstrong. It accomplishes that task thoroughly. If you go in expecting that, you can’t be disappointed.
Three episodes in and I’m pretty hooked. John T. Edge and Wright Thompson have teamed up to travel The South telling a visual story of food. Of course in The South food is never just food. And any time you tell a story of food you’re really telling a story of community, family, history, even art or a master craft. Food is just the common ground between all those topics. We don't do much of anything in the South without food being involved.
They started with stories from Birmingham highlighting the well-established Greek community in central Alabama. While the food elements involved two restaurants, Bessemer’s The Bright Star and Johnny’s in Homewood, the stories sprawled outside the walls of those establishments. Hearing the history of Greek immigrants in Alabama helped connect some dots for me. While attending college in Alabama I met several people with Greek heritage, people who attended Greek Orthodox churches, and I was introduced to a little place, also in Homewood, called Moneer’s. They had great Mediterranean food and a tasty mint tea.
Greek might not be your first thought as far as influences on Southern culture but this episode shows the scope of the impact that Greek immigrants have had. It brings that influence into the open and helps us understand it. It expands our understanding of our own culture.
The episode on Athens is excellent because they didn’t choose the typical, predictable places. Heading out of town to the "wide spot in the road" community of Norwood they turned off the highway, hit some small local places and risked getting some local on them. They chose two locally owned spots - Scott’s BBQ, a black owned business, and and Polleria Pablo, a Peruvian chicken restaurant in the back of gas station. Peruvian gas station chicken. Y'all know how we love the gas station food.
People who live in this community have little beyond these two options for dining out. The fresh quality ingredients and local connections make these two eateries about as Southern as it gets. The production of the episode (and after party) helped the two families who own these establishments meet and get to know each other. The production of the show helped bring this community closer together. That's a lot of winning coming out of one TV episode.
The show makes good use of music, especially groups from the area being highlighted. It enhances the show and adds to the artistic value of it. The camera angles and lighting effects alone could keep you entertained. They also bring in locals to help viewers understand the area. Seeing Andre Gallant and Nihilist Cheerleader both with a role in the Athens show let me know this isn't just your typical tourist show. This is really about the local culture.
I saw some criticism of the show online. There were comments that the SEC Network was becoming “another Turner South.” First of all, I don’t think that would necessarily be a terrible thing. But if this was what Turner South had at least mostly been, it might still be on the air.
The only criticism I even pondered was that it seemed to me at first that a longer episode would tell a more complete story. But when I thought more about it, I’m not sure that’s true. Part of the beauty is that the show isn’t huge, it’s not overthought, it's genuine. Simply put, it’s family, it's community, it’s even faith. In a word, it’s Southern. Stretching it to an hour would add content but is more always (or ever) better?
John T. Edge is known as a food writer. TrueSouth is described as a food show. But as I mentioned before, Southern food is never just about food. So this food show isn’t just about food. It’s about The South.
I highly reccomend the show show and I do hope it will continue. There are many stories to tell, and these folks are telling them well.
Episodes of TrueSouth are available online: Birmingham - Athens - Nashville
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire