Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas and My Favorite Christmas Movie Lessons

moviesEver since I researched 1940s Hollywood for Stars in the Night, I've been a bigger fan than ever of classic movies. Growing up, my favorite movies were from the 30s and 40s...that hasn't changed. There's something I love about the simplicity of that time that shines through in movies that make me laugh and feel. So today I thought I'd share a few of my favorites and writing lessons from each.
[Tweet "Love #Christmas? Have you seen @cara_putman favorite Christmas #movies? #traditions"]
White Christmas: I adore this relatively simple story set during the post WWII years. I love the theme of honoring those we admire...even at great cost to ourselves. The ending scene with the general makes me tear up every time. And hearing Bing Crosby croon White Christmas? And Danny Kaye is the perfect comedic foil. Sing with me "Sisters, Sisters...." Perfection! My family adores this movie. 

  •  The writing tip? Slapstick comedy of Danny Kaye paired with a story of making assumptions about intent, this story makes you feel. And that's what readers want: an emotional experience. What can you do to add emotional layers to your story.
Holiday Inn: This is more than a Christmas movie because it features 13 Irving Berlin songs that are set around the holidays. Fred Astaire's fire cracker dance has always been a favorite of mine, but I love the theme of letting a loved one go so they can chase their dream. Happy sigh. 

  • Writing Tip: Add Fred Astaire to Bing Cosby and the movie is unstoppable. But it's the backdrop of music that adds life. What are you doing to add the senses to your scenes? 
It Happened on 5th Avenue: I shocked some folks last year, because I'd never seen this movie. Oh my! They were all right. I love it! It's the story of a rich girl who stumbles on some homeless men who are living in her father's seasonally abandoned mansion in NYC. She joins them and their friends, and before long her dad and mom have joined them -- while pretending to be people other than they are. This is a story of realizing the hold things and money can have on us and turning instead to the value of people. A beautiful story.  

  • Writing tip: How can you take characters that people have pigeon-holed and flip their presumptions? Can you put them in uncomfortable positions and watch the sparks fly?           
It's a Wonderful Life: I have to admit that I watched this so many times growing up, it lost some of its appeal. But my husband loves this movie, and it's growing on me again. Who hasn't felt like their dreams died and in the process their life didn't matter. I love the way this story shows the long-lasting impact we can have on people without realizing it. The imagining what life would be like without us. It's a definite keeper and one to watch each year for the reminders that we do matter -- even when we feel like our story has no meaning or value.  

  • Writing tip: Your characters will have blindspots just like George Bailey does about what they add to the world around them. Have you highlighted those? Can those become plot points?
Christmas in Connecticut: Here's another classic that we've recently discovered and enjoy as a family. A woman in post WWII America is desperate to keep her job as a domestic column writer. Her readers think she knows everything about cooking and child-rearing. But she isn't married, has no child, and doesn't cook. It's not a problem until her editor decides to join her for a perfect Christmas. Then the fun begins. This is a comedy that the whole family can enjoy. (And I'm giving away a copy!) 

  • Writing Tip: How can your characters get caught in a web of seemingly white lies? Can they extricate themselves from it? On the romance side, is there a third person to make a love triangle with all the plot opportunities that entails?
So these are a few of the classic Christmas movies that my family loves to watch. I'd love to know which ones are part of your traditions. Is there a favorite holiday go-to movie in your family?
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Jeanne Takenaka said...

Cara, I love the old movies too. :) And Holiday Inn is RIGHT up there. :) I love the writing tips you shared for each movie. Especially the one about flipping peoples' presumptions. SUCH a great idea.

Have you seen, "Going My Way" with Bing Crosby? Definitely one to watch.

I showed It's a Wonderful Life to my boys last weekend. They kind of missed the main point of the story, but maybe they'll figure some of it out as they grow. :) The end makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. :)

Loved your post!

Karin Beery said...

My favorite classic Christmas movie is White Christmas (I always wanted one of those red dresses the girls get to wear at the end of the movie!). My favorite contemporary Christmas movie is While You Were Sleeping - not a traditional Christmas movie, but one that I MUST watch every year (those mashed potatoes are so creamy...)

Jocelyn said...

I love all the mentioned classic movie. Although I had forgotten about It Happened on Fifth Avenue, since it has been years since I watched it. But my favorite is It's a Wonderful Life. How can we not love James Stewart and his stellar performance as George. Always so heart warming.

kaybee said...

These are all good. I love "Christmas in Connecticut," the Stanwyck version rather than the Dyan Cannon one, because in the 40s women were expected to know this stuff and, well, it's just funnier. I love "White Christmas" and what it says about the bonds between people who serve together in war, I like that aspect even more than the two romances. JEANNE T. I too love "Going My Way," it isn't exactly a Christmas movie but it has that great Christmas Eve scene at the end, and Bing Crosby as a cool priest is always watch-able. I also love "It's A Wonderful Life," who doesn't, but I can't watch it with other people, it's too emotionally-wrenching for me. My contemporary favorite is "Elf" with Will Ferrell. Thanks for a fun post.
Kathy Bailey

Sarah Bennett said...

It's a toss up between White Christmas and The Nightmare Before Christmas at our house. They couldn't be more different visually, but the stories are more similar than you'd think.

Anonymous said...

My favorite Christmas movie is "Christmas In Connecticut". Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favorite actresses. Her acting is superior to most.Thanks for the giveaway.

Cara Putman said...

Looks like we all have similar taste :-)