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Monday, December 17, 2007

Xmas Video Entertainment in Paris or Anywhere: The Year Without a Santa Claus

In Praise of the Pagan, Feminist, Anti-Musical Holiday Classic, The Year Without a Santa Claus

OD-ed on fruitcake? Reached your patience limit with your family, no matter how much you love them? The lazy hometowns bringing you down during the holidays? Fear not, deliverance from ennui is nigh. Check out Rankin and Bass's classic The Year Without a Santa Claus (TYWSC) available on DVD , sample clips of it available on You Tube (see them below).

Out of all the holiday specials, The Night Before Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Frosty the Snowman, A Christmas Carol, Rudolph's Shiny New Year, and many others, it is TYWSC (1974) that I remember best and most fondly.

TYWSC is an animation masterpiece by the remarkable Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rankin/Bass had a prolific stretch of productions using stop-motion puppet animation (“Animagic"), beginning with the ever-popular Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1962.

Many of these Rankin/Bass “Animagic” productions are interesting on several levels, since they often pulled the holiday away from religious moorings (with a couple of exceptions) and contributed to the huge holiday commercial machine (music, decorations, TV, now video and DVD) but at the same time celebrated the secular-humanist qualities of Christmas, such as cheer and pleausure of giving or sharing for their own sake. TYWSC, like some of these others, is in fact a pagan, feminist and still moralizing tour de force.

The plot follows basic script-writing rules by introducing problems that must be resolved by a cast of heroes, foes, and helpers. The magic is in the details.

Santa is under the weather and is uninspired, thanks to the ingrates around the world. Christmas has lost its spirit and become reduced to a hollow, ugly "gimme gimme me" entitlement to things detached from any deeper human principles. So Santa decides to leave his red suit in moth balls this year (yes, there are moths in his North Pole chateau). Mrs. Claus is the heroine of the story. Behind the male lesser hero is a strong woman, and Rankin and Bass foreground her. In this sense, the production is a kind of unveiling of the hardly self-made cheer-giver by showing how dependent he is on his generous yet assertive wife. "Mrs. C" sees Santa is depressed by what he generalizes as a loss of Christmas spirit and cheer in the humanity he has served so generously over the years. So she sends two elves and a reindeer down to Southtown in search of evidence that will dispel Santa's suspicions and re-inspire him. But Jingle and Jangle, the charming and hapless elves, get into trouble and their tiny reindeer Vixen falls prey to a villainous dogcatcher.

The plot’s first basic problem to be resolved (Santa on strike) encounters a second plot requiring resolution: The mayor will spring Vixen from dog-jail if the elves can make it snow in Southtown, which has a kind of Southern California climate.

This new problem, getting snow to Southtown, brings viewers to what is unmistakably the most memorable parts of the show: the Broadwayesque scenes of brawling brothers Heatmiser and Snowmiser, given dominion over the northerly and southerly climes by their Mother Nature. Their song and dance routines are etched in the minds of millions of adults and even received an indirect homage in the film Batman and Robin (1997), where the villainous Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) encourages his minions to fête him with Snowmiser’s song.

Indeed, the entire show seems to owe much to Greek and other mythologies where gods are powerful, flawed, and sparring like humans and thus in need of a stronger and wiser deity to keep them in check. In the end, it is only the strong woman Mother Nature who can arrange the snowstorm in Southtown, which, importantly, is accomplished by teaching the boisterous boys the art of compromise: Heatmiser lets it snow in Southtown while his icicle-nosed sibling permits some global warming in the North. Unsurprisingly the resolution of these two subplots makes way for the central message: one should believe in Santa Claus who is a symbol of good cheer and benevolence toward humankind, which of course should be a year-long spirit annually re-charged. The latter is the real meaning of Christmas, and Santa finally finds convincing evidence of its existence. So he resumes his global sleigh ride with renewed vigor.

TYWSC is a heartwarming morality tale executed with superb animation and songs. If you’re experiencing a lull in the holiday stretch (or even if you’re not) I recommend you re-live your childhood and enrich your own children’s by watching this DVD. If you don’t remember it or believe me, take a peak at these clips of these supernatural siblings, and try to resist.
Happy holidays.

DJ Jayson, Set January 4, 2008

At L'Orange Mecanique Bar
72 bis Rue Jean Pierre Timbaud
75011 Paris
Metro Parmentier (St. Maur, or Menilmontant)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

thedø, la maroquinerie, december 4, 2007

by Jayson Harsin (also appears in Blogcritics Magazine)

It’s worth repeating that the best live concerts are often impressive visually as well as musically. This is certainly the case with the Franco-Finnish trio thedø, who played to a sold out audience at Paris’s La Maroquinerie club last night.

Thedø is actually a duo (Finnish Olivia B Merjlahti and French Dan Lévy), but live they add Jeremie Pontier on drums. The visual effect Pontier adds is mesmerizing. He is devoured by a monstrous metallic chandelier, a cross between a cage and the skeleton of a spaceship, perhaps something one enters to be beamed up. On the aluminum tubes that surround Pontier, hang a curious array of objects, from what appears to be a breastplate of Xena Warrior Princess, to wrenches, cooking pans, and the liberty bell. He played all of these during their set. Indeed, this drum set could, in time, go down as the most spectacular in the history of rock.

There’s something wonderfully incomparable about the live rock show's tradition that permits facial expression tacitly banned in everyday social situations: the beautiful thedo, world's most spectacular drumsetambiguity of a face that could be the sign of either a cutting appendicitis or a fantastic orgasm. Proof positive: lead singer Merjlahti, whose twisted face unleashed sweet and alternately baleful full notes, sometimes recalling Bjork and Joanna Newsom. She complained of the heat at one point during the show. It’s no wonder since her head was wrapped in what looked like a weasel wreath. She engaged the crowd with playful banter, clearly enjoying every second of her stage time.

Meanwhile sidekick Dan Lévy looked like a Geronimo imitator with his headband and black war paint. Merjilahti also went for a dab of face paint in the corners of her eyes. On the other hand, it was difficult to see drummer Pontier behind his shimmering silver set.

While they are a spectacular live band in the true sense of the word, thedø have been getting attention for their brand of recorded music. Unlike some bands that stop at great vocals and hooks, thedø combine sweet vocals, with mainly innovative folk pop sounds and smart lyrics full of half-rhymes. At times, there's a leisurely paced, full melodic sound strongly reminiscent of Luna (minus the world's most spectacular drum set). In addition to the unique percussion section, Dan Levy moves between a bass guitar, an organ, a xylophone, reindeer bells, and a melodica. The incorporation of a variety of instruments reminds one of creative counterparts like Calexico, Lambchop, and The Handsome Family. Other times their light and folkish sound recalling Smog can also turn on the rock. The result is a live music tour de force.

Thedø have been buzzing in France thanks to a major newspaper article last year in Le Monde and subsequently astounding myspace success. But it is only a matter of time before they conquer the rest of Europe and move on to America. The fact that Merjlahti sings almost entirely in English makes that migration a strong likelihood. Their first album A Mouthful will be released next month on Wagram Records. A band certainly to be heard first, and then, with a little luck, seen—thedø.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Our Good Friends Arlt...

Will be playing free for you soon. Great indie folk. Voice like a theramin, that Eloise.

Click here to sample Arlt (formerly Sing Sing and Eloise).
Click here to sample Arlt.

75020 PARIS



RED ( )

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dean and Britta, Herman Dune, theDO, Mum, Of Montreal and more

Note: new material posted in the calendar/picks for December. Some great shows: click here

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Do

Dec. 4, La Maroquinerie, 17,70 euros
Olivia B.Merilahti and Dan Levy are thedø. This part Finnish, part French duo remind me of Smog, but with Cat Power Chan Marshall's vocals if they were higher pitched and directed into poppier ditties. There's a rumor of Bjork in there too. Their slightly off-kilter low-fi pop songs are contagious. Check it out.
The show at La Maroquinerie is complet/sold out. But there are almost always people selling tickets there before the show. Another resource for finding tickets is the forum section of ""
Formerly "Parisnormale: Paris Rocks"