It is, despite the big day being over a month away, that most wonderful time of year again. Supermarkets have begun lining their shelves with sweet treats and sparkly decorations, the eager beavers have got their trees up and the Scrooges have already started grumbling. Now, other than Turkey, tinsel, presents and carols, nothing is quite so Christmassy as a bloody good film. Yet despite this, it is rather difficult to define what a good Christmas film really is. For many, it is the classic combination of humour, cute kids and heartwarming endings. For some, however, it is about magic, about the special worlds and creatures that never seem more possible than at Christmas. They could be dark, too. Let’s be honest, the happy, happy, happy world of bright lights and saccharine songs can all get too much for some before the 25th even hits, so something with a bit of bite could be just the fix. So for this Christmas, Picturehouse Cinemas, across all of their 23 UK venues, including York’s own CityScreen, have laid on an array of alternative (and some not so alternative) Christmas treats. This special season is titled The Enchanted Screen: A Season of Folk and Fairy Tale Films.
To showcase the variety of films in the season, Picturehouse have spread them across the same regular strands that are always rolling across their cinemas. In the always enticing “Vintage Sundays” strand, we have the biggest selection of films. In a world of remakes and reboots, we’re going back to the classics of fairy tale cinema, with Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête and Disney’s original cartoon version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Another old-school classic back where it belongs on the big screen is Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, another fairytale referencing work that has been critically acclaimed for decades. One of the highlights picked out by Picturhouse is the East German film The Singing Ringing Tree, probably one of the lesser known films in the programme. Francesco Stefani’s work, based on a Brothers Grimm story, was once shown on British 1960s TV in mini-series form. Here, it presents an intriguing selection in a season that’s full of them.
With a meticulously created and enchanting magical world mixed with dark horror elements and a hard political context, [Pan’s Labyrinth] is possibly one of the most frequently and widely acclaimed films of the season.
This is not, of course, an entirely obscure arthouse Christmas being laid on by Picturehouse, there is more traditional family fare in the “Kids’ Club” strand. The outrageously popular karaoke favourite Frozen is of course getting a screening, as is one of the modern era’s most beloved animations, the all-star voiced Shrek. For the even younger audience members of the “Toddler Time” strand, there is the double-bill of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, with an enticing voice cast including James Corden, Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter.
With this more mainstream selection and traditional cinema focus in mind, it is exciting to see a scheduled cinecast screening of the Royal Opera House’s The Nutcracker. For more alternative festive treats, the only piece being given its own “Special Screening” is a complete run of the 1984 BBC series The Box of Delights, the kind of thing we rarely get to see on the big screen.
Perhaps the most exciting parts of the programme are in the arthouse and cult strands “Discover Tuesdays” and “Culture Shock”. Among them are the entirely unconnected Labyrinth and Pan’s Labyrinth. The latter, for many, still represents the highpoint of dark fairy tale connoisseur Guillermo del Toro’s career. With a meticulously created and enchanting magical world mixed with dark horror elements and a hard political context, this is possibly one of the most frequently and widely acclaimed films of the season. Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, meanwhile, has the late, great David Bowie in one of his most famous performances. With goblins and a literal labyrinth, it will hopefully provide the very enchantment Picturehouse are going for. There is then of course, the most wonderful Edward Scissorhands. One of the most accessible and beloved films of Tim Burton’s career, it is a brilliant gothic fairy tale with a suitable snowy ending.
Varied, exciting, genuinely different and, yes, enchanting, this is a season that seems well worth a look.