The date: 22nd February, 1895. In the outskirts of Lyon, France, Louis Lumière placed a camera in front of Building 25 Rue St. Victor, Montplaisir, and began to record. This 46-second footage, entitled La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon) was the first film ever created. The Lumière brothers saw film as nothing more than a novelty, and in 1905 they retired from the film-making business. We can only imagine their reactions as their humble invention went on to capture the public imagination, as the first masterpieces of film-making emerged; Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune in 1902, Victor Fleming’s Gone With the Wind in 1939, and, in 1941 Orson Welles’ magnum opus, Citizen Kane. Welles’ masterpiece would not be bettered for another 70 years. On the 8th November, 2011 Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure was released. Straight to DVD.
When considering the concept of the greatest film of all time, it is first necessary to question what it is that makes a film truly great. Films in the past have been judged by such aspects as story structure, cinematography or soundtrack, however, this will not be useful for this essay. Art such as this cannot be coldly analysed without considering the message the film is trying to convey. While some would describe the film-making techniques, cinematography and soundtrack as “bad”, “bland”, or “so unremarkable that there is literally nothing to write about in an essay” (1), they are simply missing the point of the film. Therefore, in this essay I will provide a commentary on this masterpiece, analysing not just the screenplay and the events of the story, but the effects they have on the viewer.
We open with ghostly, ethereal music playing over the Universal logo instead of the classic theme, the first indication of the damning condemnation of capitalism which serves as one of the central themes in this film. This is followed by a crude animation, over which the events of the film are set up, narrated by John Cleese. There’s a lot to unpack in this scene, but we’ll start with the obvious dystopian bureaucratic society of the North Pole. Henry wants to be a toy-making elf but is soon told to give up on his dreams and tend to the reindeer. Henry’s desire to rebel and his inability to conform to the rules of the bureaucratic society in which he lives is strongly reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian masterpiece Brazil, the entire story of which Putch (Fig 1) manages to fit into the prologue of this film. Beethoven: 1, Gilliam: 0.
Even in this scene, however, there is more going on than would first appear. In this scene, Putch employs meta-cinematic techniques in order to humbly acknowledge the place that Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure holds in Western culture. The rhyming clearly evokes the epic poems of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey, acknowledged by many as the foundation of Western literature. The next stage of fiction, the novel, is represented by the ornate, leather-bound book that this story is being ‘read’ from. ‘You’ve seen the fiction of the past…’ Putch appears to be saying, ‘…Now welcome to the future’ (2).
Having established that this film represents the evolution of storytelling as we know it, we arrive in Woodhaven, Minnesota, United States of America, Earth (3), three days before Christmas. Putch wastes no time in beginning his attack on capitalism, with the first lines spoken by our hero, Mason, being “Hot chocolate is low in fat and 100% organic… At least… Not really…”, in a vain attempt to sell said beverage to the indifferent pedestrians walking by. The subtext of this scene is clear: Mason is unhappy selling hot chocolate because he has realised that money is nothing more than a social construct, created to keep the people of the world in check; a sentiment clearly brought about by the financial crisis a few years prior to the release of this film. As people walk past Mason, they don’t even acknowledge him, let alone buy a hot chocolate. It is clear from the beginning that Mason is a man adrift; people may be everywhere around him, but he himself is isolated. As Mason contemplates his lonely place in a cruel, uncaring world, his mother appears with a friendly St. Bernard named Beethoven. After a brief conversation in which we learn that Mason’s mother is grossly flouting child labour laws and Mason just loves his darn video games, Beethoven is left with Mason.
This is the seventh (seventh!!!) film in the Beethoven franchise, and it was firmly established in the previous film, Beethoven’s Big Break, that the Beethoven we were presented with before is nothing more than a cruel lie, where Beethoven is revealed to be an actor. Putch takes this one step further; Beethoven has sold his soul and is only in Woodhaven to film an advert. Noted author David Foster Wallace wrote eloquently against this style of ironic postmodernism in his essay ‘E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction’. If there is one thing we can take away from the quality of Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure, therefore, it is this; David Foster Wallace was wrong.
Mason wastes no time in exploiting Beethoven’s celebrity status for his own profit, selling photos with the dog – without the consent of his owners – for five dollars. This exploitation of the culture of consumerism is soon interrupted, however, when Beethoven is distracted by a flying elf who crashes nearby, played by Kyle Massey, star of the acclaimed television drama Corey in the House.
Henry decides to prove that he is a real magic elf by licking a candy-cane which lets him speak to dogs. Naturally. When he lists the animals that the various sweets allow him to talk to, he lists ‘bank executive’. This is another example of the Altiere brothers’ subtle social commentary; for you see Henry is listing animals, an example of which is ‘bank executive’. So in saying this, he is saying that a bank executive is an animal, i.e. not a person. Because he is listing animals. And bank executive is on the list. The list of animals. You see? It’s very subtly done, a moment that moves by so quickly most audience members didn’t even notice it. This continues the film’s social commentary of the 2007 financial crisis, by suggesting that bank executives are not, in fact, people. This is very funny. Down with capitalism. Seize the means of production. All Hail Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure.
It is here that Mason asks Henry whether all elves can talk to animals, to which Henry responds that they can, while also claiming to be a toy-making elf, rather than a stable elf. It is clear by this point why the pair are drawn together: they are both pathological liars. The very first time we meet Mason, he is lying about the health benefits of drinking his hot chocolate, and he goes on to lie to Henry about his exploitation of Beethoven. Further evidence of this comes later into the film when Mason tries to convince his mother that Henry is a real-life Christmas elf; rather than challenge this insane-sounding claim, she simply accepts that this is just another of Mason’s many lies. She doesn’t believe him, she just wearily accepts that the real world is too much for Mason to deal with. A lot of this stems from the fact that she clearly murdered her husband, leading to Mason’s slowly fracturing mental state, which in turn leads to his compulsion to burn down buildings. But more on this later, let’s check in with the brilliantly-named villain, Smirch.
Smirch steals toys so that he doesn’t have to pay any money for them. Smirch sells these toys to make more money. His character motivation is that he wants money. His flaw is how much he wants money. His driving characteristic is that he loves money. The Wolf of Wall Street was released two years later. Coincidence? I’ll leave that up to you. But it’s not. Martin Scorsese is a hack.
After Smirch exploits some of his customers to get more money, he drives off to rob another toy store (in broad daylight, naturally), so that he can sell the toys for money. He finds Santa’s magical toy sack, and where does his mind go? Well gosh darn, would you believe it, it goes to money! Smirch is a well-rounded, three-dimensional character that it took two screenwriters to write for, combining the callous ruthlessness of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men with the manic humour of The Joker, one of the greatest movie villains of all time, played to perfection by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. Yes, I’m fully aware that that was a 57-word long run-on sentence that doesn’t read well. And I don’t care. This essay is almost definitely full of mistakes, and I refuse to correct any of them. What’re you going to do, stop reading this essay about Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure? Yes, good idea. Save yourself while you still can.
So back to Henry, what’s he up to? Well, he’s living in Mason’s garage, a clear reference to the nativity story, leading us to believe that Henry represents the Virgin Mary. Also, Beethoven is Jesus, fuck it, why not? I think it’s around here that they nearly burn the house down, but if I’m really honest I can’t remember, and I’m not going to check now because I think it would actually bring me to tears. Either way, Mason was the one who started the fire. I can’t remember how, but trust me, it’s definitely his fault. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Anyway, there’s a chase scene later on, in which Henry literally steals from a child, and it’s played off as a joke. This scene culminates in a homage to Buster Keaton’s 1928 silent film Steamboat Bill, Jr. There is literally no reason for this to happen, but I need to fill my word count, and I felt like mentioning it. Plus I like Steamboat Bill, Jr. It is a masterpiece of silent cinema, and I’d much rather be writing about it than Beethoven’s ChristmasAdventure. Jeg trodde jeg ville skrive denne setningen på norsk, bare for moro skyld.
Several months later…
I haven’t written anything on this essay for several months because I got sick of it, and I had actual work to do. But here I am again. Like a lamb to the slaughter.
To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure. The humour is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche most of the jokes will go over a typical viewer’s head. There’s also Beethoven’s nihilistic outlook, which is deftly woven into his characterisation – his personal philosophy draws heavily from the literature of Jean-Paul Sartre, for instance. The fans understand this stuff; they have the intellectual capacity to truly appreciate the depths of these jokes, to realise that they’re not just funny- they say something deep about LIFE. As a consequence, people who dislike Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure truly ARE idiots- of course they wouldn’t appreciate, for instance, the humour in Beethoven’s existential catchphrase “I’m a dog, I still like to lick,” which itself is a cryptic reference to the character of Audrey Horne in the perfect second season of David Lynch’s television epic Twin Peaks, season 2, episode 10. I’m smirking right now just imagining one of those addlepated simpletons scratching their heads in confusion as John Putch’s genius wit unfolds itself on their television screens. What fools… how I pity them.😂 And yes, by the way, I DO have a Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure tattoo. And no, you cannot see it. It’s for the ladies’ eyes only- and even then they have to demonstrate that they’re within 5 IQ points of my own (preferably lower) beforehand. Nothin’ personnel kid 😎.
There’s a lot more that I wanted to write about in this essay, but unfortunately I couldn’t find the time, so I’m just going to list them all of the most mind-blowing, disturbing, and just damn edgy moments in this film, in order to fill the arbitrary word count which has been set for me. All of these things happen in the film. Smirch describes elves as ‘Santa’s little eunuchs’. Mason’s response to the sight of a homeless dog is to shrug and say ‘What do you want me to do about it?’. Beethoven is described as being ‘on loan’ from his owners, suggesting that he, an intelligent, sentient creature, can simply be bought and sold like a commodity. Cooper is severely over-worked by her boss, despite her recent trauma (the same delusional boss who nearly kills her with a lethal X-980 rocket which he plans to sell to children). In the parade scene, several extras look directly into the camera, leaving the fourth wall in tatters. Jason is a manipulative, sociopathic little shit, who tells his mother that “Ever since dad died it’s like you barely pay attention to me at all… It’s like you died too. And you know what, if dad was here… He’d believe me”. The final line of the film is ‘I was wrong! People are crooks! Oh the humanity of it all!’ (4).
So, friend, it would seem we’re reaching the end of the essay. It’s been a long journey, but I hope, nay pray, that we have learned something, not just about Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure, but about ourselves.
I’m not exactly sure what it is we’ve learned, and I’m fairly certain we didn’t even want to learn it. But learn it we did. I’m only adding this short section so that I can reach the arbitrary word count which has been set for me. Okay, that seems to be enough.
In writing this essay, this writer gained a new passion for life and, more importantly, a burning new passion for Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure; this is a film he doesn’t think he can even begin to process within the objective confines of any academic context. It is a film with so many layers, so many different interpretations, that his attitude changes each time he sees it. He can recite the film from memory now. It’s burned into his brain. He can’t even distinguish where his own self ends and the characters of Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure begin.
He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark brown fur of the St. Bernard. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two eggnog-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure.
Happy April Fools’ Day from Spread to the Edges.
- Beethoven’s Big Break (2008), dir. Elliott, M., scr. Rydall, D., Universal Studios
- Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure (2011), dir. Putch, J., scr. Altiere, D. & Altiere, S., Universal International Pictures
- Brazil (1985), dir. Gilliam, T., Scr. Gilliam, T., Stoppard, T. & Mckeown, C., Embassy International Pictures
- Citizen Kane (1941), dir. Welles, O., scr. Mankiewicz, H. J. & Welles, O., Mercury Productions
- Corey in the House (2007-2008), created by Warren, M. & Rinsler, D., Disney Channel
- Euclid (c.300 B.C.) Στοιχεῖα (Elements)
- Gone With the Wind (1939), dir. Fleming, V., scr. Howard, S., Selznick International Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM)
- Homer (8th Century B.C.) Ὀδύσσεια (Odyssey) (Ionia) trans. Rieu, E. V. (1946/1991) London
- Homer (8th Century B.C.) Ἰλιάς (Iliad) (Ionia) trans. Rieu, E. V. (1950/2003) London
- Kant, I. (1781/87) Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason) (Königsberg)
- La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895), dir. Lumière, L. Lumière
- Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902), dir. Méliès, G., scr. Méliès, G., Star-Film
- Orwell, G. (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four (London)
- Lucretius (c. 50 B.C.) De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) (Rome) trans. Stallings, A. E. (2007) London
- No Country for Old Men (2007) dir. Coen, E & Coen, J. (Miramax)
- Salinger, J. D. (1951) The Catcher in the Rye (Boston)
- Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) dir. Keaton, B. & Reisner, C. F. (United Artists)
- Suicide Squad (2016) dir. Ayer, D. (Warner Bros.)
- Twin Peaks (1990-91/2017), created by Frost, M. & Lynch, D., ABC/Showtime
- Wallace, D.F. (1990) ‘E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S Fiction’ in Wallace, D.F. (1997) A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (London), 21-82
- The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) dir. Scorsese, M. (Paramount Pictures)