Running time: 11m 00s
Source film: 16mm; b&w; sound
Production: Encyclopaedia Britannica Films; Milan Herzog
Music: Charles Henry
Loneliness, sugar crashes, and increased alcohol consumption can all exacerbate the blue feelings that many people feel during the winter holiday season. As evidenced by the sad musings of the central character in the 1948 short Christmas Rhapsody, it can also be a real thing for at least one species of evergreen tree.
Partially adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Fir Tree, the film employs strangely self-obsessed narration from the perspective of a small fir tree that relates its self-worth to its size and potential for use by enterprising humans. While the neighboring trees “stand tall and proud” to collect snow on their branches and reach skyward for sunshine, this sulking misfit lurks in the shade like some sort of arboreal Joy Division fan, wallowing in self-pity and manufactured misery. It is only when the tree is severed from its root system and dragged through the snow by its stump that it reveals any sense of joy (some might call it masochism). A nearby family uses it as a Christmas tree, and decorates it appropriately with ornaments, tinsel, and a star-shaped top. Indeed: death by decoration! The poor sap will probably be dried out, chopped up, and used for firewood in a few weeks’ time.
Considering its limited narrative scope and meager budget, the camera work is good for a short film and contributes to its overall polish. Of note are the various long shots of the wintry landscape, with distant mountain peaks jutting out from behind the tree line. According to several crusty old film catalogs and a note in an archives guide at the Harvard Film Archive — for a collection coincidentally processed by Archival Eye contributor Tricia P.! — these bright exterior shots were captured on location in Brighton, Utah. The Yuletide choral music arranged by Charles Henry adds another layer of production sheen to what might have otherwise been a much duller final product. A quirky holiday watch that should inspire some eggnog-fueled riffing.