Wednesday, December 21, 2016

“More of Gravy than of Grave” | Patrick Stewart (1999)



Index of other entries in The Christmas Carol Project

The TNT Christmas Carol did some pre-work on Jacob Marley back in the very first scene, so I was curious to see if that pays off with Marley's appearance here. Patrick Stewart's Scrooge is best characterized as isolated and lonely. That's something that he's apparently welcomed, but it doesn't seem to have always been the case. He showed emotion at Marley's funeral and expressed at least a deep respect for his friend and partner, if not actual fondness. So how is he going to react to Marley now?

With shock, initially, of course. Marley's face appears as Scrooge is approaching the door to unlock it. There's some CG at work, but it's not as blatant as the Muppets version. Marley's face morphs and grows out of the knocker, but the image is formed out of mist. It's clear that we're looking at a face, but its a face that's being thrust here from another world. Even Marley's scream is distant and barely audible. Scrooge can't believe what he's seeing. He says Marley's name aloud, but there's doubt in his eyes. He looks back at the street as if to see if someone's playing a trick on him and his slow "humbuuug" has a tone like, "You're not fooling me..." Even if he's talking to his own mind.

The interior of the house is clean and spartan and there's writing on a wall that I can't quite make out, but looks like it could be a directory of office tenants in the building. If that's right, it's a great touch. He goes upstairs (no hearse or any other spookiness) to his room, but he doesn't search it right away. He gives the interior a good look, but then just hangs up his hat and lights his fire. When he hears some old-house noises though, he gets a little spooked and checks out a tiny closet/lumber room. It's empty, so Scrooge hums a satisfied "mmm," as if to say, "I thought as much."

The scene cuts to him in his dressing gown, double-locking the door to the hallway before pouring himself a watery bowl of gruel. He eats in silence until the Dutch tiles around his fireplace catch his eye. A face on one of the tiles turns into Marley's face (but still drawn in the style of the tile art; very cool) and turns to glare at Scrooge. On another tile, the entire scene becomes Marley's face (still in that same art style). Scrooge blinks and burps, trying to remove pressure from the upset stomach he believes is causing him to see things.

And hear things, because after that the servant's bell starts to clang on its own before being joined by other, unseen bells and then suddenly going quiet again. Far off from somewhere else in the house, a large door opens and Scrooge hears the clunk of footsteps and the clank of chains coming nearer. He sets down his bowl and scooches back in his chair, away from the hallway door that he now can't take his eyes off. The camera moves outside for a ghost's eye view as something comes up the stairs and moves toward the door. Back inside, Scrooge stands up and whispers that he won't believe it.

In another CG effect, Marley morphs through the door like Kitty Pryde. He's all-white and see-through and a strange wind is clearly blowing his hair. Scrooge gasps and jerks back, trying to hide in a corner, but he recovers enough to question the ghost and start the conversation.

Marley looks cool. Bernard Lloyd has a full head of hair and the bandage is wide enough to cover his entire chin and jaw. He looks stylish and purposeful. He carries himself sort of like a cowboy, moving his chains out of the way like Clint Eastwood moves a poncho. He even has an Eastwood squint. These are interesting choices and create a very confident Marley.

Stewart is awesome too, of course. There's doubt in his eyes as he shakes his head. Marley picks up on it. "You don't believe in me." Scrooge goes back to eating his comforting gruel as he explains his indigestion and what he thinks it's doing to him. The action gives him courage, so by the time he gets to "gravy than of grave" he's sneering and adds a mocking, "Jacob!"

This causes Marley to lose his cool. He stands and screams and unties his bandage, which has the apparently unintended effect of causing his jaw to open to an unnatural degree (thanks to more CG). Scrooge has to actually walk over and help Marley shut his mouth. It's this action that seems to help Scrooge overcome his disbelief. So he asks Marley about why he's come.

From here, their conversation is a discussion between equals. And friendly ones at that. I can feel something of their old partnership, with Marley's concernedly warning Scrooge and Scrooge's asking insightful questions. It's a lovely scene with masterful acting. Marley is appropriately heart-broken about his own condition; Scrooge is perfect in not understanding why Marley's being punished. Scrooge doesn't even acknowledge his own guilt so much as concede that Marley at least believes in it.

Because it's so important to Marley, Scrooge is curious about the "chance and hope" that Marley's offering him, but quickly becomes disinterested when he learns that it involves three more ghosts. This Marley is true to Dickens and schedules the coming spirits over a three night period. Scrooge sighs as if he's merely steeling himself for a meeting with an unpleasant client. I think he's enjoyed this visit from his old friend, but he still doesn't really believe it's happening.

Marley reties his bandage with a sickening clack and I realize that it's the tightness of the bandage that was causing him to squint earlier. He walks over to the window, which opens itself, and points outside. When Scrooge goes over, he sees the host of phantoms. Some of them are flying in formation like a giant school of fish, but others are closer and seem to be beckoning to Scrooge. He watches as one, lone ghost - shackled to a huge safe - flies down to the street where a mother and her young child huddle in the cold. The ghost holds his hands out to them, but it's not perfectly clear what he's trying to do until Marley explains it. His message finished, he flies out too to join the stragglers who are making their way to the school of phantoms.

Alone again, Scrooge is contemplative about his experience. It's not clear if he believes any of it, but he's not even trying to convince himself with a "humbug."

1 comment:

Caffeinated Joe said...

We actually watched this one last night. It is a favorite, so well done and Stewart is amazing.

In watching this scene, I commented that I wondered if Marley was a bit (or a lot) jealous that Scrooge gets this chance to avoid the fate Marley is bound to. Something about the performance, or the interplay between the two, brought up some sort of sympathy for poor, dead Marley.

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