Episode 100: Home Alone (1990)

Introduced by Matt

Home Alone is not for everyone. As much as my dad laughs at Gerald G. Bamman’s indelible portrayal of the miserly Uncle Frank, I’m certain it’s not entirely his cup of tea—though I do cherish the memory of him taking me to see Home Alone 2: Lost in New York at the old ABC Cinema in Darlington way back in 1992, when I was just 10. I grasp why Kevin‘s petulant screaming—stinging his baby face with aftershave, dashing about with arms a-flailin’, forever smugly addressing himself, and breaking the fourth wall grates on some—particularly when juxtaposed with writer/producer, John Hughes’ shade-darker, mostly directorial, teen angst efforts, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Career Opportunities. Even the broadly comedic, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, The Great Outdoors, and Uncle Buck are arguably a notch higher on the black humour scale. Home Alone‘s Three Stooges-esque slapstick is more akin to elements of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, or the visual gag-heavy, Baby’s Day Out, and is perhaps an acquired taste. In spite of Home Alone‘s Simpsons-esque, dual-layered, grown-ups and nippers-appeasing approach, filmmakers such as Kevin Smith—who considers Hughes (who sadly died at just 59) a heroic mentor of sorts—believe he crossed a dividing line, separating his more credible, personal work from Home Alone‘s unapologetic, physical farce.

Perhaps it’s a case of understanding who the intended target audience is. Siskel & Ebert were hapless as ever in their nineties television coverage, exhibiting a shameless inability—or unwillingness, to transport their middle-aged meat jackets back into mini Gene and wee Rog’s shoes, to view Home Alone as eight-year-old, Kevin McCallister’s fantasy wish fulfillment—a dreamy depiction of a childhood reverie. The slightly scary, fisheye-lensed storm sequence, which eerily resembles a Sam Raimi film, with Kevin hoping to never see his family again hammers this home. We feel mystical forces are at play in order to grant him his desires. This detail in particular reminded me of Sarah in Labyrinth, in the, “be careful what you wish for” sense, as their hasty requests are both, suddenly—on a whim, supernaturally granted, and subsequently turn out to be the last thing the younglings really want. Then, amidst all the remorse and guilt, each character must embark upon an arduous quest—to survive, and eventually learn a valuable lesson about family, and themselves.

Marv takes on the guise of these aged critics when he dismissively blurts out, “He’s a kid. Kids are stupid.” Home Alone is a comment on how boys and girls aren’t stupid—they’re often anything but. As a youngster, it tells you you’re not daft—kids can often outsmart adults. Home Alone is a film where, for the most part, the adults are scatterbrained and infantile, make enormous errors in judgement, are immoral, or flat-out degenerate thieves—but the kids are perceptive and articulate. Yes, they’re little smart alecks, and overly mean here and there— but they’re also creative, resourceful, and funny. It’s a movie that celebrates children—though admittedly, they can be ruthless little monsters. Teaching English in Korea is humbling, and has taught me to be in awe of them. They often work harder than I ever did, and this is one reason why juniors respond to Home Alone, and the adults who grew up watching it, retain such a soft spot. It’s not purely nostalgia, though—we remember, and treasure the films that dealt out positive affirmations when our budding brains were still forming.

“I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room… if you were growing… on my ass!

Buzz, Home Alone

I can’t wrap my head around the fact that two of my top three films of all time—Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Shining, were shot back-to-back—or perhaps simultaneously, on the same sound stages at Elstree. It’s one of those baffling magic tricks that can only happen in cinema. How could it be that geographically, the snake-filled Well of Souls is also the Overlook? It bends my mind every time I think about it; and similarly, I can’t quite comprehend that the 671 Lincoln Avenue interiors aren’t from the same suburban mansion sold to us in the on location establishing shots. I’ve probably seen Home Alone fifty times, but my disbelief is still—to this day, consistently suspended. I believe it’s the house every single time, and not the abandoned New Trier Township High School, where it was in fact filmed. My hat is forever off to John Muto, the production designer. Praising his art direction is crucial, as the whole piece genuinely feels like an all singing, all dancing Christmas card—the way red and green are used, the textures, the warmth, and of course, Julio Macat’s festive cinematography. John Williams’ score is always an indispensable secret weapon, but really the design is paramount in achieving a magic yuletide feel. Out of my top three, go-to Crimbo selections, Die Hard, Gremlins, and Home Alone, it’s certainly the most conventionally Christmassy pick of the bunch. It still jingles those bells, and draws out emotions and memories of Christmases past.

Noel in South Korea is not really a huge deal—although it’s getting there, and even when partners, or the foreigner collective try to make it so, we often fall short. In my mind, when Kevin awakens on December 25th, and it’s softly snowing outside—my, probably idealised memories of how childhood Christmases felt, come flooding back. When I was his age, waking up criminally early, watching my telly until it reached a sensible enough hour to bother my parents, and venture downstairs together to open our gifts together. Those picturesque Christmases we may have been fortunate enough to experience as bairns can never be paralleled. In fact, many of us spend our whole lives chasing them, and the closest we can hope to get, is when we start our own families, and watch our weans dig into pressies in our places. I suspect that’s why Home Alone clicks as a key hand-me-down picture that folks in their thirties and forties re-gift—even in other, far-flung countries and cultures. I teach Korean students who are familiar with all these movies—not just the first two superior Macaulay entries, but the entire, done to death Home Alone series.

PS Here’s the official Scarious Artists Merry Christmas, You Filthy Animal drinking game. Any Fullers out there, go easy on the eggnog—the rubber sheets are packed.

You know HorrOctober and Noirvember? Merry Chrisember! 🎄 is like that, but for the holiday season—with a fashionably late Thanksgiving classic, a cavalcade of Christmastime crackers, and some New Year’s resolutions.

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