'Jingle Bell Rocks': Film Review

Jingle Bell Rocks Still - H 2014
Jeff Henschel

Jingle Bell Rocks Still - H 2014

A very personal look at an eccentric hobby

These vinyl junkies are crazy for Christmas

A surprisingly bittersweet doc about record collectors whose passion is obscure holiday music, Mitchell Kezin's Jingle Bell Rocks has less in common with the jaunty '50s tune it is named for than with one it never mentions: the lonesome piano theme Vince Guaraldi played for Charlie Brown's Christmas. As the director (whose own Yule mania emerged from sad childhood memories) seeks out others who share his passion, viewers witness not just some of the strangest holiday music ever recorded, but a kind of group therapy whose participants work to remake the annual consumerist ritual as something personally fulfilling. Though its audience is a niche one, the film should resonate with many viewers as it makes its way cross-country in these final days before Santa time is over.

First-time filmmaker Kezin wrangles a pro-grade stable of interviewees, with celebs from John Waters to the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne popping up to recount their own formative memories of the holiday. (Waters, as you'd expect, offers a doozy.) He's more aligned, though, with obsessives like himself, men who haunt thrift shops and dig through boxes buried in record stores' storage areas to find gems like "Close Your Mouth, It's Christmas" and Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa." These connoisseurs know that Guaraldi was far from the only musician with an ear for Christmas heartache, and they blend the merry with the sad on annual look-what-I-found mix CDs.

In between tangents about race (El Vez and Run-D.M.C.'s "Run" Simmons remind us Santa isn't always white) and the Flaming Lips' Christmas on Mars movie, we spend most of our time digging into two singles with special significance to Kezin: the charmingly disillusioned "Blue Xmas," written and sung by Bob Dorough for Miles Davis, and Nat "King" Cole's take on the weepy tale "The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot." Both songs will be new to many viewers, and both lead to highlight scenes in a film whose surprisingly personal angle keeps it from being just one more novelty doc about an eccentric subculture.

Production companies: Eyesteel Film, Mabooshi Film Company

Director-screenwriter: Mitchell Kezin

Producers: Mila Aung-Thwin, Bob Moore, Mitchell Kezin

Executive producers: Daniel Cross, Murray Battle, Robin Smith, Jeff Kline

Directors of photography: Mark Ellam, Van Royko, Kirk Tougas

Editor: Ryan Mullins