With impressive animated sequences, it’s a doc as accomplished as it is infectious. 

click to enlarge JBR-MitchellKezin.jpg

So wide is the appeal for Jingle Bell Rocks! that the documentary can be embraced by Christmas-music fanatics and foes alike. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, its subject is virtually inescapable to the ears of America’s shoppers, drivers and diners, yet what tickles the tympanic membrane of one tortures another. While lending credence to both groups, the film unmistakably stands on the side of letting such sounds snow.

For those inclined to agree — at a rate between 33 1/3 and 45 rpm, of course — you better not stall, and I’m telling you why: Jingle Bell Rocks! (exclamation point theirs, yet well-earned) has a single showing scheduled at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Truth be told, once is all you need to be put in That Holiday Mood.

The film’s audience surrogate is also its director, writer and producer, Mitchell Kezin. To say he’s (chest)nuts over holiday harmonies is an understatement; the man collects seasonal slabs of vinyl and polycarbonate plastic like a skid-row prostitute does STDs.

In this, his first feature, he operates as host as he travels cross-country to talk with fellow collectors, as well as creators of timeless classics and outright obscurities.

Among them are cult filmmaker John Waters (Hairspray), who shared his love for oddball, tinsel-strewn tunes with the masses via the 2004 compilation album A John Waters Christmas; Run-D.M.C.’s Joseph “Reverend Run” Simmons, who recounts how he wrote the 1987 charity track “Christmas in Hollis” (forever immortalized in Die Hard) over a spliff and eggs; and, representing the Sooner State in his inimitable way, The Flaming Lips ringleader Wayne Coyne, whose mother’s unreliable TV memories led the alt-rock iconoclast to birth the 2008 DIY sci-fi film Christmas on Mars, whose soundtrack album is certainly the only to contain such Yuletide gems as “The Gleaming Armament of Marching Genitalia” and “In Excelsior Vaginalistic”).

All this, plus novelty DJ Dr. Demento, Schoolhouse Rock! songwriter Bob Dorough, Hispanic Elvis impersonator El Vez, married indie-rock act Low, unsung easy-poppers The Free Design and many more.

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Bringing a side dish of gravitas to the party is Kezin’s own narrative about how his Christmas-music obsession is fueled by hole-in-his-heart memories of hearing and interpreting the Nat King Cole ballad “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” as a child pining for his absentee father. His bittersweet recollections culminate in a moment that gives Rocks! a climax that can be forgiven for feeling a little forced because Kezin has accumulated so much goodwill in the interim.

With impressive animated sequences, it’s a doc as accomplished as it is infectious.

Ironically — even cruelly — the film has no soundtrack disc of its own, and only the Scroogiest among viewers won’t want one. Prepare for a trip to your nearest Guestroom Records location to assemble an aural souvenir companion album yourself, track by track. (Remember: Torrent sites are for Grinches.)

Print headline: Bell a ball, O come all ye faithful to the early stocking stuffer that is Jingle Bell Rocks!, a merry little documentary devoted to loony Christmas tunes.

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Rod Lott

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