'Happy Tyme' is one to see at Nevada City Film Festival
"My personal favorite of the festival" - that's what Jason Graham said about "The Santa Claus Happy Tyme Show." Maybe the guy who runs the 5th Nevada City Film Festival shouldn't declare his favorite. Nonetheless, notable out of about 90 nationwide entries and the couple of dozen short films chosen to show at the Magic Theatre, "Happy Tyme" is a satirical kick in the pants.
As the head of a corporate empire, Santa Claus greedily exploits his workers. When he cuts their pay in half a second time, one employee remarks, "Last time, I had to give up eating. This time I'll have to give up drinking." To avert a strike, Santa Claus bribes the union leader, Frosty the Snowman. The employees get wise to Frosty's corrupt behavior. The Snowman tries to escape in a car reminiscent of James Bond's Austin Martin in "Goldfinger," and the car chase, like so much in the film, is a hoot.
During the 30-minute short, writer and director Alex George weaves in several other movie references, such as "The Wizard of Oz" and "E.T." He has made a primitive gem of a movie - primitive, as in deliberately dorky, elaborately invested in low-tech special effects, and shamelessly devoted to derivative storytelling. Oh, yes, all the characters are marionettes - actually, a playful insult to marionettes.
What starts out looking like some pointed political lambasting devolves into a lightweight swipe at anything in its mischievously crafted path. "The Santa Claus Happy Tyme Show" is cinematic art. Please, leave your pretensions at the door.
There will be more about the 5th Nevada City Film Festival in the weeks ahead, but it is not too soon to begin talking about this maturing event. From Oct. 7-9, expect higher production values and a well-realized array of independent filmmaking visions, not to mention the too-rare opportunity to see short-form cinema.