Gone No Longer

We’re in desperate need of some good news right now.  With the coronavirus still raging, the economy still in shambles, our political leadership flirting with the notion of a democracy-ending coup as a fun lark, and a looming climate catastrophe that nobody seems willing to deal with, our beaten-down spirits crave some positive development to sustain us.  If that should tie in somehow to the holiday season, that traditionally festive time that seems gloomier than ever this year, so much the better.  And thus it was that this week, the news came that our prayers had been answered, and an honest-to-goodness holiday miracle had occurred.

They found the lost footage to The Muppet Christmas Carol.

If you saw that movie when it was first released in 1992, you may remember a musical number entitled “When Love Is Gone.”  It’s the mournful ballad sung by Belle as she leaves Young Ebenezer, realizing that another idol has displaced her.  It was a memorable part of the film in its theatrical release, and in its initial VHS release, but when it was time to issue the film on DVD somebody somewhere decided to edit out that section of the film on the basis of it being too “emotionally sophisticated” for its target audience.  At some point in this process, the original film negative was lost, so until now the musical number has existed only as a tantalizing memory.  Last week’s news, that the negative was discovered in the BBC archives and would be part of a new reissue of the film, was met with jubilation that this lost footage would finally be seen after decades.

Which is weird, because my family has had this footage for years.

By which I mean that we owned one of those early VHS copies of the film that did contain “When Love Is Gone,” as it appeared in the original theatrical release.  Whenever I was home for the holidays, that film would go into the good ol’ VCR as we trimmed the Christmas tree.  (Pro tip: for a good five hour block of tree-trimming time, schedule a musical Christmas Carol marathon with the Muppets, the Albert Finney Scrooge, and Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  Order’s up to you.) It never occurred to us that this footage wasn’t appearing in other people’s copy of the film.  Never occurred to us that VHS technology would eventually become obsolete, the machinery to play the cassettes no longer functional.  Never occurred to us that something we were actively watching each year could conceivably be lost.

I mean, come on.  Saying that you’ve discovered “lost film footage” implies that you’ve finally found London After Midnight or the original nine-hour edit of Von Stroheim’s Greed.  Not a film from 1992.  We’re not talking about some lost icon from my childhood – I was in college when the film came out, dammit!  That can’t possibly be enough time for any footage to become lost!  And yet, when I sit down and do the math, the cold hard reality stares me in the face.  There are children born today whose parents are too young to have seen The Muppet Christmas Carol as it originally appeared in theaters.

Until now, that is. I don’t know when the restored footage is getting released, and I certainly don’t know when we’ll all get to set foot in a theater again.  But when we’re finally allowed back, then if Muppet Christmas Carol gets a theatrical re-release then I’ll be first line to go see it.  That movie may not have come out until ’92, but the Muppets were still childhood idols of mine.  And the nice thing about reliving your childhood for an hour and a half is that, for that brief hour and a half, you don’t have to think about just how dreadfully long ago your childhood actually was.

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