As contrived and endearing as the Christmas songs it celebrates, Mitchell Kezin’s personal documentary Jingle Bell Rocks! follows the 47-year-old Vancouver filmmaker on a journey around North America, tracking down collectors, creators and lovers of kitschy, non-religious Christmas songs (devotees of the genre are both Jewish and gentile).
A stagey beginning sees the shambling director-star wandering into a Los Angeles vintage-record store just before closing time and stumbling across a treasure trove of Christmas vinyl. From there, things settle down to a pilgrimage of kindred spirits, as Kezin seeks out DJs, musicians and fans who keep this sub-genre of novelty songs alive.
The addiction, says Kezin, began with his childhood identification with the Nat King Cole rendition of The Little Boy That Santa Forgot. Kezin has a tendency to overplay the pathos, though another key song for him was Miles Davis’s 1962 anti-Christmas record with singer-lyricist Bob Dorough, Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern). The song has a distinctly anti-celebratory message: “When you’re blue at Xmas time / You see through all the waste / All the sham, all the haste / And plain old bad taste … It’s a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy.”
Dorough, 50 years later, is one of the film’s subjects here, along with director and kitsch-collector John Waters, Joseph Simmons (of Run-DMC), El Vez (Hispanic Elvis impersonator who sings Santa is Sometimes Brown), and Calypso royalty Mighty Sparrow.
If Kezin is lucky, the film will enjoy the same fate as the handful of Christmas songs that have stuck like pine needles in the carpet and become a perennial seasonal phenomenon.