Christmas is the most sedentary of the holidays. This, obviously, is a good thing. After all, the occasional brief Boxing Day stroll aside, who wants to do much more than sit solidly on a sofa for what feels like an eternity, living off Maltesers, small bottles of living room temperature beer, and the saccharine sustenance that only Christmas films offer?
American cable broadcaster Lifetime Movies have the seasonal cinema game on lock, and a forthcoming book It’s a Wonderful Lifetime is an engaging behind the scenes examination of how the channel’s festive wares are put together.
Assigned by A+E Networks, seven female photographers — Caroline Tompkins, Eva O’Leary, Heather Sten, Elizabeth Weinberg, Alana Paterson, Katie Sadie, and Bettina Strauss — spent time on the set of campy potential-future-classics like A Very Nutty Christmas, Jingle Belle, and Santa’s Boots.
What emerges is a series of photo essays, designed into a publication by StudioMM that explore the pleasurable plasticity of movie making in the modern age. With lenses turned toward “the actors, the crew, the tinsel, and the snow-covered trees,” as the book’s introduction puts it, each of the photographers has captured the oddly heavy sense of time’s very weight that seems to hang over movie sets; these are spaces where hours and hours are spent preparing for what amounts to mere seconds, or in some cases slithers of seconds, on screen.
That isn’t to say that the work compiled in It’s a Wonderful Lifetime feels at all dreary. Eva O’Leary’s portraits of Melissa Joan Hart on the set of the aforementioned Very Nutty Christmas are soft-focused studies of semi-stardom, while Heather Sten documents the on-screen (and on set) reunion of Sister, Sister stars Tia Mowry and Tim Reid as they shoot My Christmas Inn with an unflinching sense of clarity.
In laying bare the artifice of both the film industry and Christmas itself, It’s a Wonderful Lifetime becomes a useful document of the machinations that go into making the season what it is. From shelf-stackers and sprout-farmers to best boys and boom mechanics, each of us plays a part in the chintzy charm that is Christmas.