Shitmas in New Hampshire . . .
How the Hotel New Hampshire Fills Me with the Holiday Spirit
Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a …black dog with a chronic case of flatulence.
You wanted Shitmas. You got Shitmas. A whole goddamn month of it. While your family is out there murdering trees, wasting electricity and increasing their already substantial part of the debt pool, you’ve decided to come here and do a little reading of the tales of Christmases past, woeful holidays gone awry and the burdensome pantomime of better living through strange knock-offs of our classic traditions and rituals schlepped into one great big cinema dirge. I can safely think of no better film to accompany this celebration of off color cinema centered on the 25th of December than the Hotel New Hampshire even if the whole Christmas sequence is only a very small portion of the entire gang bang. Let’s give this the old advent wreath and run the gamut on the malls to discuss this John Irving classic cinematic adaptation (the second adaptation following the World According to Garp).
First off, I didn’t read the book. Think you have the concentration and patience to read? Have children. You too can have a brain filled jelly and the focus of a gnat. This discussion will be of the movie only save that my father told me one great big fact about John Irving stories: They feature motorcycles and bears. That’s wisdom from Papa Terror. The film from 1984 as directed by Tony Richardson, who by the by directed pretty much nothing I ever care see, is the story of family (perfect for your Yuletide merriment to be sure). The Berry family, comprised of five children, two parents, their grandfather and a Sorrow, the family dog open a hotel near a prep school in New England. The story follows the mishaps, haps, follies, revenge and strange occurrences perpetrated by the family as they run their family business, move to Vienna, Austria to open a new hotel, foil a terrorist plot and gain an amazing amount of fame all while suffering from horrific accidents and life lessons that are sure to leave our readers at odds with their own morality and may inspire a few additions to any family holiday table.
The cast is utterly brilliant for a mid-80’s picture. We’ll run them down character by character and give a lil piece of meat for you to nibble on to get familiar with our eccentric fam.
Jodie Foster plays Franny Berry (the daughter) – Franny gets raped by a bunch of frat boy wannabees, is the object of sexual affection by her brother, falls in love with a Black man (I would imagine this is a no no during the 50’s at least by the status quo) and eventually sees herself the as a revolutionary in love with Ernst, a terrorist in Vienna. She also gets famous and makes a run at Hollywood. No fava beans. No chianti. No FBI or Plum Island.
Beau Bridges plays Win Berry (the papa) – Win opens hotel after hotel and seems virtually unaware of the misdeeds and mishaps involving his beloved family,the turmoil he puts them through at the sake of his dream and eventually goes as blind as Freud played by Wallace Shawn (No Death, No Scillians, please). Beau is the most understated Bridges of them all, but we love him just the same. He certainly was a fabulous Baker boy.
Rob Lowe plays John Berry (the son) friends with Franny’s lover, loves his sister. Works out non stop, trained by Grandfather Iowa Bob played by Wilford Brimley and eventually gets to have a one great big clock winding fuck fest with his own sister… Jodie Foster… hey, wouldn’t you? I mean, you could start in St. Elmo’s Fire and try to play the baddy bad guy in Wayne’s World, but first… you gotta fuck Jody Foster for HOURS! Works.
Lisa Banes play the Mother of the Berry clan. She dies in a plane accident with Egg (played by Seth fucking green). Nothing else to say except that this scene actually gets me to well up good and proper. Tragic loss.. Poor Egg.
Seth Green (as a cute little awkward boy) plays Egg Berry (son). He is awkward. Small. Funny. He’s sweet in a dorky way. If you don’t cry when Egg dies you have no heart and you pretty much are guaranteed to have three spirits visit you (and they ain’t Jose, Jack and Johnny). Pull the tissues out of your bras boys and gals.
Jennifer Dundas is Lily (the daughter). Lilly is a dwarf, is exceptionally intelligent, depressed, melancholy and at times enlightening. She eventually writes a successful novel called Trying to Grow then kills herself (she fails the open window test). Ce la vie.
Grandpa Iowa Bob played by Wilfred Brimley (grandpa) is a straight shooter with no time for bullshit, loving grandfather and overall… well… it’s Wilfred Brimely on screen as himself. He isn’t swimming with the elderly, selling you oatmeal or talking to you about the Diabeeetus. His voice is unmistakable and he always seemed like the ideal grandfather. Grandpa Bob bites the dust on Christmas morning… more on that in a sec.
Beyond that we have a few characters to mentioned including Susie the Bear (dressed as a bear throughout most of the movie and is played by the hot Nastassja Kinski daughter of Klaus), Frank (son of Berry’s barely worth mentioning, gay and future agent of Lilly), Miss Miscarriage (played by Amanda Plummer, radical, fuck buddy of Rob Lowe, kills herself), Matthew Modine of Full Metal Jacket fame plays Chip Dove and Ernst in two separate roles both beloved by Franny, rapes Franny and then gets the shit kicked out of him as Chip. As Ernst he plays an abusive radical in Vienna, the love interest of Franny, abuser of Franny and overall shitty guy (hey, this is Shitmas). Personal favorite character is Wallace Shawn as Blind Freud who is a hotel owner in Vienna who eventually gives his life to thwart a terrorist attack and whom Win Berry eventually comes to take his place.
I know that I just went through all the characters and their roles in the film. It’s a lot more fun to tell the story by giving you the back story of each strange relationship rather than trying to provide some kind of meaningful narrative. Perhaps the best thing focus on in the whole picture is the character arcs. How do characters begin to resemble other characters as if their lives were almost fated to end up in some strange archetype predestined by another character? I saw this movie as a kid and pretty much laughed through the whole thing save the Franny rape, the Egg plane crash disaster and the strange “way too happy, everybody who’s dead is together at last” ending. Watching it again older… wiser… I’m pretty sure the whole movie is meant to take a well adjusted individual and knock their hopes and dreams straight on their ass. You have plans. Fuck you, I have plan too. This is the way of fate (maybe if you paid attention in Laurie Strode’s Philosophy class/lit class you you’d know all about fate… Laurie… answer the goddamn question!)
What I love about the Hotel New Hampshire is just how bat shit crazy the whole affair is. One minute a woman is pulling out her teeth to give Rob Lowe a kiss and potentially fellatio, the next Jodie Foster is fucking her brother in a locked hotel room while the family knocks on their door. It’s absurd. You fuck a radical. I’ll fuck the hottie dressed up like a bear. Sooner or later somebody’s gonna be forced to have sex with the motherfuckin’ ground! Kinda sexy but still disturbing. It’s a funny movie that tells jokes out right but would never give you the obvious laugh track to let you know it’s okay to enjoy the black humor. There are moments of sublime sadness. Characters pass on and die with great ease; each death is meaningful but each death opens a door to a great new opportunity and plot device so grand that you can help but enjoy the tragedy. It is the perfect balance between the masks of theater.
And how is the whole damn thing tied into the Christmas holiday that we have come here to celebrate in a most derogatory fashion? On Christmas morning, Rob Lowe and his grandfather, Wilfred Brimley, have gotten together to pump some iron. You see, Rob Lowe hasn’t gotten in Jodie Foster’s panties, but he can see just how Franny looks at the jocks in school including Chip and Junior (the rapists and the revenger). Rob Lowe starts pumping the iron to defend his sister (and most likely to make a run at her vagina as if it were a pennant to be won). Brimley is happy to help out, happy that a member of the Berry family has taken an interest his body. Upon dropping a rather hefty weight on the floor, the weight bangs into a closet door, opening the door and releasing the taxidermied body of Sorrow,the family dog, who had died recently and been stuffed by Frank as a gift to the family. Wilfred Brimley dies of heart attack instantly.
It’s sad. It truly is a tragedy and yet you’ll sort of laugh. I’m not even sure that you fully expect it the whole scene to unfold quite like that. It’s one big pop to the puss when you see the guy who’s the spokesman for healthy living ala oatmeal and keeping your costs down for diabetes get offed by a dead dog.
So this isn’t a happy movie per say, but every Christmas in my family was an excuse to get blitzed, smoke too many cigarettes, gorge on food to handle multiple states of depress and anxiety and reminisce about times passed when things were simpler, happier, less expensive. My uncle threatening to set all of us on fire and nearly pissing in the fridge, telling us he was Orel Hershiser, family fights that felt like they’d never end while you played with He-man toys and Centurion bolt on action figures. How far from that is a bit of incest, revolutionary politics or a Kinski in a bear suit (either Kinski will do)… or toothless, horny women for that matter. Shitmas is every year and if you hold it in your heart throughout the entire year… Well… you hold it somewhere. You just might fail the open window test yourself if your lucky enough. That and a six pack of Troeg beer will certainly make an impression on your front lawn.
Keep passing the open windows…. Oh and “Love floats just like sorrow”.
-Dr. TERROR (Dr. Terror's Blog of Horrors)
NOTE: This Queen song was in fact commissioned for use in the film as was an entire soundtrack to be composed by Queen. This is the only song composed for the picture and was later released. And oh yeah, this is put out by Orion!
Also special thanks to the Hotel New Hampshire Tumblr page. Check it out HYPERLINK "HERE". These guys love the film more than me. That’s fact.