Father Ed Commentary: ‘Opening Christmas Day’ and Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – If you are a regular or casual moviegoer, it’s a good bet that in late summer and early autumn, the previews shown before a feature film will entice you with some of Hollywood’s (hopeful) blockbuster movies. After a few minutes of reeling us in like a fisherman hauling in a record-breaking catch, the screen fades and these words appear: OPENING CHRISTMAS DAY.

I’m sure Hollywood executives and marketing companies peruse calendars and know when it’s best to release films. It might be to position a film for Oscar nominations. It might be knowing what plays best in the grand scheme of the movie business. It might be following a book that has been on the top-10 list for a long time and will be the natural follow-up for millions of readers. It might be none of the above, all of the above or a mixture. But somehow, OPENING CHRISTMAS DAY grabs our attention.

In the last several weeks, in various conversations, I brought up this question: “Why do you think people go to the movies on Christmas Day?”

I didn’t hear too much about my suppositions of highly scientific Hollywood statistical analysis. Rather, I heard some comments that families gather in earnest on Christmas Eve for church services, family meals and all sorts of evening-before Christmas rituals, which motivate out-of-towners to come home for the holidays. Christmas afternoon or evening at the movies is simply a way of relaxing. Sounds good!

Some mentioned the obvious reality that not all people are Christian. OPENING CHRISTMAS DAY might fill a void because most businesses and stores are closed Dec. 25. Sounds good!

There were those who said heading out to a feature film is an antidote for those who feel especially lonely, discouraged or forgotten on this day.

Others mentioned that some are away from home on Christmas because of their jobs or other commitments. Heading to the theater, buying a large popcorn and (unbelievably) large soda would be a bit of a respite.

Then there were those who said the high energy expended to make Christmas Eve and Christmas morning a success needs a release valve in the afternoon or early evening. “Hey, want to go to the movies after we clear off the table, clean up a bit?” (and fill several trash bags with wrapping paper, bows and ribbons).

Who knows, the trip to the cinema may happen for a simple reason. “I was going to head home tonight. But the weather says snow and cold temps might make the going treacherous. Let’s head to the movies and I’ll stay over and leave tomorrow.”

Maybe we really don’t need a list of “why’s.” Perhaps the energy and anticipation, as well as our individual human stories and emotions, all come together and find a resting place in a theater seat, in a world totally different than our real world.

In 1942, American artist Edward Hopper debuted a rather interesting painting, “Nighthawks.” The scene seems to take place in large city late at night in a rather deserted part of town. An all-night diner has large windows and inside are four people: a couple, a single person and the person working the all-night shift.

A few years ago, I received a Christmas card with a variation of Hopper’s scene, namely, the single person being Santa Claus. Hopper’s original scene and the Christmas card variation hauntingly draws one into the picture. Among other thoughts, one goes like this: “What are these four folks doing in that diner on that day at that late hour?” It makes one want to walk into the diner and ask each of them why they’re there.

My musing and wondering about OPENING CHRISTMAS DAY has as many explanations as people sitting in the multiplex. That’s OK. Whatever the reason OPENING CHRISTMAS DAY is the ticket,

According to EdwardHopper.net, “Nighthawks is Hopper’s most famous work and is one of the most recognizable paintings in American art. Within months of its completion, it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000, and has remained there ever since.

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