Original airdate: December 19th, sale 2011
Running time: 47 minutes
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Writers: Æneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss, Fredric M. Frank
Cast: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek
Christmas preparations at my house usually begins shortly after Halloween. By early November I’m already testing the lights, planning the theme I want to go with, scouting for the perfect decorations and ornaments and getting that spot in the living room ready for the tree which I’ll buy fresh from my local garden centre in the first week of December.
It doesn’t stop there either. The windows and their curtains have to be washed, walls wiped down, skirting boards repainted and out comes my arts and crafts set as I design my own cards to send to friends and family. Everyone who knows me knows Christmas is what I wait for each year, but while some may think I go a little over the top, I think my version of Christmas is always very tasteful, especially with my vintage theme this year, complete with traditionally coloured lights and shades, concave glass baubles, silk ribbons to soften the festive glow of the warm lights and a mercury glass tree topper. But there are others whose version of Christmas goes beyond that.
King Of Christmas Lights is a Channel 4 documentary that was first aired in 2011. It takes us into the lives of Paul Toole, Karl Beetson and Paul and Lee Brailsford – 4 ordinary guys who share 1 thing in common; their obsession for extreme decorating. For them Christmas isn’t about the decorations inside their homes, it’s about the displays outside; on their roofs, along their walkways, on the lawns and even extending to their neighbours’ houses, whether they want it or not!
Paul lives in a bungalow with his mother in Wells, south-west England. Each year his displays become more and more elaborate. With the help of his best friend he’s set up an arctic themed display with polar bears, snowmen, seals and nearly 60,000 Christmas lights to show that he’s really the King of Christmas Lights. However, 22-old Karl from Northamptonshire, with the help of his mum and dad, has his heart set on taking that crown for himself as he experiments with computer technology to create sequenced displays that includes a robotic band of musicians playing along to Christmas Carrols.
Meanwhile, brothers Paul and Lee in Bristol work together to decorate their mother’s house across the street every year because it’s detached and they can add to it on three sides. They cram every possible space with any kind of display they can think of to delight the crowds that gather to see the lights switched on December 1st, and like Paul and Karl, they also believe they’re the Kings of Christmas Lights.
There’s no denying that all four are passionate and dedicated to their obsession, but seeing these flashing LED lights, magi scenes, giant snowmen and celebrity guests you do start to realise this has very little to do with the spirit of Christmas and more with the tender stroking of inflated egos. “What’s the harm with having a few lights?” Paul turns to the camera and asks as a neighbour angrily scolds him for trying to hang lights on her property. There’s nothing wrong with it, but when you already have tens of thousands on your mum’s bungalow and then try to force others have the same – of course you’re going to get a few angry words thrown at you!
As he tries to get Nicholas Cage as his special guest to turn on the lights – with little to no success – Paul and Lee start to check out some of the competition and plan on upping their game so they don’t get left behind. Karl has his own problems when his mum tells him his hand made sign for the robot musicians looks stupid and tempers fly. It’s really an interesting glimpse into just how far some people will go to be the biggest and the best when it comes to extreme decoration but the documentary falls short in a few places. For example we see Paul and his friend walking up to Nicholas Cage’s property in Wells, but we never get to see what happens when they ring the doorbell. We also don’t get much of an overview of what the local community really has to say about these displays, the cost of electricity or thoughts about the environment.
King Of Christmas Lights does make me stop and remember to keep myself in check though. While I have no desire to see any of the displays featured here in real life, I look very fondly at what I’ve created this year with the help of the Ebay community, local charity shops and some kind folks on Gumtree who no longer wanted their old decorations and I think to myself I did really well in creating a Christmas like the ones I had in the 80s when I was a kid, without overdoing it. Although in saying that, I’m already planning next year’s Lauscha themed tree!
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .