One of the fascinating aspects of Jingle Bell Rocks! is its focus on the collector's hoarding urge, and yet the film eschews many Christmas standards--"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Silent Night" are too obvious, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" gets unexplored, and ditto the perennial favorite A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. (Jingle Bell Rocks! doesn't even mention "Jingle Bell Rock," as far as I recall.) And yet that's a part of the joy. The collector impulse is sometimes about eclecticism and rarity over mere completism; hidden gems, intriguing also-rans, the sort of songs and records that make an impression now because they are viewed as artifacts rather than clutter. It's more than just rediscovering Christmas music, it's a kind of obsessive cultural archaeology, with many songs tied to their time and cultural events, like Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement.
There's also another important aspect to Jingle Bell Rocks!: music curation. Bill Adler, music journalist and former publicist for Def Jam, is one of the central focuses of the documentary because of Christmas Jollies, his annual Christmas mix-tape/compilation. John Waters also makes an appearance to talk about his Christmas compilation and how it ties into the Baltimore he grew up in. The creation and sequencing of a mix can be serious business, and part of the joy of the mix is showcasing rare finds by unheard artists and sharing them with others. Good mixes are like presents, and they're also potentially biographical or autobiographical, and with each song and song-transition there may be a personal message or hint of meaning or a story about how this track was found and first heard.
Jingle Bell Rocks! is amoeba-like in shape. While Kezin's own attachment to Christmas music is the throughline, the personal journey takes various sidetrips to its conclusion, and some of them are more intriguing than others. Yet there's still a glee about the whole film, like Kezin is giving a tour of his own personal Christmas record collection and talking you through some of his favorite possessions. It may be best to think of Kezin's documentary as a kind of themed mix-tape with extensive liner notes, ones written by many and that take the form of an oral history--a Christmas gift to you from Mitchell Kezin.
For more information, visit jinglebellrocks.com.