I Am Santa Claus (2014)

I am Santa Claus is a documentary exploring a number of professional Santas' lives throughout the year. The subject matter is very reminiscent to that explored in Becoming Santa, though the perspective is slightly shifted. Both are fantastic documentaries, but I actually think this was a little more interesting.

There were five primary Santas in the movie, in addition to countless minor characters. The movie chose some fairly unique subjects to help you keep them straight, no easy feat given that everyone in the movie is working to become the same character.

The most famous subject is Mick Foley, a professional wrestler with a lifelong love of Christmas and St. Nicholas. Like Jack Sanderson in Becoming Santa, he's playing the part for the first time. The documentary introduces the juxtaposition between his former image and his new role, though it's hard to lend much credence to his violent performance: the man comes off as infectiously nice and gentle-hearted. In addition, while the documentary didn't dwell much on the fact that professional wrestlers are as much actors as athletes, it was clear he knew how to inhabit a character. Despite being presented as a newcomer, it was obvious he could hold his own with the professionals. On top of that, his joy and wonder were apparent.

The next subject was, quite literally, Santa Claus, at least legally. The man formerly known as "Frank" was an aspiring barbecue chef with a thick Long Island accent. Seeing him out of character, it was difficult to imagine him filling the shoes of the character who's name he was taking. But when he put on the suit and stepped into the role, he felt as authentic as any Santa Claus I've seen.

The movie is especially interested in highlighting the idea that people playing Santa Claus have personal lives and problems that stay with them all year, just as their seasonal jobs remain a core part of their identity. This is especially relevant with Jim, an elderly antiques dealer who's active in the bear community. The movie doesn't shy away from exploring this side of his life, either: the cameras follow him to a bear convention. Oh, and he's being photographed stripping when they introduce him. But make no mistake, Jim is the sweetest of this movie's Santa Clauses. It's like the filmmakers are daring anyone to say they'd never bring their kids to him, when he's clearly the kindest, gentlest man we meet in a profession defined by those qualities.

Likewise, the movie goes into the life of Rob Figley, the president of an organization of Santas. He and his wife are swingers, and he works at a sex club in Portland, OR. Not surprisingly, he's also a controversial figure in the organization he oversees. Several members, including the last main Santa we've yet to discuss, question the wisdom in having Rob serve as the leader of their organization. While it's easy to understand what his critics are scared of, it's difficult to take them seriously. Rob comes off as articulate and knowledgeable, the exact qualities you'd want in a leader. What's more, attempts to cast his life as shadowy seem laughable: he's very open about his lifestyle. In addition, his passion for helping sexual minorities navigate a world that often ostracizes them feels extremely relevant to his love for playing Santa.

At one point, a few of the other Santas debate whether Rob's lifestyle is problematic. The Santa who expresses reluctance to the idea is Russ, the only one of the main characters I haven't discussed. If the movie paints any of its subjects in a negative light, it's him, though it's difficult to tell whether that's due to his personality or to editing choices. He seems to be the least successful of the Santas, and he's one of the older subjects. It's difficult to sympathize with him by the end, however, when he seems unable to relate to kids. Again, it's impossible to know whether that phenomenon was magnified by editing decisions.

The movie offers a fascinating look at the lives of five men who transform into Santa Claus (or in some cases, who have decided to become Santa Claus completely). While the movie certainly doesn't seem fixated on their sex lives, these are a key point for two of the Santas. The film seems to be daring its viewers to object while simultaneously exploring how it's part of who they are and how they approach life. Both Rob and Jim are fantastic Santas due to who they are, and their sexualities and backgrounds are a huge part of that. The movie's tagline, "Whose lap is your child sitting on?", implies something sinister, but the movie delivers the opposite. These Santas are wonderful people with complex lives: I can't imagine anyone finding them objectionable.

More importantly, I am Santa Claus is a lot of fun. It's at times heartwarming and heartbreaking. I highly recommend anyone interested in the actors who portray Santa check this out as soon as possible.

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