Le Rêve de Noël [The Christmas Dream] (1900)

This is one of two surviving Christmas movies I know of from Georges Méliès, though unfortunately, I'm using the term "surviving" somewhat loosely. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Méliès is one of the film directors who invented film directing. Also visual effects. And editing. And making really goddamn cool movies.

I don't want to get lost on a huge tangent, but if you have any interest in the history of film and haven't seen his work, look him up. A great deal of his surviving films are easily accessible through YouTube and numerous other online sources. He was creating and colorizing lavish fantasy films with monsters and magic in the early 1900s. He's one of the first film directors in history, and his work was easily half a century ahead of his time. Some of his movies are nothing short of incredible.

The Christmas Dream is far from his best work, but it's still an impressive visual experience. Unfortunately, as I hinted at earlier, the movie isn't entirely complete. As is often the case with movies from this era, parts are missing.

I'm actually a little unclear on just how much of The Christmas Dream was lost. Complicating the matter further is the fact the movie is essentially a stylistic, dreamlike portrait of a Christmas fantasy. In other words, there's no real story you can identify (or even the outlines of one), making it difficult to imagine what the entirety would even have been like.

Still, what's here is impressive to look at. The movie starts with a child being tucked in bed in what looks to be a medieval castle (a common setting in Méliès's work). Soon, we cut to a dream featuring what appears to be a parade of toys in a cave overlooking ruins. There's also a dance scene here where someone loses a shoe (unintentionally, I think). Next up is a scene set on the city rooftops, where angels place gifts in chimneys. We then find ourselves in a bell tower, first at the ground level then in the rafters, where a massive bell swings from side-to-side while birds flutter about. Next, we're in a crowded street. Then a massive banquet hall, where a beggar is honored by the nobility. Then we're back in the bedchamber from the beginning, as children receive gifts. Next we're in some sort of fairyland overlooking fields of glaciers as figures dance and a tree appears.

That's where the surviving footage runs out. Again, there's really no story, and - while I can speculate about various elements (I'm guessing the beggar is the Lord of Misrule, angels are Christmas Eve gift-givers in some traditions, and so on), if there's an overarching theme or story beyond "dream" or "Christmas story compilation," I'm not really sure what it is (Wikipedia mentions a stage production this may be referencing or even adapting - perhaps that explains it).

Honestly, the explanation barely matters. What's significant here is the style, more than the story. The backdrops are sets, brilliantly painted to create the illusion of depth and a sense of the unreal. Buildings are slightly twisted and warped. Environments are magical and evoke ancient civilizations and fairytales. Think Tim Burton a century early, and you'll have an idea of what this looks and feels like.

Can you tell it's fake? Sure. Can you see that these are sets, rather than actual locations. Definitely. But this is incredible to look at and marvel at the artistry and work that went into creating it.


  1. This is so interesting, I looked the film up to see if there was more information about it. This is what I found on Wiki. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Christmas_Dream


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