Showing posts with the label 1900's

A Trap for Santa Claus (1909)

This fifteen-minute film was directed by D.W. Griffith, which should probably be addressed before we get into the movie itself. Griffith of course also directed the 1915 film, Birth of a Nation, which glorified the founding of the KKK. I am not a film historian, nor have I actually seen Birth of a Nation, so I will not be commenting on its significance in the history of the medium. I will say that any discussion of Griffith as a filmmaker - or any of his films - should probably acknowledge his legacy is at least as connected to the history of white supremacy as it is to the evolution of early film. For what it's worth, I actually watched A Trap for Santa Claus and wrote the remainder of this review prior to realizing who directed it. In short, I'm not just attempting to separate the art from the racist here: I literally didn't notice until after. The story starts with a family down on their luck. Unable to find work, the father is taking their misfortune particularly hard a

A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907)

I'll warn you upfront this falls in a sort of awkward space between "conceptually good" and "actually good," at least by today's standards. The fact I'm comparing a movie 116 years old to anything remotely modern should be an indication there's something pretty neat about this, so if you've got 14 minutes to kill and don't want to be spoiled, go look this up on Youtube: it's not hard to find. And make no mistake, there's absolutely something in this to spoil. Let's get into what this is, because I doubt it's what you're expecting from the title. Or more accurately, it starts like what you're expecting then goes in a wildly different direction about halfway through. The first half is a bit slow. We're introduced to the characters: a kind little rich boy with tons of toys, and a poor girl who lives in a small shack. While on a walk, the boy comes across the girl, who's standing in the cold. He gives her his coat

The Little Match Seller (1902), The Little Match Girl (1914), La Petite Marchande d'allumettes (1928), Little Match Girl (1937), La Jeune Fille aux Allumettes (1952)/The Little Match Girl (1954)

Rather than running these individually, I'm posting reviews for five shorts, each of which is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl. This is far from an exhaustive list, of course, but this covers every surviving version through the 1950s I was able to locate. For those of you who don't feel like digging through my notes, I'll save you a little time - these are all good for when they were made. The two that really stood out were the 1928 silent French version and the 1937 animated version. The animated probably aged the best of the bunch, as far as general audiences are concerned, while the 1928 film was the one I found the most fascinating from a technical standpoint. So, if you're interested in old movies, that's a good one to see (actually, all of these are good to see, but that's a great starting point). Those are the two I was thinking of when I slapped a "Highly Recommended" label on this post, though in both cases

A Winter Straw Ride (1906)

I'm not entirely certain this was originally intended as a Christmas film, but apparently it's included in at least one modern holiday compilation, so I'll count it. This film is a 7-minute-long short about a group of women riding in a couple horse-drawn sleighs who are attacked by a group of men armed with snowballs. The women then chase down the fleeing men, push them into the snow, and pelt them with snowballs. It's not entirely clear whether the women are motivated by good-natured play or rage-fueled vengeance, so I guess that's up to the viewer. If that sounds fun... it kind of is. The scope of this is impressive: I didn't get a precise count, but it feels like it involves a substantial number of participants. Likewise, this involves some fairly large stunts. At one point, one of the sleighs tips over, throwing the riders into a snowbank, and they all rally to get it upright again. There's also a sequence where the women - now on foot - slide down a ste

Le Noël de Monsieur le curé [The Parish Priest's Christmas] (1906)

This is a short film from director Alice Guy-Blaché, one of the pioneers of early film who quite literally helped invent the form. She's arguably one of the most important contributors in the medium's history, and yes, it's maddening she's not more widely known and discussed (apparently she thought so, too, and spent a great deal of time later in life lobbying for her legacy). The Parish Priest's Christmas tells a fairly simple story of a priest trying to prepare for Christmas. The story is entirely told through visual media; there are no title cards and the only words we see are the date to inform us this is set at Christmas. The priest goes to the home of two poor members of his parish, who appear to donate a cradle full of straw that a figure of the baby Jesus can go in. Next, he goes to what looks to be a well-off man selling such figurines - I can't tell if he's meant to be an artist or just a dealer. Regardless, he has a figure the priest wants, but he

The Night Before Christmas (1905)

As the title suggests, this is a loose adaptation of Clement Moore's A Visit From St. Nicholas (i.e.: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas), with title cards using excerpts from the poem. It starts with a brief look at Santa feeding a herd of reindeer before heading into his workshop to build toys. The sequence with the deer is fine, with the caveat that it's literally just a guy with a beard shoveling hay for a bunch of animals. The toy construction is well handled - he seems to be using real tools, and the workshop (while simple) feels lived in. We then cut to a living room where a family is hanging stockings on Christmas Eve (cue relevant passage from the poem). The set is well constructed, though you can absolutely tell it's not a real location, even if you overlook the fact the front edge of the stage it's built on is visible at times. Next, we get to the best gag in the movie. The title card quotes the passage about children being asleep in their beds; instead, we

A Holiday Pageant at Home (1901)

This is supposedly a short film showing a family rehearsing a few days before Christmas, then performing a play on Christmas Eve. As far as I can tell, it's intended as a slice-of-life short: there's very little content here. My guess is the point of this was to demonstrate film as a medium, since there's virtually nothing else I can take away from this. Only the title cards hint at a yuletide connection: there are no decorations, and the little that can be gleaned about the content of the play has no obvious connection to the holidays. I considered skipping this one altogether, but - since it's technically a holiday short - figured I'd include it in the interest of being as complete as possible. The only title cards we get break the video into segments. First, we're told it's "A few days before Christmas," and we just see a group of children reading while a woman - presumably their mother - writes what I'm assuming are scripts. Next, we get a

Détresse et Charité [The Christmas Angel] (1904)

I'm including both the French and English titles above, but it's actually more accurate to say I've seen The Christmas Angel, as the French version contained a very different ending. The original resolution sounds more interesting, but I haven't been able to find it and I'm guessing the sanitized, happy US version is the only one that survived (I should probably just be grateful any version of this survived more or less intact). The movie is around nine minutes long, and it was made by legendary French director, illusionist, inventor, and probably a whole host of other things, Georges Méliès. The film starts in the home of a poor family in winter around the holidays. The mother's sick and the father's tending to her. Also, there's a hole in their ceiling that snow's pouring through, and a guy I'm assuming they owe money to comes in and argues with the father. At any rate, their only hope seems to be their daughter, who goes out begging for charit

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 mov

Scrooge (1901), A Christmas Carol (1910), Scrooge (1913), A Christmas Carol (1914), Scrooge (1922), and A Christmas Carol (1923)

As you've probably guessed from the heading, this covers six separate silent adaptations of A Christmas Carol. As far as I can tell, this is the entirety of surviving footage from that era. To be clear, there are several other known versions that have been lost, including "The Right to be Happy," a 55-minute film from 1916. Not all of the films discussed here are available in complete forms, either. If you're curious about any, they're all readily available for free online - just go to YouTube and search by name and year. Before I get to my individual reviews (to the extent the term even applies here), I'll give a brief overview for those of you who'd rather not wade through four thousand words of text about a bunch of movies 100+ years old. That's all of you, right? I'm grouping these together as a single post, because I can't imagine anyone would be in the least bit interested in seeing these appear one a day for a week. In general, these mov

We Need to Re-Evaluate L. Frank Baum's "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus"

Content Warning for discussion of genocide and accounts of severe historical racism. We've reviewed L. Frank Baum's Life and Adventures of Santa Claus in the past, we've written about the Rankin/Bass special, and we've talked it about multiple times. But, in the process of watching the 2000 animated adaptation for the first time, I wanted to go back and revisit the book, as well as its sequels. So I did. I wrote an extremely long article discussing the merits and flaws of the work (some of the writing is pretty but most of it is kind of boring) and how influential it was (it probably created one of Santa's two primary origin stories, it's more or less the basis for all the Rankin/Bass specials, and its sequels, "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" and "How the Woggle-Bug and his Friends Visited Santa Claus," are probably why we have Nightmare Before Christmas). I went through the plots, the characters, all of it. It was a lot of work, and I think