Showing posts with the label Silent

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

Noch pered Rozhdestvom/The Night Before Christmas (1913)

This 41-minute silent film is based on a 19th-century novel by Nikolai Gogol and directed by the legendary stop-motion pioneer,  Ladislaw Starewicz . It's the first adaptation of this work - expect a review of the 1961 version, titled "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka," soon, but for now let's focus on the 1913 adaptation, which is... well... it's bonkers. Let me jump right into the plot. The movie starts by introducing us to Solokha, the witch, and her demonic lover. Apparently, the book makes it clear this is a devil, rather than THE Devil, but it was a bit ambiguous in the movie (there's a decent chance that might be due to the translation, though). At any rate, they climb up Solokha's chimney, fly around on her broom, and briefly steal the moon before returning to her home. Around this time, Solokha's son, Vakula, is trying to convince Oksana to marry him. She dismisses the idea but mockingly offers him a chance: if he can bring her the Tsar's d

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

The Little Match Girl (2006)

This Disney short was originally supposed to be part of a 2006 version of Fantasia that Disney abandoned. This segment was produced anyway, and we saw it as part of the Disney Short Film Collection. It's a surpisingly faithful adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's short story of the same name, even incorporating the original visions of the Match Girl as she freezes to death in the cold. Good times, all around. The original story makes it clear that the events transpire on New Year's Eve, though the girl hallucinates a Christmas tree. This short seems to have shifted the story to Christmas itself, as evidenced by her watching a family climb into a sleigh with a handful of wrapped gifts. The story is relatively bare bones: a poor girl fails to sell matches. Ignored by the world around her, she retreats into an alley, where she lights her matches and sees beautiful visions in the fire. The last light to go out is her own, when her grandmother's spirit whisks her

Santa Claus (1898)

I don't know how to classify this - technically, it's a movie.  In fact, it's one of the first movies ever made.  But it turns out that back in 1898, they didn't expect movies to have three-hour run times. This one, for instance, clocks in at a minute and change. There's no real story, per se.  The short film shows some kids getting tucked into bed, we see Santa show up (featuring some early special effects), he leaves some gifts, and he's on his way. It's interesting to see an early version of Santa, sporting an outfit - and waistline - more reminiscent of his origins as a bishop than his current incarnation as a Coke-drinking, cookie-scarfing, overweight elf. Some of the effects are also intriguing.  To simulate the lights being dimmed, they use a curtain that covers most of the set.  I find it fascinating to look at movies from when they were still incorporating stage techniques.  You get the sense that this was directed more like a puppet sh