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Silent night - Christmas movies of the silent era

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 6, 2009 11:55am | Post a Comment
         

Happy St. Nicholas Day! For your enjoyment, a little somethin' to break the monotony of all that hardcore Christmas that has gotten to be a little bit out of control...


Santa Claus
(1898) was directed by George Albert Smith (Weary Willie, Making Sausages), a former portrait photographer and member of the UK's Brighton set. In 1906, he and Charles Urban patented the world's first commercial color film process, Kinemacolor. Smith was something of an English Georges Méliès, employing and pioneering the use of special effects, mostly in the fantasy genre.

Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost (1901) was apparently the first adaptation of seemingly millions of Dickens's novel.


The Night Before Christmas
(1905) was directed by the great Edwin S. Porter (Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel, Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show, The Gay Shoe Clerk) and is a pretty loose adaptation of the famous poem by Clement Moore. It will undoubtedly appeal to fans of dioramas and vintage children.


A Winter Straw Ride
(1906) is another Porter effort. It's pretty light on plot, mainly focusing on the titular straw ride (sleigh ride) and the hijinks surrounding it. Warning: the score is pretty corny on this clip so you may want to play something else to accompany it.

A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907), co-directed by James Searle Dawley and Edwin S. Porter depicts a rich boy going to great lengths to delude a jaded poor girl into believing in the supernatural.

Essanay's version of A Christmas Carol (1908) starred Tom R. Ricketts (The Lavender Bath Lady, The Dangerous Maid, Bobbed Hair) as Scrooge; the film was released in December 1908 and probably launched the concept of the Christmas box office. Unfortunately, it appears to be lost, although it's often confused with later silent versions.


A Trap for Santa (1909) is a typically melodramatic effort of celebrated racist D.W. Griffith (The Greaser's Gauntlet, The Zulu's Heart, The Feud and the Turkey). I couldn't find it online, but it's available (as are most of these silent Christmas films) on DVD in the Kino collection, A Christmas Past -- available in Amoeba's Christmas section.


The second filmed version of A Christmas Carol (1910) was directed by James Searle Dawley and  starred Australian actor Marc McDermott (Satin and Calico, The Girl and the Motorboat, The Man Who Could Not Sleep) in the role of Scrooge.


Making Christmas Crackers
(1910) begins as a rather too in-depth look at the tedious process of making Christmas Crackers produced by George Howard Cricks and John Howard Martin. However, in the final minute or so, it thankfully veers into poetic realist territory.


A Christmas Accident (1912) is a story of two households whose residents couldn't be more different, the rich, cranky Giltons and the poor, good-hearted Biltons. However, during the magic of the holiday, the two end up finding something they didn't expect -- love. Another warning, the version here suffers from a random, repetitive and robotically performed score.

Scrooge (1913), starring Sir Seymour Hicks (Always Tell Your Wife, Sleeping Partners, Young Man's Fancy), was re-released in 1926 as Old Scrooge. He again reprised the role of Scrooge in 1935's film, Scrooge. It's available on the DVD A Christmas Carol & Old Scrooge, in stock in Amoeba's Christmas section.


The Adventures of the Wrong Santa Claus (1914) as subtitled, An Adventure of Octavius -- Amateur Detective, stars Herbert Yost (A Drunkard's Reformation, The Faded Lilies, A Troublesome Satchel) as the private dick in question. Although the character is as unfamililar to modern audiences as Ecks and Sever, filmgoers in the teens were familiar with him from The Adventure of the Extra Baby, The Adventure of the Hasty Elopement, The Adventure of the Actress' Jewels, and many, many more.

Santa Claus Vs. Cupid
(1915) stars Raymond McKee (Two Lips and Juleps; or, Southern Love and Northern Exposure, T. Haviland Hicks, Freshman, Shoddy the Tailor) and Billy Casey as rival Santa-suited suitors attempting to win the affection of Helen Bower, played by Grace Morrissey (Curing the Office Boy, Blade 'o Grass, The Tell-Tale Step). It's also available on the aforementioned Kino set.

The Dividend
(1916) was directed by Thomas H. Ince (The Hateful God, In the Land of the Otter, Shorty's Adventures in the City) and Walter Edwards (The Colonel's Adopted Daughter, His Superficial Wife, The Sin Ye Do). It concerns the yuletide misadventures of a drug addled man named Frank, played by Charles Ray (Bread Cast Upon the Waters, One of the Discarded, The Conversion of Frosty Blake).

The Right to Be Happy (1916) was another adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this time directed by and starring Kiwi Rupert Julian (The Heart of a Jewess, In the Days of his Youth, The Boyhood He Forgot, ) as Scrooge).

Bab's Diary (1917) was directed by James Searle Dawle, who called himself "the first motion picture director." It was, however, at least his third film in the Christmas genre.

Scrooge (1923), starring Russell Thorndike (The Dream of Eugene Aram, The Audacious Mr. Squire, The School for Scandal), is availble, re-titled A Christmas Carol, on the aforementioned DVD, A Christmas Carol & Old Scrooge. In reality, both films on the DVD were released in theaters as Scrooge, but the DVD company in question, Jef, are not known for the care they put into their releases.  

The Goose Hangs High (1925), directed by James Cruze (The Golf Caddie's Dog, The Ring of a Spanish Grandee, Why Reginald Reformed), has something to do with socialism, Christmas and a snobbish grandmother.

Santa Claus (1925) was shot in the Alaskan arctic and concerns the goings on in the Land of Winter the other 364 days of the year. It's also available on the Kino collection, A Christmas Past.

Krampus

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 5, 2008 10:07am | Post a Comment
Last year I posted an entry about St. Nicholas and the rather unsavory company he keeps. Child murderers, demons and hags (oh my). Well, the Krampus proved very popular, earning me another nickname that has stuck around throughout the year.

The Krampus is a demon that, with the approval of kindly St. Nick, terrorizes bad children and apparently lusts after the ladies. His chief implements of torture seem to be a switch and a tongue which would embarass Gene Simmons. This is designed to frighten children into behaving well. Germanic peoples have always understood that the best way to rear children is by keeping them terrified of the consequences of bad behavior. My mother used to get on the phone to call "The Nanny," a character who rammed food down the throats of ungrateful children with her thorny stick. I credit my continued membership in the Clean Plate Club to these threats.



If you've never read Der Struwwelpeter then you don't know what you're missing. It's a childrens book which uses stories and wonderful illustrations to suggest that misbehavior is likely to end in disaster and even death. It's a wonderful tool.

So, enjoy these Krampuses, have a happy St. Nicholas Day and behave or die!


First Krampus scours the globe. With many means of travel available, hiding is futile.

   
These unsuspecting children have got the game twisted. Krampus is no joke!

    
Krampus will hear your prayers.             "I can't hear you!"                 St. Nick says, "Let's do this."

 
First he enslaves you, then he licks you, tosses you in a basket and... ultimately murders you.


Krampus has only one weakness!

   
real Krampus with bad children



It's the Eve of St. Nicholas Day

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 5, 2007 01:08pm | Post a Comment
It's already December 5th again. Everyone knows that I'm obsessed with holidays and St. Nicholas Day is one of my favorites. Most people have heard David Sedaris' story about Santa Claus vs. St. Nicholas and maybe some of us know that he was a Greek bishop in present-day Turkey who became the patron saint of children by resurrecting their little corpses and paying off debts of the living to keep them out of child sex slavery.
 
I know people still exchange gifts at least in parts of the Middle West. Fewer of us still stuff our shoes with carrots and hay for his white horse Amerigo (or in some places a donkey) with the expectation that tomorrow we'll find our initials in chocolate, chocolate coins or marzipan. Of course, if we've been bad there might be some salt or a bundle of sticks to get switched with.

In different parts of the world he's accompanied by different comrades.
 

Probably most well known is Zwarte Piet who is his companion in Flanders and the Netherlands. Originally Zwarte Piet was a nickname for the Devil and, after arriving from Spain, he threatened to stuff bad kids into his sack and take them back with him. In the 19th century, in typically misguided proto-Political Correctness, he was re-cast as a Moorish servant in blackface wearing colorful clothing from the Renaissance. Satan is too offensive, Moorish slavery is still unfortunately commonplace, so I guess it's not as tasteless. If you look up Sinterklaas on YouTube you will be shocked by the prevalence of blackface, which no one there seems to find remotely controversial. All the comments are in Dutch and I guess you don't see a lot of black people in Holland unless Urban Dance Squad is still around.

         
Also well-known is Knecht Ruprecht -- his companion in parts of Germany. By some accounts he was a farmhand who suffered an accident which accounts for his limp. By others he was a foundling raised by St. Nicholas. If you're bad, he'll take you back to his home in the Black Forest or just toss your body into a river. Sometimes he rides with the Christchild himself.

 

                 
My favorite, perhaps, is Père Fouettard, who is known in Wallonie and Lorraine. Père Fouettard butchered three children which St. Nicholas resurrected. Now he is taken along in chains but still allowed to switch the naughty.

    
The Krampus (or Krampusz) are demons that roam around with bells and chains, drunkenly and indiscriminately attacking onlookers. If you look for Krampus on youtube you'll find plenty of evidence of this from parades in Bavaria, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, and Croatia.

          
In Switzerland we have Schmutzli. His name means "little schmutzy one" and his m.o. includes the expected child abuse, beat-downs and kidnapping. Unlike some of St. Nicholas' other homies, he also is said to eat bad children.

  
In Luxembourg we have Houseker, a creepy figure who wears a monk's habit and carries the requisite bundle of switches.


The first I heard of St. Nicholas' companions was Belzenickl (or Pelz Nichol, Belschnikel, Belsnichols &c). He's a drunken woodsmen clad in furs (sometimes a skunk fur cap) known primarily among the Pennsylvania Dutch (Germans) who, if you were good, might throw nuts, cakes and treats across the carpet. If you were bad (you guessed it) -- switching. His name means Nicholas in Furs (or something like that) and he looks a lot like St. Nicholas, only wearing furs and carrying switches instead of gifts.


So, keep your eyes peeled and let me know who was riding with St. Nicholas in your neck of the woods.





If Zwarte Piet in his current Moorish guise leaves you curious about Moors and you desire someone with more firsthand knowledge of Moorish culture than Shakespeare, you could watch a popular Moorish movie on sale at Amoeba, Waiting For Happiness. I haven't yet seen it although comparisons to Michaelangelo Antonioni, Jafar Panahi and Yasujiro Ozu certainly tempt me.





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