Cinematic Firsts: The First Christmas Movie - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Cinematic Firsts: The First Christmas Movie

An orange for you, and an orange for you...

123 Christmases ago, Santa made his film debut in an, at the time, example of cutting edge cinematography.

1898's groundbreaking 'Santa Claus' wasn't produced in Hollywood, Paris or London. Oh no! It stems from Brighton, East Sussex, and was produced and directed by an ex-stage hypnotist, ex-psychic, ex-magic lantern lecturer, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, inventor and a key pioneer of the early film industry, George Albert Smith.

The 1min 16sec film features Santa Claus visiting a house on Christmas Eve. Two children are put to bed by their maid, and the lights shut off. A circular vignette of the roof is inserted on screen, showing Santa Claus with a small Christmas tree climbing into the chimney. He emerges in the bedroom, puts down his tree and places presents in the children's stockings that hang from the foot of the bed. He exits with his tree and vanishes. The children wake, still in the dark, and reach for their stockings with glee...

Smith's 'Santa Claus' is a film of considerable technical ambition and accomplishment for its period, and uses pioneering visual effects. The film, according to Michael Brooke of BFI Screenonline,
" believed to be the cinema's earliest known example of parallel action and, when coupled with double-exposure techniques that Smith had already demonstrated in the same year's The Mesmerist and Photographing a Ghost, the result is one of the most visually and conceptually sophisticated British films made up to then."
In a film of 75ft (a standard length in 1898) Smith combines jump cuts - the first carefully contrived to simulate turning off the gas - and superimposition of a separate scene. The latter could have been achieved by combining two negatives at the printing stage but was probably achieved by rewinding the film and making a second exposure. Either technique would have required cutting-edge skills.

Not only is it a technical marvel, 'Santa Claus' holds the title of being the very first Christmas movie ever made.

View all our Cinematic Firsts articles here.

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