On this Christmas Eve, we here at FilmBuffOnline decided to take a look at the oldest Santa Claus film known to exist – George Albert Smith’s 1898 Santa Claus. It won’t be a long look as the film runs only a little over a minute, but Smith manages to pack a lot into such a short time frame!
The film starts off with a nurse hustling her two juvenile charges into bed on Christmas Eve. Once they have gone asleep, Santa appears on the rooftop and soon enters their room to fill their stockings with toys.
A simple story but done with a high degree of sophistication for the time. A former portrait photographer, Smith was a contemporary of pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès – the two corresponded – in that his films were often fantasies that pushed the boundaries of the limited vocabulary of cinema of the time. In this film, we see what may be the first example of parallel action as we see both the children asleep snug in their beds and Santa arriving above them. The double exposure technique that Smith uses is one that he created and had patented the year before.
We should note that while this is the oldest known cinematic Santa that still exists, there were two other short films featuring Santa that came out a year earlier – Santa Claus Filling Stockings and The Christmas Tree Party. Unfortunately, these films, like so many other early silent films, appear to be lost.