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Christmas on the Screen by Thomas Bedding

December 24, 2010
Bedding, Thomas. “Christmas on the Screen.” The Moving Picture World 7, no. 26 (24 December 1910): 1459.

Scanning the list of releases especially designed by the American film makers to take advantage of the sentiment of Christmas, now imminent, we find a number of distinctively Christmas subject specially prepared for exhibition around the Christmas time. Chiefest credit for attempting something seasonable rests, it must be conceded, with, the Edison Company, who propose releasing a film dealing with the subject of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” “The Christmas Carol,” as every student of Dickens knows, is a pretty and human story, and though written for English people, will probably appeal to American sentiment. Pathe‘s have a subject called “Sunshine in Poverty Row,” which explains itself. This is another picture of the Christmas Carol type. The Vitagraph people tell the story of “Jean and the Waif.” The Imp release is entitled “The Crippled Teddy Bear.” Then we have a Great Northern subject, entitled, “A Christmas Letter,” the pathos of which story is said to “tug at the heart strings.” On the whole, not a very happy selection of Christmas subjects.

Christmas is the alleged time of “peace on earth and good will towards men,” the sentiment of which forms the basis of a great deal of the literature published about this time of year. Peace and good will, however, exist, we fear, too much in the imaginations of writers and artists. Charles Dickens was said to have invented Christmas. There are many people, especially on the other side of the Atlantic, who say that Christmas as Charles Dickens described it, never existed. Washington Irving wrote about Christmas in a very entertaining fashion. So, of course have multitudes of other authors. Here, then, the Christmas sentiment undoubtedly is, no matter whether peace on earth and good will towards men has any; large existence in fact, which is certainly open to doubt.

In England theater entertainments at Christmas time deal largely with fairy stories, goblin stories, giant stories, etc. The beautiful, the spectacular, the scenic, all these enter into Christmas stage productions. Of course, the entertainments are very costly and are run for considerable lengths of time. Thus they attract millions of people and make much money.

It is this end of matters which we think the American film manufacturers, writing generally, seem to have overlooked. Are not “Christmas Carols,” “Poverty Rows,” and other sentimental themes dealt with sufficiently in the magazine and in everyday life without presenting them as entertainment? We think they are. That is why, in expressing disappointment with the Christmas efforts of the film manufacturers, we venture to offer them a suggestion. It is this: that next year an attempt be made to adopt different themes, more of the merrymaking order. Let us have something approaching the pantomime story, in film form. This is generally a story of good and bad fairies, giants, ogres, adventures, spectacular, etc., etc., which immensely pleases the little people. We do not think children are very much interested in stories of poverty and its relief. At any rate, our way we would keep such things from them; we would concentrate their minds upon the more beautiful aspects of life. Let them have all the illusions they can while they are young. Let them have fairy pictures, and fairy stories. Let them believe there are such things as enchanted castles, caves of diamonds and all the wonders of fairydom. Let them know no different until they are: older.

A great ballet on the screen would, we think, look well. Anything fanciful, spectacular, grotesque, even weir; but let us, please, have as little as possible of the poverty and misery contrasted with wealth and garishness. There is quite enough of it outside the theater to have it served up to us inside, where we go for entertainment.

The Gnome Company seem to be working on, what to our minds, is the most interesting phase of the Christmas sentiment. They are making fairy pictures for young people. We fully expect to see other makers follow suit, when they realize what the real Christmas sentiment is, namely one of lightness, brightness, joyousness. Of course it is the children’s feast and the children want to be entertained. We do not think they are entertained by stories of poverty, misery, and the like. They would rather be transported to the realms of imagination. If those realms are in fairyland, so much the better. Less misery, please, Mr. Manufacturer, and more brightness, gaiety and brilliancy.

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