An archivist’s night at the movies, part VI: Christmas revisited

In the third entry in the Region of Peel Archive’s ongoing An Archivist’s Night at the Movies series (posted December 20th, 2018) I explored the use and depiction of records in assorted Christmas movies and television specials (as well as one Hanukkah example). It is fair to say that I have been toying with revisiting this topic ever since. I have decided to circle back now, because it has been an extremely difficult year for everyone, and I would like to see the year out with something fun. So, please grab some eggnog and pfeffernüsse, and hang on as we delve back into the wonderful world of records with a Christmas connection.

For this post, I will be discussing the movies The Christmas Chronicles, Die Hard 2 (with a nod to the first installment as well), Arthur Christmas, Batman Returns, and both Home Alone 1 and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. [1] Across these movies a variety of record types are showcased, including business & financial records, antique maps, blueprints, technical drawings, site plans, painted portraits, family trees, letters, sound recordings, and home videos.

Before proceeding, I should acknowledge that the selection of some of these movies may be controversial or contested, in the sense that they are arguably not Christmas movies per se, merely movies that happen to be taking place at Christmas. Well, I say “damn the torpedoes!” and will proceed anyway. I hope that you all enjoy our last blog post of this year.

As always, plot spoilers follow.

The Christmas Chronicles (2018) – directed by Clay Kaytis

This record-rich Christmas movie focuses on Kate and Teddy Pierce, siblings who are dealing with the tragic loss of their father. We learn early on that their dad loved Christmas, and that the parents always recorded the family’s Christmas celebrations. Fittingly, the movie opens with a heart touching family video montage covering 10 years, from 2007 to 2017.

When looking back through these older Christmas home movies, Kate catches a glimpse of Santa Claus.

If you look closely, you can see what appears to be Santa’s arm placing a present under the Christmas tree

She excitedly tells Teddy, and they decide to seek definitive proof of Santa’s existence.

To do so they set a trap on Christmas Eve, intending to catch him on film in more detail. They luck out and are awoken when Santa arrives that evening. Pushing their luck, they then sneak into the sleigh, inadvertently causing Santa to crash shortly thereafter. He is (seemingly) rather angry, but does accept their offer to help fix the mess they have caused.

What follows is an entertaining quest to repair the broken sleigh, find the sack of toys that fell as they crashed, and locate all the reindeer. Along the way, Santa gets arrested in Chicago for grand theft auto, child endangerment, and fleeing police (a long, hilarious, story), but at all times he seems to trust that the kids will complete their assigned missions.

After finding the errant sack of presents with Teddy, Kate is able to use its magical properties to travel to the North Pole to seek help from Santa’s elves. Yes, you read that right – Kate was able to literally crawl into the sack and emerge at the North Pole.

She emerges atop a massive pile of presents, and then descends into the Hall of Letters.[2]

We are then shown Santa’s desk, adorned with maps and atlases, and an odd TV remote that when clicked, loads up recorded messages to Santa, including one sent by Kate that year.

She then turns her attention to the massive (and gorgeous) correspondence filing system behind her, arranged alphabetically.

These are all of the posted letters received by Santa, stored in long wooden drawers reminiscent of library catalogue drawers.

She locates the “Peirce” letters, and finds letters dated from 2011 to the present (2018) sent to Santa by her brother. She is very surprised to learn that he bothered to send a letter this year, as he has seemed uninterested in Christmas altogether.

Reading along, she learns that he is still struggling with the loss of their father and is hoping that Santa can let him see his dad one last time.

Startled by a scurrying elf, she puts the letters at risk by not carefully reinserting them in their proper place, instead placing them on top of the other letters and then slamming the drawer closed.

I am sure I am not the only archivist who winced at this scene, as she could have caused unintended damage.

She is then captured by the elves as an intruder, and they look her name up in the “Book of True Believers.”

Here Kate is shown her family tree, documenting that she is descended from a long time of Santa Claus “true believers.” She is saddened to learn that her brother’s nameplate is blank, as he has stopped believing in the magic of Christmas in the wake of their father’s death.

The elves then release Kate and agree to help her in her quest. Interestingly, they somehow have a copy of Santa’s mugshot from earlier that evening (a very convenient and timely record to have on hand), and this tells Kate that she needs to head back to the Chicago police department to find Santa.

Interestingly, even though the police initially doubt his story, they did book him as S. Claus instead of, say, “John Doe.”
As an aside, Santa had a rocking good time while in jail, even getting to play music with Steven Van Zandt.

Arriving back in Chicago, Kate, Santa and Teddy are reunited right outside the jail, and the siblings agree to help Santa complete his deliveries. Santa has Kate yell out the name and address of each kid found on the Nice List that is kept in the sleigh. This bound ledger book is seemingly arranged in alphabetical order, with the pages magically turning to highlight the names of all the kids in the immediate delivery area.

Moving at magical speed they complete the deliveries, or do they? Santa sits down to double check the list, and finds that a piece of candy cane dropped by an elf caused two of the pages to stick together.

He angrily reminds the elf that there is not supposed to be any food or drink in the sleigh, always a good policy when working with valuable records!  He removes the errant candy, identifying the remaining name. They then hightail it to Mexico City, and deliver the final present.

They then go their separate ways, with the siblings forever changed by their adventure.

At the end of the movie, Santa adds Teddy to the family tree of true believers, and when Mrs. Claus asks if he wants to watch a Christmas movie, he slyly produces the tape from Kate’s camera – she would not get to keep her proof for the existence of Santa Claus after all.

You may be wondering if Santa was able to grant Teddy his wish. The answer is yes, sort of…hopefully our readers will check this film out.

Die Hard (1988) – directed by John McTiernan, and Die Hard 2 (1990) – directed by Renny Harlin

I have noticed that there has been a fair bit of debate with regard to the inclusion of Die Hard on Christmas movie lists, with passionate advocates for both positions arguing online. Either way, my family watches it every year at Christmas time – it is just a really fun movie with hilarious wisecracks delivered by an everyman sort of hero (“Welcome to the party pal!” “Take this under advisement, jerkweed”), pitted against a fantastic villain (brought to life by the late, great, Alan Rickman), all set against a festive Christmas background. What is not to love?!

In Die Hard, our hero, John McClane (a New York cop), has flown to California to spend Christmas with his (somewhat) estranged wife, Holly, and their kids. Six months prior to the events in the film, Holly’s career with the Nakatomi Corporation required her to relocate to Los Angeles, with John staying behind. We join John as arrives at the company Christmas party; unfortunately, a few minutes later the building is taken over by a group of what appear to be violent terrorists, but who are in fact well trained and resourced thieves trying to rob the company’s vault.

What follows is an entertaining and deadly game of cat and mouse, as John hunts down and deals with the bad guys. Along the way, there are arguably no meaningful uses of records, but they are still present, if only as background props. For example, we learn early on that the office tower is still under construction, so much so that a table full of building plans shows up next to John when he is avoiding the criminals.

There is also a NSFW pin-up that makes at least two appearances (which could be considered a type of ephemera), and at the finale of the film, after the roof and presumably the upper floors have been vaporized by C4 explosives, the surviving characters are “snowed” on by what appears to be pages of paper.

I will concede that the papers all appear to be blank, but it is certainly possible that an occasional record was included.

The second installment in the franchise, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, is set two years later, with John now a Los Angeles cop, travelling back to the east coast to spend time with the extended family for Christmas. While waiting for his wife’s plane at Dulles International Airport, he notices a man acting strangely, and is quickly drawn into a confrontation with a group of criminals, this time corrupt military officers and personnel. Their nefarious goal is not stealing money, but rather taking control of the airport in order to divert an airplane carrying General Ramon Esperanza, a drug lord being extradited to the United States to stand trial.

The bad guys manage to take over the airport’s key systems, but they did not plan on having to deal with someone like John, who is much quicker than the airport police or staff in recognizing what is going on.

After his encounter with the first bad guy, John decides that a background check might be of some use. Unfortunately, the local administration and police force are less than supportive, so he faxes the details to his precinct back in LA. His good friend and returning character from the first movie, Sgt. Al Powell, finds what turns out to be the dead man’s military dossier, and passes it along to John. It raises some troubling questions, as the man in question allegedly died in 1988, prior to John actually killing him.

The details in the military record, combined with the apparent faked death, convinces John that they are not dealing with a standard group of criminals, but rather ones that are well resourced and likely exceptionally deadly.

Shortly thereafter, the airport loses control, with the criminals commandeering their systems with some very fancy equipment. So, some airport staff hatch a plan to get around the lockdown, by tapping into a communications array located in a different part of the airport called the Annex Skywalk. When John hears of the plan, he decides to tag along to help the engineer and his SWAT bodyguards, but is thwarted by the local administration. So, he eventually makes his way to maintenance tunnels underground, and runs into Marvin the janitor/records manager, who happens to guard a treasure trove of useful records: airport site plans!

Using one of the plans, Marvin shows John where the Annex Skywalk is, and John comments that it forms a “bottleneck,” a perfect place for an ambush. With the site plan guiding his way, he shortly learns that he was correct, as the good guys are indeed under attack.

He manages to save Chief Engineer Leslie Barns, but the rest of the tactical force is unfortunately killed in the ambush.

Thereafter, U.S. military personnel arrive as back-up, and decide to utilize the airport’s “Pilot’s Briefing Room” for their planning.  John wants in on the plans but is yet again thwarted. So, he heads back to Marvin to ask for help:

  • John: “You have to get me up to the Pilot’s briefing room…Now, which one of these maps gets me up there?”
  • Marvin: “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it! Get out! I’ll find it – you will mess up my whole damn filing system here. Let’s see…Pilot’s briefing room…I think that’s in the main terminal. So would that be under ‘P’ for Private briefing room?
  • John: “Now, Marvin!”  [As an aside, yelling at an archivist to hurry up is never a good idea – a productive reference experience often takes times time and care]
  • Marvin: “Or maybe it would be under ‘M’ for miscellaneous?” [Pulls out plan]

As an archivist, I find it funny that a map showing the main terminal of the airport is filed under “miscellaneous” and not under something more descriptive, such as “main terminal,” “terminal” or even “buildings.” “Miscellaneous” is an archivist’s last resort when we cannot think of anywhere else to place a truly challenging or outlier record.

While looking over the plan, John hears chatter on one of the criminal’s radios that Marvin happened to find. He learns that the plane carrying Esperanza is inbound, and instead of heading to the briefing room, he uses the site plans to find his way out to the runways, hoping to capture the general.

He meets up with the plane, and after punching the general in the face, John is very quickly surrounded by armed goons, and barely escapes with his life. Making it back to the airport, Leslie Barnes overhears how quickly John was overrun, and comes up with an interesting theory about where the criminals may be hiding out, one supported by records:

  • Leslie: “You said those guys showed up there right away?”
  • John:  “Yeah.”
  • Leslie: “So that must mean they’re on the field or close, and I think I know where. Come here, let me show you something. These are the old plans when the longer runways went in. That’s twelve years ago. And it looks like they’ve done some modifications on site…moved Tracon, phone, ILS, all the underground stuff, so they could handle drainage. If I’m right, all of it would run right along the edge of the airport property – and go right past this neighborhood.” [points at site plan]

Using the records as a guide, the two men search that particular neighbourhood for anything suspicious, and eventually find the villain’s lair.

From here records take a backseat, with John taking the fight to the villains in true Die Hard style. John manages to save Christmas for all of the stranded passengers and crews, with an invaluable assist from Marvin, Leslie, and records!

Arthur Christmas (2011) – directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook

Set on Christmas Eve, the film revolves around Arthur, the youngest son of the current Santa Claus, Malcolm Claus. In this cinematic universe, “Santa Claus” is in fact not a singular person per se, but rather a sort of hereditary title passed down from father to eldest son, with each Santa serving for 70 years. When we join the tale, Malcolm is about to complete his final year as “Santa,” and is expected to hand the reigns over to his eldest son, Steve.

The film opens by panning past official painted portraits of former Santa Clauses. Under the right circumstances one can consider such artwork as an archival record, and we do in fact have a wide variety of both official and personal portraiture in our own collection here in Peel.

This visual reference to so many distinguished Santa torchbearers serves to highlighting the long and rich legacy that comes with the Santa title. On that note, we quickly find out that there are some interesting Claus family dynamics at play: Arthur, as the second son, is not set to inherent his father’s mantle. And at this point, Steve, who actually lacks true affection for the holidays, is essentially running the Christmas delivery operation, with Santa’s sleigh now a massive flying vessel designated “S-1.”

The audience is also shown that delivering Christmas presents worldwide is now a massive logistical and technical enterprise, overseen by Steve and a large force of elves, with the aging Santa reduced to little more than a figurehead.

With regard to records, Arthur’s role in the whole enterprise involves responding to all of the letters sent to Santa, and unlike his brother, he has genuine love and affection for everything Christmas.

Here we are shown Arthur’s office, wherein there are numerous piles of letters with a variety of attached ephemera, with no seemingly logical order present. That said, who am I to judge? Perhaps there is a very useful and logical order that makes sense to Arthur. But as an aside, it is an interesting visual contrast to the elegant and structured arrangement scheme employed by Santa in the aforementioned Christmas Chronicles.

The action kicks into high gear when Arthur learns that his indifferent brother and somewhat clueless father accidently missed a child’s gift, and moreover, do not plan to do anything about it. So, Arthur leaps into action, vowing to deliver the wayward present to Great Britain. He is assisted on his quest by his grandfather (“Grandsanta” – Santa Claus from 1871 to 1941), descendants of the original eight reindeer, and Bryony Shelfley, a present wrapping elf.

To convince Arthur he can help, Grandsanta reveals that the old sleigh he used during his time is tucked away, hidden from Steve who wanted it chopped up for fire wood (yikes!). They set about preparing the sleigh and the reindeers and head out on their quest, with their journey fraught with danger and obstacles galore.

Along the way, Arthur learns that before the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS), the Clauses relied on an ancient “Map of the Clauses,” with the gorgeous ancient map used “…on every Christmas night in history.”

The map is so old that it even contains a reference to the fabled City of Atlantis; but interestingly, it is now out of date in other areas since Steve replaced it with computers about 25 years prior. (The map seemed particularly out of date with regard to Canada, with Grandsanta surprised by the size of Toronto).

Speaking of Steve, he is informed that his grandfather and brother have taken the old sled, and decides to order them to cease and desist. However, he learns that even though they have a state of the art communications system at the North Pole, that they cannot contact the antique sled.

Instead, they need to use the “clumsy” and “ancient” Signalator.

And this is where we run into an interesting technological “interoperability” problem. The old device is brought out by the elf who used it to contact the old sled, and the elves manage to plug in the device to the North Pole mainframe (via a MacGyvered connection that looks very dangerous, i.e. the console even warns them to “!Remove Cable!”). Unfortunately for them, shortly thereafter the device shorts out the entire system.

I perhaps found this funnier than most, because it hit close to home when considering our role as archivists seeking to preserve digitized or born digital records. Most archivists will tell you that trying to interface old computer technology or media with modern day systems, can be difficult – we often need to deal with frozen programs, corrupted files, and even CD-ROM shrapnel!

In the end, we get to observe two very different iterations of the Santa Claus tradition – an antique sleigh pulled by reindeer assisted by a fascinating analog map, and a high tech supersonic delivery aircraft, complete with cloaking technology and GPS systems (which, as some characters point out, is not necessarily infallible). Which approach is necessarily “best” is more or less left an open question (although one has to admit that the S-1 is much more efficient), but the juxtaposition in the film is interesting and entertaining.

Batman Returns (1992) – directed by Tim Burton

In Batman Returns, Batman finds himself contending with three dangerous characters in the lead up to Christmas: The Penguin, a crime boss and potential mayoral candidate; Max Shreck, a loathsome and corrupt businessman; and Catwoman, a possible love interest with an unknown agenda.

As the story unfolds, we learn that 34 years prior, the Penguin was born Oswald Cobblepot, and that his bird-like physical deformities frightened his parents, who subsequently abandoned him in a creek.  He was found by penguins and the Red Triangle Circus, a travelling group that was a front for criminal activity, and Penguin eventually rises to lead the gang. His leadership is a secret though, with the gang currently spearheading a crime wave in Gotham City.

The Penguin has hatched a plan to take horrible revenge on the world that has wronged him, but first he needs to re-enter society, preferably as a beloved character. To that end he seeks out the resources and connections of Shreck, forcibly kidnapping the businessman.

The Penguin then blackmails Shreck with, among other things, reconstructed documentary evidence that he is not in fact an upstanding citizen as he widely claims, but actually a dangerous, bottom-feeding jerkweed, and sleazy landlord:

  • Penguin: “What about the documents that prove you own half the firetraps in Gotham?”
  • Shreck: “If there were such documents – and that is not an admission – I would have seen to it they were shredded.”
  • Penguin: “Good idea!” [he pulls out documents reconstructed with tape] – “A lot of tape and a little patience make all the difference!”

Shaken, Shreck agrees to help the Penguin, but decides to also use the Penguin to advance his own dark agenda:  he is trying to convince Gotham City Council and the Mayor to let him build a power station to serve Gotham’s future needs. However, what he is actually planning to do is to use the station to draw all available power in the area to its capacitors, and then hold it for ransom. Shreck thinks that if he can place the Penguin in the Mayor’s office, that approval for his plan will be given.

Around the same time, Shreck’s assistant, Selina Kyle, is prepping for a meeting between her boss and Bruce Wayne to discuss the proposed power plant. She unwittingly puts herself in grave danger when she opens the “protected files” kept locked in a filing cabinet. Here she learns Shreck’s true plan, and awkwardly tries to blackmail him. Showing his true character, Shreck pushes her out the nearest window without a second’s thought.

Somehow surviving the fall, Selina is shown lying on the ground being mysteriously revived by assorted cats, and that night transforms into the mysterious and dangerous “Catwoman.”

We next see Shreck helping the Penguin gain unfettered access to Gotham’s Hall of Records, where he is shown pouring over birth records, seemingly on the hunt for the name of his parents.

But I think everyone will agree that something about this scene feels “off.”  And interestingly, this VIP access does not sit well with everyone:

  • Police officer: “Penguin is not to be disturbed.” [pushes back a reporter]
  • Reporter: “The Hall of Records is a public place!  You’re violating the First Amendment, abridging the freedom of the press!
  • Shreck: “Wait a minute. What about the freedom to rediscover your roots, with dignity, and privacy?”

As Batman observes the spectacle, he begins to grow suspicious, and does some research of his own. Looking through old microfilmed newspaper stories on the Red Triangle Gang’s past exploits, he comes across a reference to a member of the group that mysteriously vanished years ago, a “quiet bird boy.”

This is an interesting scene that again demonstrates the power of the bat computer in the Batcave; here it is drawing on microfilmed newspapers either from Batman’s own collection, or perhaps from a public collection at a local archives or library. The details in the archived news stories begin to paint a picture for Batman, and the pieces of the puzzle start to fall together for the world’s greatest detective.

Alfred, Batman’s loyal butler and aide, subsequently chides him for his worries and investigations, to which Batman responds, “I think he [Penguin] knows who his parents are…there’s something else.” And there is something else indeed, something very dark (more on this in a bit).

We next see the list that Penguin has been compiling in his private quarters. When Catwoman drops by to try to enlist his help in destroying Batman, she assumes it is his “enemies list.” As she tries to look at them, Penguin reacts with hostility, telling her the names are not for prying eyes.

Catwoman trying to read the list of names on the Penguin’s notepads

She lets the matter drop and teams up with him to try to take down Batman with a twofold plan: frame him for murder, and also sabotage the Batmobile to send it on a murderous rampage. With regard to the latter plan, somehow the Penguin and the Red Triangle Circus have copies of technical blueprints and schematics for the Batmobile.

Fans of the Batmobile (as I have been since childhood) have to watch in horror as the gang uses the pilfered records to guide them in taking the car apart. And then we have to watch as they install a diabolical device giving the Penguin complete control over the car, thus turning it into a death machine on wheels.

Thankfully, Batman is able to locate and remove the device they installed in the car, and regains control before anyone is killed.

But the larger question remains: where did the Penguin get those top secret plans? It almost goes without saying that Batman, one of the more paranoid participants in the superhero world, usually protects his secrets with tremendous care. That said, we have seen a somewhat similar scenario in a former Archivist’s Night at the Movies post, wherein a junior employee at Wayne Enterprises happened across the Batmobile plans in the company’s archives.  Could something similar have happened in this instance?

As it turns out, there are some interesting, if not wholly satisfying, answers available. In the trivia section of the movie’s IMDb entry, (and my thanks to my brother for finding this for me!) we are told that the original script for this movie saw Batman distracted while fighting Red Triangle Circus goons in an early scene, thus giving other members of the gang time to take detailed photographs of the Batmobile that Batman had left parked on the street. Presumably, they then used those photos to reverse engineer the plans and schematics. But for me this explanation is problematic, unless the cameras had built in x-ray technology (doubtful). A second possibility is offered by the novel adaptation, which indicates that a disgruntled engineer who helped design the Batmobile provided the plans to the Penguin. This is perhaps more plausible, but I still have questions, since Batman would likely have a contingency in place for such a scenario. But I digress.

Moving on, during the Batmobile rampage, Penguin appears on one of the car’s video screens to gloat about his success thus far lying to the people about his true intentions. In a brilliant move, Batman records the Penguin insulting “…the squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets of Gotham.”

Batman then strategically uses this recording (shown saved on a Compact Disk) to drown out a campaign style speech being given by the Penguin, finally turning the people of Gotham against the wannabe politician.

The political endeavour thus ruined by the well-timed use of a sound recording, Penguin shifts gears and turns his attention back to his original goal of societal retribution. As it turns out, Batman was correct: the Penguin was not searching the public records for his parents, nor was he compiling a political enemies list. Rather, he was gathering the names of all of Gotham’s first born sons, with a plan to kidnap them as retribution for his own parents rejecting and abandoning him in the sewers.

Penguin handing the various lists of children to his gang

Thankfully, Batman outwits and outflanks the Penguin, and rescues the children before any harm can come to them.

The movie closes with Alfred wishing Bruce/Batman a Merry Christmas, and the viewers are left with an iconic image of Catwoman looking up at the Bat Signal amidst a wintery night in Gotham.

Home Alone (1990) – directed by Chris Columbus, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) – directed by Chris Columbus

Home Alone follows the adventures of a precocious child, Kevin McAllister, after he is accidently left at home in the suburbs of Chicago over the Christmas holidays. Complicating matters is the fact that two burglars (Harry and Marv – also known as the “Wet Bandits”) have scoped out the neighbourhood, and are planning on robbing the McAllister homestead, among others.

The Bandits confirm that Kevin is indeed home alone and decide to rob the house even with him there; shortly thereafter they regret this decision, because Kevin is exceptionally bright, and lays all sorts of dangerous (and hilarious) traps for the two men.

In preparation, Kevin draws up a detailed battle plan, with a wide range of pain-maximizing and maiming obstacles being placed in the way of the hapless thieves.

While the criminals do make it into the house, they never manage to steal anything, and are eventually caught by the police red-handed.

Kevin’s experiences here would come in handy, because another showdown with the Wet Bandits occurs the following year.  In the sequel, Kevin is accidently separated from his family en route to Florida and ends up in New York City. Coincidently, Harry and Marv have managed to break out of prison and have decided to reboot their life of crime in the Big Apple.

An early shot of a newspaper gives viewers some context for the appearance of the Wet Bandits

Defying all logical statistical probability models, their paths manage to cross, and the Bandits grab Kevin, and sloppily reveal that their new plan is to rob a toy store of all of its money, most of which is destined for a children’s hospital.

Kevin manages to record their admissions on his personal cassette tape recorder hidden in his pocket, and then escapes from their clutches. He then draws up another battle plan, this time utilizing his aunt and uncle’s vacant property in the city as his venue (a venue that is luckily under renovation, thus providing all sorts of interesting material to use against the Bandits).

Kevin starts “Operation Ho Ho Ho” by photographing the Bandits robbing the toy store with a Polaroid camera, forcing them to chase him to his chosen building in an attempt to retrieve the photographic evidence. He then lures them inside, where he has set his various traps.

At the end of it all, the Bandits are caught (again), with the incriminating photographs and cassette recording safely in police hands.

However, I do wonder at the possible admissibility of this evidence in a court of law, given that Kevin’s identity is seemingly not known to the police, and thus the Bandits might be able to challenge the provenance and veracity of the recording at least. That said, Harry and Marv are convicts on the lam, so I doubt the justice system needs more evidence to keep them behind bars.

In the end, Kevin and his family are happily reunited, and get to spend a memorable Christmas holiday together in New York City.

Bonus round – A comic book example

Before wrapping up, I want to sneak one final item in. In the The Christmas Chronicles and Arthur Christmas, we were shown two different mail sorting and filing approaches for letters. I want to highlight a third example, but one not drawn from movies, but rather, comic books.

In a 1957 issue of The Brand New Adventures of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, we are shown the North Pole’s mail sorting room. [3]

We are not shown the entire room, so we cannot be 100% certain, but it looks as though this Santa concerns himself with only those children living in the USA, given that the filing system depicted has letters sorted alphabetically by state, as opposed to strictly alphabetically across global locales as in The Christmas Chronicles. Conversely, Arthur Christmas and The Christmas Chronicles go to great lengths to demonstrate that their Santas deliver all over the world.

Beyond the mailroom, this issue also contains a depiction of Santa’s use of maps while navigating the skies (helpfully illuminated by Rudolph’s famous nose).

I hope this exploration of the use and/or depiction of records in these classic Christmas movies has been an enjoyable diversion for our readers. This has truly been a very difficult year, and so please be kind to one another and to yourself as we face this next stage of the pandemic together.

I wish everyone all the best for the New Year!

Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist


[1] I had originally intended to include the lovely television mini-series Shooting the Past in this post, but other work demands and life in general have taken their toll as of late; so, this will not be happening this year. But I hope to offer up some thoughts on that mini-series in 2022. Please stay tuned!

[2] In The Christmas Chronicles, we are not actually told, in my recollection anyway, the name of the building. However, in The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two the characters confirm that the building is indeed called the “Hall of Letters.”

[3] More on how and in what ways selected comic book writers and artists have chosen to include and depict records in their work can be found here.

3 responses to “An archivist’s night at the movies, part VI: Christmas revisited

  1. On Mon, Dec 20, 2021 at 10:45 PM Archives @ PAMA wrote:

    > Archives @ PAMA, Region of Peel posted: ” In the third entry in the Region > of Peel Archive’s ongoing An Archivist’s Night at the Movies series (posted > December 20th, 2018) I explored the use and depiction of records in > assorted Christmas movies and television specials (as well as one Hanukka” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: An archivist’s night at the movies, part III: Holiday edition | Archives @ PAMA·

  3. Pingback: Heralding a new year – Wading Through the Cultural Stacks·

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