The years leading up to the turn of the century were a hugely significant time for cinema, and since the feature-length film did not arrive until 1906, all of the formative, influential films of early cinema can be considered short films. The first public cinema screening took place on December 28, 1895, in Paris, and was a product of the Lumiére brothers.
This was made possible by a few film pioneers and inventors who found a way to capture and project movement in a way that delighted audiences. As a result of these advancements, there are many exceptionally noteworthy short films that made their debut before 1900 and paved the way for the world of cinema that is still growing today.
Film pioneer George Albert Smith’s 1898 film, Santa Claus, was the first depiction of Santa Claus in film, and consequently, the first-ever Christmas film. In the film, two children are put to bed on Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus is shown arriving on the rooftop and climbing down the chimney.
Santa Claus arrives in the bedroom and places presents into the stocking hanging at the foot of the children’s bed. Once Santa leaves, the children awake, delighted to see that Santa has visited them. This film, along with other works of Smith’s from the same year, made up the most technically complex and impressive British films of the time.
The French short film Pauvre Pierrot translates to “Poor Pete” and is one of the first animated films ever made. The film was directed by Charles-Émile Reynaud and was debuted alongside two other films to demonstrate Reynaud’s own Théatre Optique. This was an animated moving picture system that predated the Lumiére brothers’ Cinématographe.
Pauvre Pierrot is made up of a series of individually painted images and presents three characters from comedic Italian theater. The film begins with Harlequin visiting his mistress, Columbina. The two are interrupted by the arrival of Columbina’s husband, Pierrot, and Harlequin is forced to hide and proceeds to play a number of pranks on Pierrot.
Complete with the Devil, a cauldron, and various supernatural characters, Le Manoir du Diable, or The House of The Devil is widely regarded as the first horror film. As a result of the transforming bat and the Devil character being chased away with a large crucifix, the Georges Méliès film is often regarded as the first film in the vampire genre.
Throughout the three-minute film, the devil – Mephistopheles – plays a number of tricks on the two men who have entered the castle. Mephistopheles uses his magic to summon many supernatural characters, and succeeds in causing one of the men to flee, while the other stays to defend himself.