For the second time in the past month I have had my mind and soul reminded as to why I love Independent film so much. It is a true privilege as a reviewer to get to view films that you otherwise would not see. Santa Smokes is one of those films.
The film has made a splash at film festivals around the world. Fresh off of winning Best Director and Best Actress at the Tokyo International Film Festival, filmmakers Till Schauder and Chris Valentien are bringing their film here to the States for all to enjoy.
Made in 2002, Santa Smokes could rightfully be called the first incarnation of the “bad Santa.” This Santa smokes, steals, and most of all is just mean to people. Perfecto!
Johnny Jones (Till Schauder – credited as Till Terror) is a down-and-out actor who just can’t land a decent gig. It’s so bad that during a telephone job inquiry he finds out that the part has no lines, no pay, and requires full frontal nudity. Ouch! So down on his luck is he that his girlfriend Sue (Friedman) has about had enough. She believes that his gay roommate, Jason (Glover), a Broadway dancer, is after him as well. Worse yet, Johnny is indebted to the very large Mr. Johnson (Johnson) because of a bowling loss.
Sue does in fact decide to leave, which in turn leaves Johnny in a very bad mood – just in time for his gig as a street-side Santa handing out fliers.
Santa smoking does not go over too well with the kids or the parents, and Johnny gets an earful from them all. He couldn’t care less until he meets Angel (Hulsander), a sweet girl who takes her role as the street-side angel very seriously…until she is off duty. But will Johnny be able to come around with the help of Angel? Is there any hope for this Christmas with Johnny on the loose on the streets of New York?
Santa Smokes truly has something for everyone. The film, above all else, is really a romance, and it is told with a fresh point of view by screenwriters Chris Valentien and Till Terror. This is not your usual run-of-the-mill glowing romance with every cliche in the book.
Similarly, Valentien and Terror keep the laughs rolling throughout. With a super small crew, the filmmakers got some hilarious turnouts from people just walking along in New York. It is even stated in the press notes that the crew was so small that many people did not even realize they were shooting a film! Some of the documentary-style footage shot of the common passerby gets the biggest laughs of the entire film.
The beating heart of this production is Till Terror, and without a solid performance from him the film could have collapsed under its own weight. But that does not happen my friends, as Terror gives a very subdued, dry, and even heartfelt performance as Johnny. This is pitch perfect for the role.
Kristy Jean Hulsander also gives an outstanding performance as Angel. She is the way we have angels pictured in our minds most of the time; quiet and caring. She is the common sense factor of the operation, and Hulsander nails the role.
My complaint about the film is small and ultimately meaningless, as this is a film with nary a wasted moment. The editing was a bit dizzying for me at times, with image upon image overlapping one another. While sometimes it is artistic, it can also be sensory overload.
Santa Smokes is the kind of film that begs to be seen. Fortunately for you New Yorkers, you have seven chances to see it in December alone! Santa Smokes will be playing at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater from December 15-22, 2004. Kristy Jean Hulsander, Till Terror, and Chris Valentien will all be on hand for the December 15 screening. I urge anyone in the area to go take a look at this terrific film.
As for me, it’s always nice to add a new Christmas “must-see” film to the collection. Bravo!
Studio: V & T Films
Length: 81 Minutes
Rating: Unrated (Contains language, drug references, and some violence)
Theatrical Release: June 4, 2002 (Atlanta Film & Video Festival) / December 1, 2003 (Berlin, Germany) / December 15-22, 2004 (New York, NY)
Directed by: Till Schauder
Written by: Chris Valentien & Till Schauder
Cast: Till Schauder, Kristy Jean Hulsander, Richard Glover, Melissa Friedman, Rynel Johnson, Crawford Mills