Everyone thinks of Santa Claus as a magical figure without flaws, but the men who keep his legend alive, real-bearded professional Santas, are nothing like the jolly ol' Saint Nick we've all grown up knowing. In reality, the mall Santa in your cherished children's photo has problems just like the rest of us. Even the jolliest of men fall victim to divorce, job loss, insecurity and even the occasional hangover. 'I Am Santa Claus' is a documentary that follows the lives of five real-bearded professional Santa Clauses as they anticipate and prepare for the coming holiday season while showing them for who they actually are; flawed, flesh-and-blood men who feel an overbearing responsibility to protect the integrity of the spotless, untarnished reputation of the "Red Suit."
I Am Santa Claus is the tell-all documentary on the jolly fat man you certainly don’t want the kids to see. It’s not just that it ruins the magic and mystery of the plump, crimson gift giver. It’s not even that one of Santa’s mall messengers is a sexually posing bear off season (though I’d imagine that alone would be enough of a stopping point). The prime reason being that these are mostly tragic tales of the men who only really get to shine brightly for one season a year. It’s a life that requires much sacrifice be it physical, fiscal or mental. It’s enough to make one truly pine that these guys really did live in a magical North Pole of elves and reindeer.
Most of these Santas are older individuals who live simple and sedentary lifestyles. One Santa lives with his children, drinking on his birthday and looking back on his rocky life. Another Santa spends his time attending various sexual conventions and photographing himself as a member of the bear group of homosexual collectives. The most interesting of these Santa’s and almost the exception to the rule is Mick Foley, better known to the wrestling world as the masked Mankind. In this film we watch him take up the reigns of assuming the beard, the costume and taking on the role with kids plopping on his lap. Mick has the added baggage of young children and he struggles to maintain that magic of the holiday season.
But Mick, being a newbie to the world of Santa Claus impersonators, is an exception to the rule. He seems like a nice enough dad who wants to do something wonderful with his life, but the other Santas we see put their blood, sweat and tears into their seasonal job. They are not sleazy men taking on the task as a part-time gig for some quick cash, nor are they creepy fat men too obsessed with their alternative identity. They have real lives filled with many of the pains and pressures that faces most of those on a low income. Many of them survive in simple living conditions, struggle to maintain a food budget and do their best to seek love where they can find it. For them, the world outside of Christmas is anything but magical.
However, once the holly jolly season begins, the Santas bring everything they have on game day. All the financial burdens and fulfillment of desires melts away as they inhabit the role of Santa. These men know that they must maintain the illusion in front of kids 24/7. Any moment that seems out of place or unbecoming in public for the figure would tarnish not only the child’s view of Santa, but would mean the end of their career. For most, they realize they cannot be seen entirely in public as normal men during this time of the year, maintaining the illusion that they indeed work at the North Pole. It’s rather sad when you truly think about their sacrifice. But they did pursue this life by choice and the joy they feel when facing the kids is more real than it is artificial. One Santa actually breaks down in tears after the end of a work day from seeing the twinkle in the eyes of the children that stare back at him.
This is a documentary that may be very hard to watch for many parents who perhaps don’t want to know the story behind the man who lets kids sit on his lap. Indeed, it is a very irregular lifestyle that many of these men lead, but it doesn’t make them any lesser. Seeing these mall Santas off the clock really puts it into perspective that these are not just robots programmed to input Christmas lists and pose for pictures. It’s the most human portrait ever delivered on an icon that attracts so many, but breeds the best out of those who seem to have less. Prior to viewing this movie, I passed a mall Santa who had just finished his day of smiling for the kids. He was handing out high-fives for those going up the escalator and I gave him a hearty slap with a grin. After viewing this documentary, I’ll be sure to give him a bigger smile and words of encouragement for all his sacrifices. He deserves it as a key icon for making the Christmas season as wondrous as it should be for the young ones.
You rated this film: 3
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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