Issue 35 of SCREENING THE PAST: Martin, Ruiz, Godard, Marker, Malick, Ophuls, and RIP Vikki Riley


On Railways and the Movies

The Railway Children (Lionel Jeffries, 1970) was a film I ardently watched countless times on television as a child, and, I have to confess, I have seen and loved it countless times since. I had certainly seen it long before I saw  L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat (Lumière Bros., 1895). I noticed the resemblance between the two films only when watching Jeffries’ film again recently. But when I explored this, I was struck by the extent of their resonance, and by the uncanniness of the later film’s pastiche of the earlier one: Bernard Cribbins‘ Perks revivifies, down to his moustache, the La Ciotat station porter; an identical luggage trolley lurks in the background; the beshawled woman looks like she stepped off the earlier train, except that she’s in Technicolor.
     I began to figure, to fantasize, that the uncanniness of The Railway Children‘s penultimate sequence was not only set off by its graphic and musical evocation of the uncertainty of young Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) about quite why she was standing by the rail track, but also by its palpable haunting by the Lumière’s originary scene, with its powerful, ghostly, urtext of a, much more bustling, railway platform just after the arrival of cinema.
 For me, of course, it will also always be the other way round: that The Railway Children, and this film’s own afterwardsness, haunt L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare
[From the introduction to “Uncanny Arrival at a Railway Station” by Catherine Grant

In the ‘folklore’ of cinema history there is one anecdote which seems to be perennially fascinating to layman and historian alike. It might be summarised as follows: an audience in the early days of the cinema is seated in a hall when a film of an approaching train is projected on the screen. The spectators are anxious, fearful –    some of them even panic and run.
     This fearful or panicky reaction has been called ‘the train effect’. It is such a common anecdote, cited by so many writers both at the time and later, that it has also been called `the founding myth of cinema’ or the cinema’s ‘myth of origin. [Stephen Bottomore, ‘The Panicking Audience?: early cinema and the “train effect’”, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1999

Rather than mistaking the image for reality, the spectator is astonished by its transformation through the new illusion of projected motion. Far from credulity, it is the incredible nature of the illusion that renders the viewer speechless. What is displayed before the audience is less the impending speed of the train than the force of the cinematic apparatus. [Tom Gunning, ‘An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator [1989]’, in Linda Williams, ed. (1994) Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film. 114–133.]

Cinema as we know it, as an institution, as an entertainment based on the mass spectatorship of projected moving images, was born in ’95, in the Golden Age of railway travel. As the prehistory and beginnings of cinema strongly suggest, film finds an apt metaphor in railroad. The train can be seen as providing the prototypical experience of looking at a framed, moving image, and as the mechanical double of the cinematic apparatus. Both are means of transporting a passenger to a totally different place, both are highly charged vehicles of narrative events, stories, intersections of strangers, both are based on a fundamental paradox: simultaneous motion and stillness. These are two great machines of vision that give rise to similar modes of perception, and are geared to shaping the leisure time of a mass society. [Lynne Kirby, ‘Male Hysteria and Early Cinema’, originally in Camera Obscura May 1988 6(2 17)]

Following on from Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s now seminal account of the nineteenth-century railroad and the institution of “panoramic perception” as being emblematic of modernity, critics like Lynne Kirby and Mary Ann Doane have already explored the historic connections between film and the train’s profound re-configuration of vision, with its mechanical separation of the viewer’s body from the actual physical space of a ‘virtual’ ‘perception. [Saige Walton, ‘[Review of] Jeffrey Ruoff (ed), Virtual voyages: Cinema and travel. Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2006′, Screening the Past, 20, 2006]

Above, Film Studies For Free gifts to you another of its author’s experiments with real-time video comparison (also a further exploration of cinematic pastiche).

This tiny videographic donation accompanies the links, below, to Omar Ahmed‘s truly wonderful, much more comprehensive and informative video essay series on trains in Indian cinema.

And below those links are others to further, openly accessible online scholarship that touches on the topic of railways — a very cinematic apparatus indeed — in the movies.

Bon voyage!


    Image from After the Rainbow (2009), a two screen video installation by Soda_Jerk, the Australian artist sisters Dom and Dan Angeloro, as discussed inThe Colour of Nothing: Contemporary Video Art, SF and the Postmodern Sublime’ by Andrew Frost

    [C]inema is surely a paradoxical object: its medium-specific possibility seems to have been well and truly overrun by its tendency to intermediality, its fundamental impurity. That is where its true materiality-effect, today, is situated: in the palpable aura of a mise en scène that is always less than itself and more than itself, not only itself but also its contrary, ever vanishing and yet ever renewed across a thousand and one screens, platforms and dispositifs. [Adrian Martin, ‘Turn the Page: From Mise en scène to Dispositif ‘, Screening the Past, Issue 31, 2011]

    Below, Film Studies For Free presents the table of contents to the latest online issue of Screening the Past.

    It’s a special issue on the ‘intermediality’ of cinema, guest-edited by the brilliant and influential Australian film critic and scholar Adrian Martin. It begins with a marvellous contribution by him to the topic. There’s also an unmissable ‘rerun’ of Nicole Brenez’s remarkable essay ‘Incomparable Bodies‘.

    Admirers of Martin’s work should also be more than excited by the news that the first issue of LOLA, a new film journal edited by him and the film writer and blogger extraordinaire Girish Shambu, is “coming soon“…

    Screening the Past, Issue 31 – Cinema Between Media 
    (Incorporating U-matic to YouTube, a selection of papers from a National Symposium celebrating three decades of Australian Indigenous Community Filmmaking edited by Therese Davis).


    >A Cinematic World? On Jean Baudrillard and Film Studies


    Image from Stop-Loss (Kimberly Peirce, 2008). Read Kim Toffoletti and Victoria Grace, ‘Terminal Indifference: The Hollywood War Film Post-September 11’, which treats this and other contemporary war films.
    We are no longer the actors of the real but the double agents of the virtual.

    Jean Baudrillard, Fragments: Cool Memories III (New York: Verso, 1997):125

    On the occasion of an excellent new issue of online journal Film-Philosophy on “Baudrillard and Film-Philosophy” (Vol 14, No 2, 2010), Film Studies For Free is proud to present a long list of links to openly accessible Baudrillardian film studies. These are set out below the embedded video of the late Baudrillard in action himself. This list incorporates links to the FP articles.

    It’s so nice to have things in a simulacrum of one tidy place, FSFF thinks. And it hopes you will agree.

    Jean Baudrillard thinking and talking about the violence of the image, the violence to the image, aggression, oppression, transgression, regression, effects and causes of violence, violence of the virtual, 3d, virtual reality, transparency, psychological and imaginary. Open Lecture given by Jean Baudrillard after his seminar for the students at the European Graduate School, EGS Media and Communication Program Studies Department, Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Europe, in 2004
    By Jean Baudrillard

    Engaging with Baudrillard’s work: