Panorama pris d’un train en marche (1898)
Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Georges Méliès
Synopsis: With the cameraman atop a moving train car the viewer is given a one minute glimpse of a French urban area.
Have you ever wondered what kind of filmmaker Georges Méliès would have been had he not stumbled upon a way to make people and objects magically disappear on camera? Méliès’ film career was over by 1912, largely because he was incapable of adapting his style of film-making to cater for the film-going public’s changing tastes. Méliès was primarily a magician, and witnessing his singular lack of imagination when it came to producing any other kind of film comes as something of a shock. We’re so used to seeing Méliès energetically defying logic with his magic tricks that it seems odd to realise that it was the more prosaic aspects of life and filmmaking that ultimately defeated him.
Panorama pris d’un train en marche serves as a good example of just how ordinary Méliès’ work could be when he strayed from the themes and formats for which he was — and remains — famous. His camera is placed atop a moving train and, for one minute, records its journey. Phantom rides were quite fashionable in the late 19th Century, but most filmmakers would shoot their footage from the front of the train so that the audience’s view of the unfolding scenery was largely unobstructed. However, because Méliès has placed his camera on top of the train and directly behind the front carriage our view of its surroundings is severely limited. In addition to this, the smoke from the train frequently obscures our view even further. We do catch a few glimpses of people — a man descending some stairs at a station, a matron sat at a table on a bridge under which the train travels — but not enough to prove of much interest. All in all, a very dull and disappointing effort.
(Reviewed 20th August 2014)