A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire (1905)    3 Stars






Watching A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire is like stepping into a time machine. For such a simple movie – the cameraman films from the front of a street car as it slowly makes it way down Market Street in San Francisco one sunny day – it is incredibly absorbing so that you almost feel that you are really there. Market Street was something of a free-for-all back in 1905. Street cars, horse-drawn buggies and them new-fangled autermobeels jockey for position, criss-crossing the street and driving where they like (well — not the street cars, obviously). Kids hang off the back of some of the cars, while others run in front of the camera to win their five seconds of fame. The slow stately pace of the camera puts one in mind of a galleon sailing slowly, impervious of all around it in its single-minded journey, and you can just imagine some YouTube wizard attaching a suitably spacey Pink Floyd track to it.

The film is lent an added poignancy by the fact that it was filmed just months before the earthquake of 1906. Around 3,000 people – something approaching 1 in 10 of the San Francisco population – died in the quake, so there’s a good chance that the life remaining to many of the people seen in this remarkable film could be measured in months. Many of those vehicles and wagons would have been destroyed, as would most of the buildings. So in one sense this film really is a glimpse into a world that no longer exists…

(Reviewed 20th August 2009)