Before the earthquake

A Trip Down Market Street

A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire, from

A regular Bioscopist is Joe Thompson, who runs both the engagingly-named The Pneumatic Rolling-Sphere Carrier Delusion blog (“rambling observations on books, history, movies, transit, obsolete technology, baseball, and anything else that crosses my mind”) and the Cable Car website. Which is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to cable cars – particularly those in San Francisco.

He has just published a fascinating piece on A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire, a 1905 film shot from a travelling cable car, showing San Francisco before it was struck by the catastrophic earthquake and fire of 1906. The film is available to see on the Library of Congress’ American Memory site, where it is accompanied by a meticulously detailed shotlist and historical notes.

The Cable Car site complements this with the discovery of an article on the exhibition of the film, after the fire, on 20 April 1907 in The San Francisco Call, this time courtesy of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper digitisation site. As the article reports:

The picture was presented during the intermission in the middle of the performance, and was intended merely as a special feature in recognition of the anniversary of the fire. But while hearty cheers greeted the familiar scenes as they followed one after the other, the pathos of the ravages of the great fire touched many hearts and there were tears in the eyes of scores of onlookers.

Every well known building and corner shown in the moving picture won applause, but the Palace hotel, the Sutter street horsecar seen crossing the city’s main artery at the Sutter junction and the final view up Market street were greeted with outbursts of hand clapping which broke the Orpheum record for plaudits.

There are frame stills to back up the observations from the shotlist. The film itself (the producer is not known) is a fine example of a ‘phantom ride’, the common film genre of the period, where a camera was placed to the front or rear of a train, automobile, omnibus or cable car, to present a travelling shot of the passing scenery, urban or rural. Here’s a well-known picture of Billy Bitzer, later D.W. Griffith’s camerman, filming for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company around 1900:

Billy Bitzer

The picture is likely to be a publicity gimmick, however, as camera operators were never so foolhardy as to travel on a cow-catcher like this – they placed themselves on trucks to the front or rear of trains, if they weren’t positioned in the cab or carriages themselves. But it looks good.

See the earlier post on Patrick Keiller’s City of the Future exhibition for more phantom rides, and an old post on researching patents which includes an illustration of Hale’s Tours, the invention which gave mid-1900s audiences a virtual reality thrill by placing them in a railway carriage mock-up which rocked from side to side and showed ‘phantom ride’ films projected at the front of the car.

The American Memory site has a whole section devoted to San Francisco before and after the 1906 earthquake, with twenty-six films dating 1897-1916.

Re-envisioning the child in Italian film

Re-envisioning the child in Italian film

Re-envisioning the Child in Italian Film: New Perspectives on Children and Childhoods from Early Cinema to the Present is a conference being held 14-15 July 2008 at the University of Exeter. Normally we don’t allow non-words like ‘re-envisioning’ here at The Bioscope, but this promises to be an interesting congruence of Italian studies, film studies and childhood studies. The conference blurb assures us that “whilst the recurrent presence of the filmic child has been acknowledged within traditional film historiography, its changing role and status has until recently suffered from a peculiar critical neglect.” They are asking for papers on the following:

* Representations of children in early cinema
* The child in historical drama/costume drama
* The role of the child in Italian film criticism
* Child actors
* The politicisation of children and childhoods
* Violence and the traumatised child
* Childhood and innocence
* The lost, endangered or missing child
* The resurfacing of lost childhoods/the ghosts of childhood
* The child and questions of gender and sexuality
* Childhood and genre
* Childhood under postmodernity and the ‘death of childhood’
* Re-reading the child in Neorealism
* The child in global cinema
* Childhood and immigration

The representation of children in early cinema is a subject that merits serious academic investigation, and though the concentration on Italian rather narrows the field, hopefully there will be someone to take on the theme. The Call for Papers closes 1 February 2008. Further details from The School of Arts, Lenguages and Literatures, University of Exeter.