Pretty Old Films

film 2 of 6

Barcelona by Train

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

This is actually as good, as amazing even, as that tracking shot through the marshes in Murnau’s Sunrise. We have the same exhilaration, even exaltation of movement, both by the camera itself, as well as by all of the constantly shifting objects within and around the frame.  In its leisurely unfolding the film feels utterly modern and practically ancient, combining as it does all of the bells and whistles of fin-de-siecle urban development and technology—Barcelona is a tremendously attractive, tremendously dynamic camera subject—with all of these glancingly mysterious and beautiful people.

When you think about it this little actuality is actually a profound example or illustration of heterogenesis.  In other words, you can often get to the same truths through quite diverse means. Murnau and Struss and Rosher choreographed their elaborate imagery and that historic shot with all of the skill and balance and exactitude that they could muster. And that is about as much of those things as it is humanly possible to muster. In contrast, this one is pretty well unplanned and uncalculated, at least by the cameraman on the tram. He just shot as they went. It was God, or his creatures, who provided the impossibly complex/absolutely simple and inevitable mis en scene on this one.

Too bad someone elected to interrupt it with cuts! Maybe even then exhibitors were worried about too much of a good thing, or maybe too little of the story that would presently engulf the movies, and pretty well eliminate the bounty of the original actuality. The thing is, uncluttered as it is by incident or characterization, this movie shows how sort of superfluous all of the eventual developments and advances might have been. Of course we’re all grateful, but this first kind of film might still just as well be the last, if not only.