Let us say it's April 22, 1899 and your Thomas Edison. What might you be doing with yourself? The answer is: standing on a elevated train with a camera, photographing a view of Upper Manhattan--specifically the 104th Street curve. Now the El trains have long been relegated to the dumping ground of New York technology so I can't speak specifically about this curve and its precise location. My guess is that this is the Third Avenue El (taken down in the 1950's) and the distant countryside you see would be the still undeveloped Bronx. I imagine Edison selected the curve for recording as it supplied a natural sweep and perspective for the camera to capture--remember that camera's at this time were fixed, i.e. immovable and thus forced to capture whatever entered the frame with no ability to follow it.

This film is precisely what I was referring to yesterday with my theory of what's important to film watchers a hundred years later: no plot, no unnecessary dramatics. Just a view of what a very different world looked like--which, oddly, is not so different from today's world. For as the El train passes some workers standing perilously close to the edge of the tracks, the men wave goofily at the camera...just like people do now when they realize they're on television.

Herewith a ride on the New York City subway, filmed on June 5 1905 just a few months after the completion of the damn thing (which was in October '04). The ride begins at Union Square, 14th Street and terminates at the old Grand Central Station (the one put up in 1869--the magnificent current Grand Central was still eight years away from being built!) Nonetheless, the location of the subway stop didn't change and so we are underground on Lexington Ave. and 42nd street. The lack of stops in between makes this an express, the equivalent of today's 4 or 5 train which run along the east side of the city. It appears that another subway car followed the one pictured from rather close behind in order to capture the ride. Was this common practice or a special rig for the purposes of the film? The ride through the tunnels is endless and spooky but don't give up--about two minutes in, at the end of the line, you'll see a view of the waiting subway patrons at 42nd street. Note how weirdly happy you will feel to see humanity appear. And what humanity! People actually dressed like that! Toward the end pay special attention to the two men wearing top hats who march down the platform arm in arm. Hmmm....

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