Wednesday, March 2, 2011

105-year-old movie clip

105 years ago in San Francisco, somebody had the foresight to attach a video camera containing some of the first 35mm film ever to the front of a cable car. The most conspicuous landmark in this video is the clock tower, which is still there today, at the end of Market Street at the Embarcadero wharf.

I got this in a chain email, the author of which revealed more details of this piece of history. David Kiehn with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum read New York trade papers' announcing of the film showing. He researched car registrations and plate numbers. He also observed the weather conditions seen in the video (wet streets from recent heavy rainfall) and shadows indicating time of year, then compared these to weather records from the time period. From all of this, he concluded this was shot on April 14, 1906— just four days prior to the Great San Francisco Earthquake. It was shipped to New York via train to be processed.

For me, seeing something like this and truly appreciating it can be a bit of a challenge. Our movie industry is so awesome, it makes me almost desensitized to seeing this actual footage and realizing that these are actual people, not actors, and these were actually their lives. For me, the trick is letting go of everything I think I know and just letting myself sink in and really see this. These are people, like you and me, just dodging streetcars and horse-pulled wagons and going to work. Except that at work, there were no computers. And Teddy Roosevelt was the President. The Titanic hadn't even sunk yet!

I'm struck by how few women are on the street. There are women, but in proportion to the men— quite few. The author of the email noted that at the 33-second mark, a policeman crosses in front of the cable car. He's carrying a truncheon, which apparently was a 26-inch club. I kind of like the way he carries it so casually. The author also astutely observed that some of the steering wheels on the cars are still on the right side and wondered about when they were standardized. (According to this answer from the Antique Automobile Club of America, it was around the early 1920s, though, of course, it's still technically legal today.)

And just so it doesn't go unsaid— awesome music choice, am I right? It almost feels like a Luke Wilson movie. That's just the vibe. But the beat of the music seems to jive perfectly with the pace of the street.

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