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Daily Dose of Darkness #2 The Arrival of a Train (The Opening Scene of La Bete Humaine)

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No words really spoken during the sequence. The whistling of the conductor and the whistle from the train portray how film can convey so much, without saying anything.

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Q1: The way that the conductor is in command of the mighty steam engine AKA Nature, gives way to a sense of orchestration especially when the music explodes behind them.

 

Q2: Sounds? Steam engine whistles that are echoed by the conductor; When the tunnel goes black we hold our breathes till we see the light at the end of the tunnel and anticipate suspense, plus we sense the 2nd engineer's frustration as he manages the brake and the conductor checks his watch. The tunnel image is mirrored with the bridge span over the La Havre station, possibly foreshawdowing doom.

The men that are in the railroad yard are ominous, they don't wave and mill like zombies.

 

Q3: Gritty trains blasting through humanity, showing the darker side of us, that's what Noir is all about.

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I have not seen La Bete Humaine but I found the opening sequence highly symbolic and potentially foreshadowing. The opening image of the raging furnace immediately brought connotations of hell and destruction to mind, but as the camera pulls back, we realize that we are relatively safe and aboard a train. But then the darkness of the tunnel ahead and the warning whistle suggest movement into darkness and into the unknown, suggesting something dark and unexpected may befall our characters (once we meet them). The curve of the track and angle of the camera when the two trains pass also creates a bit of false anxiety as the illusion is briefly created that the two trains may collide. These opening images seem to tease the audience with false dread and danger only to whisk them back into safety but I wonder how the protagonist(s)'s experiences with danger in the film may differ.

 

I also found it interesting that the first two films curated for the Summer of Darkness were Fritz Lang's and Jean Renoir's La Bete Humaine. Some of you may not know but Fritz Lang later remade Renoir's La Bete Humaine as an American film noir called Human Desire immediately following and using the same cast and crew as The Big Heat. This was not Lang's first attempt at reworking Renoir's work into film noir as the public domain film noir selection for this week (for those participating in the class) is Lang's Scarlet Street, a remake of Renoir's La Chienne (oddly also shot by Lang back to back with another of his films using the same cast and crew: The Woman in the Window).

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Q1: The way that the conductor is in command of the mighty steam engine AKA Nature, gives way to a sense of orchestration especially when the music explodes behind them.

 

Q2: Sounds? Steam engine whistles that are echoed by the conductor; When the tunnel goes black we hold our breathes till we see the light at the end of the tunnel and anticipate suspense, plus we sense the 2nd engineer's frustration as he manages the brake and the conductor checks his watch. The tunnel image is mirrored with the bridge span over the La Havre station, possibly foreshawdowing doom.

The men that are in the railroad yard are ominous, they don't wave and mill like zombies.

 

Q3: Gritty trains blasting through humanity, showing the darker side of us, that's what Noir is all about.

As the train enters the dark tunnel, you anticipate something wrong ahead but slowly in the distance there is light - the light at the end of the tunnel. Seems the opposite of the pessimism of noir. I have not seen the film so I'll have to wait to see where all this is taking us.

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The train passes from light into dark. There is no sound but the train, no conversation. Another train approaches and for a moment it appears to be on the same track. Interesting way to set a scene for... well, do we ever know what's ahead of us?

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Great use of sound (repetitive train whistle, scissoring of wheels on tracks, whooshing through tunnels) and camera angles (acute through tunnels) created a sense of urgency without the need for dialogue. The unexpected total darkness in one of the tunnels oozed a sense of danger with not knowing what was ahead.  

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Two shots stand out, and don't quite match the documentary style. The opening shot with the close up of the firebox and the screaming whistle before zooming out is an obvious one - lots of possible meanings for that. Then at the end of the sequence, an arrival at an empty train platform, contrasted with recently introduced slower movement and processional music.

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I am surprised that none of the comments talk about the incredible editing of the film - this sequences is what it is because of the editing. Excellent work.

 

The feeling I got was that we were watching two men doing a job they have been doing for years and years, working in perfect sync. I wanted to know where we were going AND when we were going to get there. Left me feeling a bit anxious because no story had begun during the whole scene. 

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I am surprised that none of the comments talk about the incredible editing of the film - this sequences is what it is because of the editing. Excellent work.

 

The feeling I got was that we were watching two men doing a job they have been doing for years and years, working in perfect sync. I wanted to know where we were going AND when we were going to get there. Left me feeling a bit anxious because no story had begun during the whole scene. 

 

It is amazing how closely we watch these brief clips and see all the tone and meaning that they set when we focus only on the opening in these Daily Doses. Some viewers who sit down to watch the entire film may view these opening much more passively, waiting for the "story" as you say to really begin. So yes, I agree. Isn't it amazing how much is buried in the scenes we may not always properly process?

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The opening view of the firebox, as has been noted by others, is heavy with possible meaning. The contrasts between shadow and light, the black train and the white steam, are striking. I also noticed the whiteness of the cigarettes -- the only things in the cab that weren't covered in grime. They really stood out.

 

I've recently watched movies in which airplanes (Dr. Strangelove) and submarines (Ice Station Zebra) served as co-stars -- "exotic" technology, loaded with power and potential danger. Those were military machines, but I get a similar sense from the train here. 

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The opening scene of The Arrival of the Train brings a feeling of urgency that things are happening quickly and we must stay on top of them or be lost (die). The whistle both mechanical and human add to the urgency to stay alert by the shrillness of their sound. When we are plunged into the dark tunnel we are left to wonder what is happening in the dark will both men emerge unscathed.   
This open sequence is the prelude to other classic noir movies most obviously Strangers on a Train and one of my favorites Shadow of a Doubt.

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The way the director goes in and out of train makes you feel as though you are aboard. The motion of the wheels, the silent communication between the engineers, the inaudible life that goes on where the train passes, its as though there is no one there. Even when the train pulls up to an empty station there is no one there. Its a fore warning that something evil is lurking. When the train goes over the slot on the rail and the engineers pull the lever to let something go, it gives you a sense that someone is dropping off a dead body. The moment before we are coming out of the tunnel and its pitch black with the exception of the minuscule light ahead that grows, its like a sign of hope after the doom.


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I have not seen La Bete Humaine but I found the opening sequence highly symbolic and potentially foreshadowing. The opening image of the raging furnace immediately brought connotations of hell and destruction to mind, but as the camera pulls back, we realize that we are relatively safe and aboard a train. But then the darkness of the tunnel ahead and the warning whistle suggest movement into darkness and into the unknown, suggesting something dark and unexpected may befall our characters (once we meet them). The curve of the track and angle of the camera when the two trains pass also creates a bit of false anxiety as the illusion is briefly created that the two trains may collide. These opening images seem to tease the audience with false dread and danger only to whisk them back into safety but I wonder how the protagonist(s)'s experiences with danger in the film may differ.

 

I also found it interesting that the first two films curated for the Summer of Darkness were Fritz Lang's and Jean Renoir's La Bete Humaine. Some of you may not know but Fritz Lang later remade Renoir's La Bete Humaine as an American film noir called Human Desire immediately following and using the same cast and crew as The Big Heat. This was not Lang's first attempt at reworking Renoir's work into film noir as the public domain film noir selection for this week (for those participating in the class) is Lang's Scarlet Street, a remake of Renoir's La Chienne (oddly also shot by Lang back to back with another of his films using the same cast and crew: The Woman in the Window).

Thanks for the information. I have not seen this movie but now I am excited to see this.

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I think this is the longerst train scene without words I have ever seen.  I was fascinated to watch all the tasks the two men had perform to go over the terrain and there was a false anxiety that something would happen along the way which was caused by the sights and sounds - the whislte, the dark tunnels, the darkness of the day, the train smoke, the chugging of the wheels, the bridge, the oncoming train and then you arrive at the station.  The journey of life can be comparable.  You never know what can happen at any moment and then you reach a station and you think you have arrived but what awaits you next?  the journey is never ended unless your life ends.  I am wondering how this sequence witll foreshadow the rest of the film.

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Having seen this film in it's entirety, I'm struck by the actually hopeful opening of the film, not it's darkness. La Bete Humaine has so many of the hallmarks of film noir(the femme fatale, the wrong-man murder mystery, the jealous husband, the mental condition straight out of a Jim Thompson novel), but also has a more naturalistic style(as evidenced by the documentary-like opening), and takes time to actually contemplate the emotional lives of it's characters. The opening shot is of darkness and fire, but then we pull back to the daylight bustle of the two men working on the train. There are shots of the train going into darkness, but always more emphasis is laid on the train re-emerging into the light. And while the film has darkness to spare, it has moments of affection and camaraderie, as evidenced by Lantier and Pecqueuex, the two men we first see in the film. The train tracks denote predestinaion; an unavoidable forward momentum that can only take you to one place. Lantier's nature as the human beast may doom him to his fate, but the movie doesn't wallow in the shadows.

 

The scene ends with the train reaching it's destination, and a whistle that sounds more like a woman's scream. It's a slightly unnerving moment, but the journey there, for all it's tunnels and fire, smoke and grime, had longer stretches of daylight and friendship.

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I thought it interesting how confident and sure the engineers were while controlling the train. They are on a huge machine hurling down the tracks at a high rate of speed, and it would only take a split second error, or something on the tracks to derail the whole thing. I haven't seen this movie, but I think it could easily symbolize the ease at which a confident, 'normal' life could be derailed. 

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Some details that really caught my eye: we see aspects of the operation of the train that no human being could see - like the shots from the perspective of the wheels; when the train enters the tunnel, the screen goes black for several seconds, and when we leave the tunnel, we have a different perspective; we arrive at Le Havre, but the station seems to have no passengers, and as we enter the camera turns to scan the other trains.

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  the journey is never ended unless your life ends.  I am wondering how this sequence witll foreshadow the rest of the film.

 

That's a good observation, and one I think that will apply to many films we see this summer. The train tracks denote predestination, the fact that no matter what it looks like, you can only travel one way to a predetermined outcome. That fatalism is something a lot of noir films have in common.

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-- What does the film's realistic depiction of a train add to this opening? The train hurtles along and dwarfs any sounds humans might make with its sound - including screeching of the whistle. Make you feel humans are not in control. 


-- What are some of the specific shots, sounds, or techniques that add "darker touches" to this opening scene? Opening shot of furnace is threatening. Vision is obscured, first by steam, then by the tunnel, so not sure where you are going. Shots at level of wheels contribute to out-of-control feeling. Completely dark shot in the tunnel. Train station is empty - that has to be deliberate - stark.


-- In what ways can the opening of La Bete Humaine be considered an important contribution to the film noir style? Dark, gritty, actions just barely under control. Communication is terse, short, clipped, as is much speech in film noir.


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That's a good observation, and one I think that will apply to many films we see this summer. The train tracks denote predestination, the fact that no matter what it looks like, you can only travel one way to a predetermined outcome. That fatalism is something a lot of noir films have in common.

Thats a good point and makes me think of a movie I recently watched actually entitled Predestination....though it was a sci-fi film, i could actually see some influences of the Noir genre with the mystique and fatalism themes

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In response to Q3, I can see how film noir uses opening scenes like this one where everything seems beautiful and charming but once you get a look inside the setting you get to see the dark and gritty...one opening scene that stands out to me in the future of film noir is that of Blue Velvet, where everything looks beautiful and colorful but once you step behind closed doors you see the ugly truths.

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I'm not sure what to say about this opening sequence in regards to its connection to noir. I also haven't seen the film, so I'm not sure how the opening sequence hooks up with other parts of the film. I will say I was fascinated with two aspects of sequence. First, I was taken aback by the proficiency of the camerawork. Some of the shots are absolutely gorgeous (in particular, when the train is going over the bridge at 2:40 and when it is rolling into the station. The introduction of non-diegetic sound here is interesting as well since it changes the tone of the sequence from suspenseful to triumphant.) Second, the calm that the two engineers express throughout the sequence is almost funny since the audience is kept on the edge of its seat by feeling like one is on a train careening towards certain disaster. 

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