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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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I adore mystery movies with trains!  Actually, whenever I can I travel by trains for adventure sake.

 

Like someone else said, I wouldn't have known from what I saw that I was entering a film noir experience.  However, I was certainly intrigued enough to see where the train/story would take me.  

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I agree also. I look at this and the M clip as proto-noir. I think the beginning of the form can be seen here in two forms. First the documentary like feel of the train ride and the bleakness of the industrial world.

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The opening scene was very interesting but did not seem to me to have a film noir aspect.  The speed of the train, the darkness of the tunnel and the sounds from the train seem to portray emanated danger.  The Engineers gave the impression of working together for a long time due to the absence of communication via talking.  Their jesters and actions were in sync. 

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Several others have commented on not necessarily seeing the elements that are usually associated with film noir in the opening scene and I think, for the most part, I do agree. Truly a dynamic opening and, in some respects, a beautiful and optimistic salute to human ingenuity where the two conductors know their train, their craft, and each other so well that communication can be conducted with whistles and hand movements.

 

However, I would have to say that the train passing through the tunnel (and the light at the end) or, even, the train passing another train at high speeds do convey a darker and potentially looming tone to their arrival at the station.

 

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Seeing a train just made me want to watch Double Indemnity. I've never seen La Bete Humaine.

 

I wouldn't say the train was "realistic," though in the context of 1938 maybe it was. The train felt like a character. We were seeing its POV, and it felt like the train was completing more of a task than the men on board.

 

The screech of the train tracks and the destructive way they had to switch tracks (bringing up those chains and then beating that box) seemed dark. And of course, there was literal darkness when they went through the tunnel.

 

It definitely peaked my interest as to who are these men beyond their occupation, where this train is going and what kind of cargo it will be carrying—or what type of destruction it will bring.

 

What it brings to Film Noir I'm not exactly certain. I'll wait until I watch a few more Film Noirs and next week's lecture.

 

 

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I agree that it does not feel too noirish. The first few minutes maybe, but when that triumphant music kicks in? Nah...

 

The music was... definitely jarring to me, and not what I was expecting. I am certainly interested in seeing the rest of the film.

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The scene is shot very well and is designed to project the realism of being a train engineer. Nothing is polished out. The noise of the train which does not allow them to speak. The dirt on the engineers faces. The fact that the tunnel scene is not shortened all add to the realism. 

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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?

For me that was the most intense shot in the scene. The complete darkness of the shot moving into  light with a train in the opposite direction was beautifully shot (especially at such an angle). 

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Don't forget the train from "North by Northwest!"

 

It's been years and a few hundred films since I last saw North by Northwest, so I totally forgot about that. Haha, whoops!

 

So Hitch was still thinking about this even twenty years after The Lady Vanishes, which just goes to show how much of a symbol a train can be. I didn't notice anything "dangerous" about the train here, but watching the full movie will surely make that clear.

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The train has passanger cars, but passengers are shown, just the two engineers who do not speak to each other. Nothing is said because nothing needs to be said. Two cars behind them could be travellers talking or dining, but all that is shown are the two men who are appear solemn in their jobs. I wonder if the train is used as a symbol it is on tracks and therefore cannot stray from it's course, somewhat single minded in it's purpose...going forward despite any issues.

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I had just commented on one of the replies about the tunnel shots. I still think it was the most intense part of the scene. Yet going back and watching it, what caught my eye was how the scene begins with a close shot and ends with an extreme wide shot that looks more like the typical establishing shot a scene would usually begin with. I think it's very interesting that the use (or the rules of shots) were flipped around and created a much more powerful sense. 

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I felt as though I was riding right along with the two engineers.  For a while I kinda wanted to get off the train.  Scary...especially through the tunnel when the screen went black. 

The train whistle was a haunting warning of something ominous coming along. I thought the relationship between the two engineers interesting. They worked so well in concert with each other. One could almost smell the oil and steam. I thought I might reach into the film and touch the engineers.

I noticed no one waiting on the platforms. The weather appeared gloomy. 

One gets the sensation from this scene that both men were speeding right into trouble. I can't wait to see the complete movie.

 

 

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I believe the opening does make one think of North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train or Double Indemnity because the train is something for that time period that was seen as the mood of transportation across the world. People traveled by train, it was set to a specific time schedule and when you look at film noir there is a schedule that is being followed.

 

The schedule may be for the murder, the hunt or the femme fatale laying her trap, but there is a schedule - that train signals both good and bad for people coming. The two men are a well-oiled machine and don't need words - they communicate so much by a sound or gesture - think back to some classic moments in Double Indemnity - it is the look, the gesture, the sound and the teamwork that develops.

 

The tunnel is a magnificent shot - I agree with others about the long shot, the use of the light, but the saying that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but look at the light and the fog/smoke that is by the terminal-Le Havre - why show it twice - what are we going to find out about this place or what events will happen. The color/the light draws you in and with the train and the engineers - what will happen - you want to watch more.

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I felt this opening is very reflective as the opening pulls you into the movie.  there is a near frenetic pace switching back and forth between the exterior train views and that of the interactions of the two train engineers.  Its very noir like as it goes form light to darkness then light again as many characters in noir go from light to darkness through the journey. 

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The opening scene of La Bete Humane starts off fast, which is sort of the style of the typical film noir. It definitely makes the spectator part of the story. You feel as if you are with Gabin in the train. It sort of reminds me the style of Rear Window, where the spectator is just not a spectator. You are part of the film. The level shots of the train going along the tracks and definitely going through the tunnel gives it the scene the "darker touches." There is minimal sound in the first couple of minutes, which forces the spectator to figure out what's going on. Yes they are driving the train, but who are these people and where are they going? (A typical questions you are force to ask while watching). It is probably to point after the tunnel where they make that sharp turn, the music kicks in and gives it that mysterious feeling. 

 

 

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Anything I have to say has been well said before. Y'all are so smart.

The dehumanization of the men. The vanishing point on the horizon. The hurtling speed towards the unknown. The open mouth of hell at the very beginning being fed.

I seem to recall an American remake of this with Glenn Ford and Edgar Buchanan in these parts or am I mistaken? Human Desire directed by Fritz Lang?

Yes, Human Desire was Fritz Lang's 1950s US version with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Broderick Crawford. Similar opening shot, if I remember orrectly, but in a bigger trainyard with a wide expanse of crisscrossing tracks. Both movies based on Emile Zola's novel La Bete Humaine. Anyone here read it?

 

My first thought, too, was we're looking straight into the fiery maw of hell. Camera pulls back and we see where we are, on the train, hot, loud, sweaty, in intimate closeness with the two engineers.

 

To me the whole opening scene conveys a sense of unstoppable forward motion which is very much noir. Humans hurtling toward an inescapable fate. The noise, heat, and tight confines of the engine cabin limit the men's space to act. They are expert at their job, communicating with brief efficient  gestures in the service one purpose - to keep the train on a predetermined path. The noise allows no further conversation except what's necessary for the job. No room - or need - for diversion, choice, or free will here.

 

Until they reach Le Havre, most of the shots are straight ahead along the path of motion. Once the train slows down, there is more time for the camera to look sideways at the building and stations leading into Le Havre. The music has a triumphant feel, like coming home in victory. It provides a temporary relief. The whole opening feels like tension and release.

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We are in the train..."We are the train".. And the arrival to the station is the starting point for the drama...that we are invited to witness

 

Machinists take the train to the station... life follows its course, and that share of reality of everyday life, which then will be altered by a drama, for a crime, makes us see, as in all the film noir, that life itself can be as dark as the tunnel that crosses the railway at the beginning

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Like with the film "M", there was no opening music but instead the sounds created by the train. The fast cutting from one image to the next along with the sound of the train creates a sense of urgency and suspense. The kind of gritty, shakiness of the camera also gives a sense of realism that has been associated with film noir. 

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This scene definitely set an anxious tone for the start of the movie. The overwhelming audio (although devoid of dialogue) and unsteady camerawork created an idea that a collision was just around the corner-the audience is left waiting for that collision (literally or symbolically) to happen later in the film. While I haven't watched many films noir, the dependence of this scene on audio and camera techniques with almost zero input from actors to evoke emotion, seems pioneering for this film. While yesterday's film also employed camera angles and audio to evoke emotion, acting was irreplaceable in establishing the mood in that scene-not so for this film. The train is the star and is the driving force in setting the mood. At some points in this scene the train feels like it is out of the engineers' control, which adds some depth to the scene and plays on the classic man versus beast archetype, with technological innovation (the train) replacing the beast. Lack of dialogue, overwhelming and complicated audio, fire, the tunnel, optical illusion, and the various camera angles each added a dark touch to this intro.

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This scene definitely set an anxious tone for the start of the movie. The overwhelming audio (although devoid of dialogue) and unsteady camerawork created an idea that a collision was just around the corner-the audience is left waiting for that collision (literally or symbolically) to happen later in the film. While I haven't watched many films noir, the dependence of this scene on audio and camera techniques with almost zero input from actors to evoke emotion, seems pioneering for this film. While yesterday's film also employed camera angles and audio to evoke emotion, acting was irreplaceable in establishing the mood in that scene-not so for this film. The train is the star and is the driving force in setting the mood. At some points in this scene the train feels like it is out of the engineers' control, which adds some depth to the scene and plays on the classic man versus beast archetype, with technological innovation (the train) replacing the beast. Lack of dialogue, overwhelming and complicated audio, fire, the tunnel, optical illusion, and the various camera angles each added a dark touch to this intro.

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I got a sense of realism from the opening scene of La bête humaine. For the first couple of minutes, I got a real sense of what it really takes to be the driving force behind a train. Also, both of the characters did not speak, they only gave each other gestures and automatically they understood what the other meant. This part truly fascinated me because it suggested that the two characters probably have been working with each other for some time and had to develop their own "language", since the operation of a train was quite loud, since The transition to the sounds of the train screeching to this grand music was seamless. Their arrival to their destination gave me a triumphant feeling.

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Everything about the opening of "La Bete Humane" has you on edge: the high rate of speed at which the train is traveling, the screeching sounds, the gritty, untalkative engineers, the way the train plunges in and out of darkness. You literally feel like a collision is coming or that the train is going to derail -- a true foreshadowing of things to come.  

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I have to admit that I don't love this opening scene. It's paced very slowly, in the sense that there's very little action throughout that leads to any successive action. I don't question where the train is going because, to me, it's a typical steam engine on a journey; until the last moments, we don't know if it's at the beginning, middle, or end of the journey, so I don't care to question its destination, just as I don't think about trains' destinations as they pass by me in my daily life. Once it's revealed that the train has arrived at its destination, I suddenly don't care because I just spent the previous four minutes bored and not learning anything. Perhaps there are moments that are reflected later in the film (I haven't seen it), but I wouldn't know. As a standalone scene, this doesn't work for me, but as a part of a whole it may be much more impactful.

 

That said, I do agree with at least one other commenter regarding the constant transitions from dark to light, and the jarring effect cutting completely to black while the train is in the tunnel has on the viewer.

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For me, what gave this opening sequence a darker tone was the constant motion. Lots of tracking shots gave the viewer the chance to feel as if he or she were riding on the train or at least alongside it. By making the forward motion so subjective, the viewer is forced to experience the rapid, erratic motions of the bends, the turns...and the disquieting effect of the screen going completely black as the train entered a tunnel. It is unsettling psychologically for these shaky camera movements to dominate, especially when the viewer cannot be aware of the surroundings. And unsettled or uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing psychological effects on viewers is part of the very nature of film noir.

 

I have not seen the particular film and cannot comment on whether or not it is as noir-ish as others. But the tone of jumpiness and ragged visual perspectives that go in and out of total darkness are certainly noir-ish.

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I felt very excited during the opening shots. The pace seemed almost unreal. I had a terrible feeling that we were at the point of almost loosing control. The symbolism was extreme, I remember thinking, "Someone is going to get thrown into the fire, or under the wheels," and yet we kept rolling on. When the second train came towards us the camera angle made me think, "We were just running head on into trouble all along."

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