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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 wrote my observations very extensively and nicely but something went wrong and I lost all of my work... thus, I will try to simplify.  :(

 

Shaky, realistic/documentary-style way of shooting the scene.  Some might feel this opening was long and drawn out, but these are men doing a job.  We are shown a small portion of time, but these men took the whole trip.  They live with the dirt, the noise, the constant vigil...

 

Here you have the larger-than-life excitement of a train, hurtling across the tracks at break-neck speeds, versus the calm, almost "strictly routine" attitudes of the engineers, with their precisely timed and very deliberate movements.  These guys know their job.  They depend on each other, and seem to be "comfortable," even though a lot depends on their being on their toes at the right moments.  (Notice the lighting of a cigarette midst the lever-pulling, bells and whistles?)  They are comfortable...  Perhaps something will happen to stir things up for these two?  Something to match the fast pace.

 

The tunnels - noisy, dark, tightly enclosed spaces - enough to make anyone a little nervous.

 

That non-stop clatter, the obnoxious roar of the train (the "noise" I mentioned) with frequent bells and whistles, versus the seemingly dead world around them (the strange "people-less destination," as if some unknown disaster had forced everyone underground... or something).  The "light at the end of the tunnel" doesn't seem to be very cheery.  What a depressing and lonely setting.  What rush to get seemingly nowhere.  But it's the job.

 

Again, I have not seen this one either.  Probably doesn't seem like much at first glance (for an opening scene), but I can see where someone could make mountains out of the molehills.

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The train tracks are a predetermined route. The engineers labor intensively, but they have no control over where they are going. It's a metaphor for fate in such films and would be adapted later in film noir. Likewise, there are tunnels of darkness in the path we travel, in which nothing can be seen or heard over the noise of the locomotive. In such tunnel murders occur, affairs begin, and so forth.

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The opening is powerful and unflinching. The viewers are made to feel welcomed, almost like a guest of the railroad being allowed to sit with the engineers & we are even permitted to glance out and see the tracks from the engineers perspective! So exciting! An earlier comment mentioned the screech of the brakes just as the music starts, I agree that this "signals" to us a change that is about to happen.

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"What are some of the specific shots, sounds, or techniques that add "darker touches" to this opening scene?"

 

I think the opening scene could be from any number of films not made in the film noir style until the train goes through the tunnel.  At that point, when it suddenly gets dark the audience is given the sense that things can change unexpectedly.  Then the opening becomes the warning and fear of the unknown.

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The act of being consumed. The coal being consumed by the engine in order for it to continue running. The cigarette being consumed by one of the men. The train being momentarily consumed by darkness in the tunnel. The work the men are doing is consuming their energy as evidenced by the fact that they appear gritty and sweaty. The highly ritualized behaviors required to keep the train running consumes spontaneity...

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Amazing how gripping just four minutes sequence can be! Sound of train, sound of its increasing speed, silent communication of two men, black tunnel, curves of the track , and at the end entry into empty station all build up the tension. Photography as train takes each curve is fantastic and carries you along. Two men seem to know something which you are not privy to adds to the build up. can't wait to watch the film.

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The realistic depiction of the train is immediately immersive. We hear the whistle scream, and we see the flames billowing - the scene has an initial tactility to it that is easy to connect with, a societal construct we're all accustomed to - a little hellscape in miniature. The reality of the train effects a heightening of the action, so that the arrival at the station becomes a thing of note, almost heroic.

 

Some of the specific shots and sounds that add darker touches to this opening scene include the aforementioned flames and whistle screech, the journey through the tunnel (and accompanying screeching wind), and would also include the moment when one of the engineers turns as they pass by and sees engine after engine; a veritable wall of black locomotives.

 

The opening of La Bête Humaine can be considered an important contribution to the film noir style because of its use of light and darkness, its depiction of the grittiness of everyday life (personified in the engineers), and its easiness in manner when it delivers its biblical reference to damnation at the very start.

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One of the questions on the daily darkness mentioned looking for darker touches. It turned out to be quite literal if you think about the first tunnel sequence. There is a literal "light at the end of the tunnel" but what is even more striking was the breaking up of the sequence with a flash back to the two characters who were running the train. There is a real sense of power to the exterior sequences that contrasts with the interior sequences. It's a bit like the wizard of Oz in that way. You see the great and powerful oz but behind the curtain it's just a little old man. 

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Much like Fritz Lang's opening scene for his film, M, Jean Renoir's La Bete Humaine utilizes natural sounds to develop a sense of turbulence within its atmospheric setting. The abrasive clamor of the engine, the boisterous percussion of the tracks, and the unabashed racket of the train whistle enrich the scene with suggestions of uncertainty.

 

In terms of visual interpretation, the tunnel montage is especially significant. That moment of utter darkness is a bold reference to the visceral nature of humanity.

 

I, like many others, have yet to see this film. Because of this impelling clip, I now anticipate viewing the rest of the movie.

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The best rain scene I have seen, and movies and trains were meant for each other. Dark, noisy, gritty with the men serving the relentless needs of the machine. Is disaster looming? What will happen in the tunnel? Will the train go off the tracks while going around the bend? Finally, the tension is eased as the train slows on its approach to the rail yard. We see a number of idle behemoth machines waiting to be served. The engineer checks his watch with no expression. Apparently they have arrived in Paris on time. All in a day's work. I don't know what happens next, but can't wait to find out.

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It looks like there's been plenty contributed to the power and allure of such a frenetic opening. Certainly there's something to be said, too, about embracing the technological limitations of recording sound in such an environment and tailoring something so vicious and ferocious out of what sound could be salvaged. 

 

What I wanted to throw up a flare over, however, was what I saw as an intentional connection between the chain-smoking of one of the engineers and the repetitious letting of steam from the engine. Is there something vaguely (if not deliberately) Marxist about connecting machinist to machine? Something about man becoming a mechanism in an industrial apparatus. Something about the loss of humanity under the whip of modern industry. The landscape we plummet through is barren of life. It's one of steel and iron and impossibly straight lines, of cold, dead geometry. Our two human subjects are in a very literal sense there only to feed the machine as it traverses a soulless world. 

 

Eh?

 

 

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What does the film's realistic depiction of a train add to this opening?

 

It seems to establish our initial roles as disinterested observers. Yes, it's a train. Yes, the men working on it are definitive blue-collar laborers. Basically, it sets us up, makes us more vulnerable for the dramatic shift that occurs when the screen goes dark. But, the darkness and slight change of the train sounds as they bounce off the tunnel walls is quite unexpected.

 

What are some of the specific shots, sounds, or techniques that add "darker touches" to this opening scene?

 

The fact that these are blue-collar workers, covered in the grime that is a part of their jobs, emphasizes that this won't be a MGM/Busby Berkeley happy tale. The ever-lengthening tunnel shots and the shrill whistle of the train keep us off-balance and agitated. As to camera angles, the conductor leans out the side to view up ahead. When the camera moves to this point-of-view, we see nothing beyond the tracks and weeds growing beside them, with views of the scenery that add little to our pool of information. All these add to our sense we are hurtling along towards some unseen destination, and that those responsible for carrying us along seem unaware of any danger ahead.

 

In what ways can the opening of La Bete Humaine be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

Use of contrasting shadows and light and shrill sounds that jar us are key elements that Noir directors have made heavy use of to build tension and suspense. Although this differs significantly from M, especially with its more upbeat conclusion, hurtling us along while using light and sound to keep us off-center and in the dark (no pun intended) are key elements used heavily in later films. 

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Actually shooting on the train with no trickery involved places you, the viewer, on the train with them. There's dirt all over their faces. You get invested into the actual process of making sure a train arrives safely without any hitches. The most striking shot in the opening scene, to me, was while they were in the tunnel and you can see the light on the other side coming for them. The realistic the lighting added authenticity and really illustrated a DIY approach to the entire sequence. We've come a long way from the Lumiere Brothers.

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Actually shooting on the train with no trickery involved places you, the viewer, on the train with them. There's dirt all over their faces. You get invested into the actual process of making sure a train arrives safely without any hitches. The most striking shot in the opening scene, to me, was while they were in the tunnel and you can see the light on the other side coming for them. The realistic the lighting added authenticity and really illustrated a DIY approach to the entire sequence. We've come a long way from the Lumiere Brothers.

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-- What does the film's realistic depiction of a train add to this opening?

 

Clearly, this type of opening creates an enormous amount of curiosity, and attracts a very focused attention on the nuances of every action taken by the two men on the train, particularly in the absence of spoken dialogue. For over four minutes, one cannot help but sit there and watch what's happening, and what they're doing. The POV shots of the train making its way to its destination are entertaining, for visual effect alone, and the filmmakers achieve something very important, by the time the train arrives at Le Havre: the audience is quite interested in knowing what happens next.

 

 

-- What are some of the specific shots, sounds, or techniques that add "darker touches" to this opening scene?

 

There is no question that the POV shots of the train add a darker touch, particularly the points at which there is complete darkness as the violent sounds of the engine persist, and maybe actually intensify, even if it is only in our own imaginations, and not knowing, for instance, if something bad is about to happen. Indeed, we might get a sense of relief when the train is seen emerging into the daylight, but there are always other dark tunnels along the way...

 

-- In what ways can the opening of La Bete Humaine be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

Film noir is a complex style of storytelling, focusing on how real-life actions can affect the delicate balance of relationships among the parties involved. I see the railroad train as symbolizing the complexities of interpersonal relationships, and this scene serves as an appropriate prelude to a complex story that is about to unfold.  We see these two workers engaged in a systematic process, requiring specific things to be done at specific times; but they are only two players in their complex story. Today, they interact well and make it, on time, to Le Havre. Some other day, things might be different; actions might be different; outcomes might be different. And so it is, in real life...

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I love Noir, I love Jean Gabin, and I love this gorgeous black and white opening sequence to a movie I have never seen. But, honestly, I don't see anything that marks this as a Noir Film. I know it is because I am told that it is, but out of context there is nothing that specifically resinates.  Perhaps that is the point. Most Noir Films, any film actually, needs to be seen as a whole to understand its overall intentions.

 

To answer the questions directly, the realistic depiction certainly grips you and you have an immediate understanding that these men know their jobs.  The long shots that carry the audience through the darkness of the tunnel and out again is very much like the trip one takes when watching a Noir film, although more often than not the light at the end is never reached.  Finally, I see the contribution to Noir style in the shooting on location, showing the dirty side of a city and the people who are usually hidden behind the scenes - although I think that's a stretch. As a stand alone scene without context I see no immediate contribution. Sorry, but I need context in this particular scenario.

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I think that the realistic use of the train sets up that this film will be realistic as well with no happy endings or glamorous people. It's as if the train is set on a course, so are the people in the movie.

 

I love the use of complete darkness which really sets up dark moments to come. I also love the use of no sound as everything is communicated through body language.  These two men are so comfortable at their job nothing needs to be said.

 

I think that use of or absense of light really sets the mood and contributes to the film noir way of shooting a movie.

 

Paul

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If an opening scene is meant to define the tone of the rest of the film, then this film’s realistic depiction of train conveys a sense of sense of craft and grace but also of vulnerability and energy. The two conductors work in sync, and though it appears simple, just turning levers, if one was off sync, the train would derail and everyone might die. They run this train without words, just vocalizations and signals. By just watching a few films from the 1930s and 40s (or the Golden Age in general), movement in vehicles seems be done on soundstages, with professional lighting and wind, and with projected backgrounds. We’re used to a certain sense of realism in conveying movement in modern films, but this must stunned people. It’s a real train with actors conducting, and the use of shots on the wheel of the train, in the conducting car, in the furnace, and on turns (or over bridges) is electrifying.

 

To add “darker touches,” small things are done. The film opens with the chaotic fire of the furnace running the train which bellows the gray and black smoke. The conductors are very very dirty, covered in coal dust and grime and one is smoking. Despite their clear cohesion, a tension can be perceived. The conductor on the left, Lautier seems to be attuned to every need of the train, constantly reminding Pecqueux (who seems bored some of the time), on the right, what to do. He moves slower, waiting to light another cigarette while Lautier looks at him a bit too long with his near-permanent grimace (as though in frustration). He constantly sticks his head out the window to (1) see what’s ahead, and (2) perhaps a sense of freedom. The conductor’s car appears to be hot and dirty, but that feeling when you stick your head out of a window and all you hear is the wind around your head and face is rather freeing. Another obvious touch is the dark tunnel which we first see from the lighted conductor’s car, but soon it all goes black until we the literal “light at the end of the tunnel.” Operating a machine that has the power to move people great distances but also holds their lives in its “hands” is a profound idea.

 

For a while, the sounds of the train are all you hear. The score that begins just as the city and station are in sight could be considered comforting though the music itself is full of tension.

 

In the larger context of film noir, trends emerge: the focus on the working class, a modern setting (don’t see many noirs in the noir era that are period pieces), and the emphasis on darkness. After watching the film, other trends arise: chiaroscuro lighting (sharp contrast between light and dark) and a femme fatale. Renoir actively chose to put Emile Zola’s book in the modern day, which noir almost exclusively focuses on. The genre itself is about modern problems of urban strife, class tensions, and criminality, of morally gray people between and after the wars, and uses modern settings (cities, bars, cars, trains, planes, etc.) to tell its story and convey its unease.

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First things I noticed right away after watching that clip:

 

1) The sudden change from the authentic traveling and working of the train, to being immersed in that tunnel in total darkness - very noir in spirit. All we hear are the sounds of the engine, and as filmgoers in 2015, we're conditioned to know that something terrible may happen next. What a relief when the train emerges and everything returns to normalcy.

 

2) The lack of a musical score up until the final minute of the clip as the train nears the station. First it's a tense pressure-filled score, as if the train is narrowly escaping danger hot on it's heels. It then switches to a triumphant score upon reaching the station. Both the actors and its audience arrive safely.

 

There's not a lot of noir elements that I noticed right off the bat, feeling more authentic rather than stylized, but that use of darkness certainly comes into play with noir in years ahead.

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First things I noticed right away after watching that clip:

 

1) The sudden change from the authentic traveling and working of the train, to being immersed in that tunnel in total darkness - very noir in spirit. All we hear are the sounds of the engine, and as filmgoers in 2015, we're conditioned to know that something terrible may happen next. What a relief when the train emerges and everything returns to normalcy.

 

2) The lack of a musical score up until the final minute of the clip as the train nears the station. First it's a tense pressure-filled score, as if the train is narrowly escaping danger hot on it's heels. It then switches to a triumphant score upon reaching the station. Both the actors and its audience arrive safely.

 

There's not a lot of noir elements that I noticed right off the bat, feeling more authentic rather than stylized, but that use of darkness certainly comes into play with noir in years ahead.

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Although I've never seen this movie before, I love the way the the scene is set;and the POV of the train, The darkness is used when the train is going through the tunnels, you kind of feel tension like you're expecting something bad to happen; and then the slow lighting to reveal the outside surroundings as the train speeds by, and there's no music, other than the train sounds:  Also, I like the way the engineers communicate with each other with body language,  I didn't know what to expect, I was kind of holding my breath until the last few secs. of the clip, I thought it was suspenseful.

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I really want to see this movie now - if I happened upon this opening, I'd just be curious as to where the train was going, and whether the two men driving the train are important characters in the story but I would not think "film noir". The noise and speed of the train intrigued me, and the realness of being on a train - having to use gestures and whistles to communicate, and the pitch black when going through tunnels. Overall, this opening didn't make me feel as if the rest of the story HAD to be dark or scary or tragic...

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I agree with JVJones.  Going on the premise that I did not know the genre of this film: the opening is compelling: I'm on the journey, experiencing it almost firsthand, and it's a thrilling ride, photographed to maximize putting me on the train. I'm there, wind in my hair, the whole thing.  I think something may happen: will the train de-rail, explode, crush someone on the tracks to pieces? Will the engineers kill each other, or will the train arrive at a station where a brass band awaits.  The first few shots elicit suspense, later on even the music suggests a possibility of dark doings, but it's all subtle enough that it could go a number of ways. However, when nothing noir-ly dramatic pans out after awhile, I'm not really sure what this film might be, genre-wise, but since it's been laid out in such a compelling way,  I continue on the ride for the ride's sake, and I stay on the journey not with baited breath, but just breathing normally and experiencing the ride.  To me, that's an end in itself.  I get to see some of the characters before "the thing" happens that truly sets the film in motion, not just the train.  So later I'll remember them as they were and will understand better the impact "the thing" has had on their lives.  Actually, now that I think about it,  I love that it's not darkly heavy-handed--the trainsman could've been lit by his cigarette in the darkness of the tunnel (a noir 101 image), but he wasn't.  The music could've been more overtly ominous, but it wasn't.  I look forward to seeing this!

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The sound is the most underrated aspect of film, the train sound sets the tone to keep the audience on the edge of their seat, in any good noir, that I feel is always part of the story, in a way breaking the third wall indirectly.  

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