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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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The hyper-realism of the opening scene, a speeding train with all of its coal grit that covers the character's faces, the ear-splitting, tumultuous roar of the engine and the rocky turblence of the ride is to me prophetic of what's to come in the storyline ahead. I believe that Film Noir movies tend to give many clues through out as to how the story is to unfurl.

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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. 

This is similar to my reaction to this sequence. I haven't seen this one, either, but it's one that I'm now looking forward to seeing.

 

I like the variety of shots here. We get some that are essentially the perspective of the front of the train, but we also get POV shots from the engineer sticking his head out of the side of the engine. These, at least for me, are some of the more interesting shots. We get the sense of movement, the approach of the tunnels as if it is us leaning out of the window and seeing the workings of this massive piece of machinery propelling us down the track. There were a couple of moments when I thought the camera (and thus the engineer's head) could not fit through that narrow space between train and tunnel wall. There's a sense of danger here, of a calamity that might happen that's surprisingly effective.

 

"Triumphant" Is absolutely the right word for the train pulling into the station. We spend these first few minutes in furious activity, noise, smoke, darkness to reach this final goal.

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I haven't seen the film (although I will soon), but I can see no clear similarities between this opening scene and the noir universe. The only symbolism I could find is when the train enters the tunnel, that could reprsesent the darkness in contrast with the light outside it.

 

The scene is shot in pure documentary style, if you don't know it you could easily say it's from a documentary and not a feature. The tempo is fast, music is absent except for the last minute when its tempo is also fast, and the only people shown are two engineers too occupied with their work. I could say it's an very innovative and realistic shot, depicting the train entering the station after a turbulent, noisy, smoky ride.

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There is a lot going on here, and that is perhaps the most important element.  There is motion, movement, and physical action.  The motion of the train suggests a mobile society, which is one of the changes brought about by the industrial revolution.  Mobility is often associated in noirs with rootlessness.  Think of all the characters in noir who were wanderers, often bringing evil in part because they had no attachment to the place they found themselves.  On a more personel level, this clip shows men engaged in physical action.  They are not passive.  Men in noirs are often men who take matters into their own hands. These are rough men who are used to actioin. 

 

In one way, at least, this clip is similar to yesterday's clip of M in that an important part of the opening is to establish the setting of the story.  Much of La Bete Humaine is set on the train, in railyards, and surrounding neighborhoods.  I can think of a lot of noirs that use trains as a significant part of their setting.  Strangers on a Train, The Narrow Margin, Born to Kill, Double Indemnity, Leave Her to Heaven, No Man of Her Own, Pickup on South Street, Union Station and many more.

 

One more element is the firebox.  It doesn't take much imagination to see that fire as a portal to hell.

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This was a neat clip to watch. The different camera angles from inside and outside of the train. The fastness and hot gritty look of this scene creates a suspenseful scene.

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The music! In this four plus minute opening sequence, I couldn't help but anticipate an unusual, perhaps morbid, event. Will one of the engineers be dead when the train emerges from the tunnel? What is the small box/tall pole/chain mechanism? Will the brakes fail, overshooting the gare at Le Havre? As an aside, there was one shot that recalled Hitchcock's North by Northwest for me. 

 

Oh, and then there is the music!

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I haven't seen the film (although I will soon), but I can see no clear similarities between this opening scene and the noir universe. The only symbolism I could find is when the train enters the tunnel, that could reprsesent the darkness in contrast with the light outside it.

 

I think in general trains are an excellent metaphor for noir. I can't believe more films in the genre haven't been centered around them. They suggest predestination, fate, the only direction you can go is forward, straight to your ultimate destination. No matter what diversions you may seem to be taking, you're still following the rails directly to the end.

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I have to disagree with icrwjohn, the shot of the dark tunnel and the subsequent 'light' at the end, doesn't give that sense of optimism at all, it only further reinforces the building of dread for what lies ahead. The fact that the end of the tunnel shot is so long, and never really gets clear until the train is nearly out of the tunnel really builds on you. you expect there to be something dramatic happen when the train finally emerges, but it doesn't. Only then can you breathe easy. . . well a bit easier.

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This was a neat clip to watch. The different camera angles from inside and outside of the train. The fastness and hot gritty look of this scene creates a suspenseful scene.

I agree, the outside shots especially. although I would have preferred the camera to be on the other side of the train when the second train passed, maybe that would have enhanced the dramatic tension.

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I have to disagree with icrwjohn, the shot of the dark tunnel and the subsequent 'light' at the end, doesn't give that sense of optimism at all, it only further reinforces the building of dread for what lies ahead. The fact that the end of the tunnel shot is so long, and never really gets clear until the train is nearly out of the tunnel really builds on you. you expect there to be something dramatic happen when the train finally emerges, but it doesn't. Only then can you breathe easy. . . well a bit easier.

 

Have you seen the full movie? I'll keep spoilers out of it. I think your on the right track(heh), but I think the way the opening is shot is a microcosm of the film. There are moments of great darkness and confusion, but the film still takes time to bring us out into the light. For a film noir this movie has no desire to simply wallow in the shadows. It allows for the existence of real emotion, friendship, and moments of reflective beauty as well. I was duly impressed by this one, and can't wait until everyone sees it.

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Have you seen the full movie? I'll keep spoilers out of it. I think your on the right track(heh), but I think the way the opening is shot is a microcosm of the film. There are moments of great darkness and confusion, but the film still takes time to bring us out into the light. For a film noir this movie has no desire to simply wallow in the shadows. It allows for the existence of real emotion, friendship, and moments of reflective beauty as well. I was duly impressed by this one, and can't wait until everyone sees it.

No I haven't seen the full movie. In fact I'm a complete novice in the Film Noir world. I have liked this type of movie for ages, but now i get to understand them more. Looking forward to seeing this and many more. roll on Friday.

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The opening train sequence is a luxury of time one doesn't often see today that's for sure.  I like black and white (hence being in the course) and have never seen this film.  I'm also very new to this sort of class and how all this complicated stuff works.  We shall see if an old dog can learn new tricks.  Leslie

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I'm also very new to this sort of class and how all this complicated stuff works.  We shall see if an old dog can learn new tricks.  Leslie

 

Welcome! This is gonna be a lot of fun.

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The close-up of the furnace is so menacing and otherworldly, like a mouth of hell, and then we zoom out to see these laborers calmly doing their jobs.

 

The train itself is well-presented, powerful and larger than life yet still dependent upon these rough, humble men. There are moments of careful, precise action, though, which show how skilled they are at working together to keep the machine going.

 

And as the music swells, we get the sense that what they do is a triumph, even if it occurs everyday. It really triggers a sense of pride and awe for this industrial age and the people who make it possible.

 

Hard to say how any of that relates to the film itself or noir as a whole, and I won't speculate about that. The train may be a metaphor, but its relationship to any kind of story is less clear than something like the nursery rhyme in M, which explicitly foreshadows the plot of its film.

 

Still, it's a strong opening and one I enjoyed watching.

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Something highlighted for me in this opening scene from "La Bete Humaine" was the juxtaposition of the train's speeding uncertainty and anxiety with the conductors' everyday, even laissez-faire attitude.  The co-conductor's chain smoking was even amusing when pinned against the striking mood of uneasiness set with no subtlety by Jean Renoir.  In turn, the chain smoking seems to deliver a feeling of grittiness and darkness to the scene; these conductors seem to not care too much about what could be their and this train's sealed fate.  Of course, these two men are probably very much used to the clacking and crying of the train as it tumbles towards its destination, but as the viewer is anxiously taken along the ride to Le Havre, it is the conductors' seeming lack of care that is unnerving. Therein, I would say, lies some of the dread that is considered convention of noir.

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I really appreciate the confidence of a director who is not afraid to let the screen go completely black during the opening sequence of the movie. 

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There is sense of anticipation in this opening scene. The train noises gain momentum and I felt as if the music shatters a silence of sorts as the train rounded the bend.

 

The two engineers were moving in such synchronization and grace it was as if they were dancing in rhythm to the trains beat.

 

I like the pov shots, it made me feel as if I was along side the engineers.

 

The triumphant entrance into the station was uplifting, it made me feel as if I was just starting on a journey like those passengers on the train.

 

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Okay I've never seen this movie. The opening sequence for me compares to a great battle between man and their train against the track with the objective of slowing down at the station. All the frenzy of the men working valves and levers navigating through tunnels and overpasses, chain smoking cigarettes and with the soundtrack finally playing a victory melody as the train reaches its destination. Pretty cool.

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I agree, the outside shots especially. although I would have preferred the camera to be on the other side of the train when the second train passed, maybe that would have enhanced the dramatic tension.

I thought the same thing, Cooper67Jones.

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As  a film noir historian who has taught film noir to specifically senior citizen classes in Orange County California I have to admit I was new to seeing La Bete Humaine.    The fast pace moving train scene is indeed a style of filming used in film noir movies I have seen.  The fast pace urgency of the train moving forward on a desolate and eerie landscape creates the feeling "moving into the abyss, traveling into nothingness." When the train finally arrives at the station there is a feeling of cold isolation.  There are no people except the engineers.  

 

We know lighting is essential to film noir.  This film clip makes use of suspenseful lighting.  The cigarettes and swaying lantern being the only light during the tunnel scene.  The dizzy array of light textures as the train races on.  This rollercoaster urgency in cinematic filming will be used again in other noirs.  My favorite being the rollercoaster attempted murder scene in Woman On The Run.  There are many noirs with fast paced camera angles of car chases, police cars, trains.  This movie sets this device up brilliantly.

 

There is an underlining commentary in my opinion La Bete Humaine translating The Human Beast.. that technological efficiency will be the "downfall" of man.   We see this theme again in again.  Think about the cold war noirs dealing with germ and nuclear warfare. 

 

The aimless "machine' feeling of the engineers was seen yesterday as well in M  with the women working tiredlessly.  This feeling humans can't escape the trap of work, technology etc. 

 

The train scene in this movie was actually disturbingly long.  The whistles, dark tunnels, chugging wheels, bridge, oncoming train felt endless..  like many of the characters in noir, that feel trapped in an endless nightmare.  Challenges and horrors no one seems to escape.  

 

To me the constant camera clips to the train tracks foreshadow 'predestination'.. we are traveling to a doomed place and we can't get off. 

 

[...]

 

Looking forward to more clips.  I have learned new observations in noir with this clip. 

Edited by TCMModerator1
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showing a job that needs to be done but no one pays attention but from the pov of the engineer it is great

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What a tense opening! I think it definitely shows you how to create a certain mood using very little dialogue. These two men certainly know the ins and outs of this train and are so in sync with each other that they have little need for words. One of the most telling moments of the this scene is when the train goes through a tunnel creating moment of unexpected total darkness but when the train leaves the tunnel, this almost triumphant music begins to play. It kind of seems like a metaphor for what this story will be about. Going through the darkness but ultimately coming out unscathed.

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For me, the music was rather joyous compared to the mundane task of ensuring the train was running swiftly to the station.  On the other hand, it also compels me to watch further to see what else might happen.  Also, why in the tunnel did they have light, and then in the next shot, all you can really see is the end of the tunnel?  

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