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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 treatment of the train in this scene is made personal by the interaction of the two men who service the engine. Their forms of communication are varied because of the multi-tasking activities with which each is engaged and of course, the intensity of the noise and the movement. As a person who has lived quite near a set of tracks for 28 years, I can feel the consuming nature of the presence of the train's portrayal because it is exactly how I feel when the trains whoosh past me above my shoulders when I am out for a walk. I feel compressed and strained by both the very loud noise, the moving air, and the pressure of the fast movement of the train cars. A long train can seem to be never-ending and give me the feeling to run away to remove myself from the potentiality of imagined danger. My imagined danger is quite graphic in my mind and has been made worse over the last year by all the reports of train disasters. Speaking of which, don't be mad, but the curving of the tracks midway through this opening immediately brought up the curve of the tracks in Philadelphia and the Amtrak accident. Sorry.

I think the photography does well to capture the same experiences I have had in real life. The viewpoint of the camera following the curve of the tracks and the sway of the moving car sets a tone of concern. It seems as if the only control there might be would come through the choreographed efficiency of the 2 engineers.

 

The various scenes of the running of the train in and out of the tunnel remind me of so many movies before and after that I cannot even remember all the names. Train images seemed to be more important in films of the past (except maybe for the recent remake of Pelham 123) and there is more of a romantic energy to their workings. The manual manipulations of the dials and levers also might indicate a sense of apparent hands-on control by the men seen in the strength needed to push these levers, which is much more visceral than pressing a digital control from a remote center removed from the cab of the engine. (I know that there are still engineers, but many actions are computerized these days) Therefore I felt more of a sense of tension in this scene which might relate to the portrayal of the "chase" in other noir movies.

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A lot of people have noticed the triumphant music at the end of the scene but a lot people seem to look at it positively and it gave me a sense of dread. The music suggests that there is a reason to celebrate if the train makes it to the station. This also suggests that the train often doesn't make it to the station. I know that driving a train was (and maybe still is?) a dangerous job but it was also something that these men did on a daily basis. It doesn't seem like a reason to celebrate, so for me the triumphant music is a warning of dangers to come in the movie. 

My first impression of the triumphant/joyous/exciting music was that we, the viewers, have finally seen where the train was going (Le Harve, I think the sign read). You wonder right away where the train is going, what is going to unfold once it arrives at it's destination, what's in store for the two engineers, etc. The excitement we feel while watching this is similar to riding a real train; it's fast, it's different, it can be dangerous, you're hurtling forward to "something," either a destination or adventure. The music is there to announce our arrival; we've realized we have arrived at Point B. Point A isn't important, it's where you disembark from that is. We all remember getting off the plane, the boat, out of the taxi when we arrived and started our own adventure. Same thing. The movie will leave point B, most likely, but getting there is important and exciting. Point B is not important in your travels, but it is where your adventure truly starts. That's the step off point. Now, this may seem a bit melodramatic with the music and all, but at the same time, trains were an embodiment of the industrial revolution. Railroad systems made a huge impact. The scene, to me, seems to be reveling in this modern marvel. People are still excited by trains to this day and people have train sets not because they're children at heart, but because of what the train represents. The opening of this movie encapsulates all the excitement and wonder of the train and all the possibilities that could come from it's arrival. We are it's passengers and we have been visually hooked into completing our journey. The fire being stoked and the whistle screaming at the beginning and right before the music starts are indicators that what lies ahead is dangerous.

I'm excited to see the rest of this movie now. I like Jean Gabin quite a bit, but have never seen this one.

 

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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.

 

No, what's actually happening is the engineer signals to the fireman that the steam engine needs water. We cut to the shot of the track ahead, what you are seeing between the rails is what was called a track pan. Before track pans, when a locomotive needed water it would have to stop at a water tank to fill the tender. The tender carried both coal for the firebox and a water tank for steam. A track pan was a long shallow rectangular pan filled with water and when Jean Gabin gives the signal for water, the fireman goes to the lever and at Gabin's nod he lowers the scoop that drops into the pan, speed of forward motion forces water into the scoop, up the scoop pipe and into the tanks or locomotive tender on the fly. No need any longer to stop at a water tank and waste precious time. These pans were maybe a couple of thousand feet long.

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Love the contrast of the bright day and dark tunnel.  Not your typical noir lighting.  The lack of dialogue emphasizes the power of the train, power, speed and momentum.  Though controlling it - the engineers seem superfluous.  No idea where this opening is headed.  

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the opening could mean we the audience are in for a fast paced ride.

Who is the beast? the train or humans? 

I haven't seen the movie or know anything about it so everything is literally what I thought from the opening.

the 2 men do the train stuff like clockwork. it seems ingrained into the them at this point. no talking just gestures and whistles. Even the train whistles mean something.  When going through the long dark tunnel, it nothing to the men nor the train but the audience its gives us a form of anticipation. Much like later day noirs do when someone runs in the dark except the runner has no idea whats coming too. when the train is coming in at the empty station the music plays. the two men's perform the task of  stopping the train. with the music it is like a performance. they may as well be in a play.

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*Keep in mind I am so new to this (learning about film, group discussions, etc), other than many years of loving older films*

 

 

I have not watched this movie before. Just the opening.

 

 

The opening was indeed 'dynamic'. I loved it. It was thrilling, supsenseful, gritty and quick - quick, fast paced.

I loved how the camera seemed to hug the curves in the tracks, like I was on the train to its destination.  How the camera was close to the edge before entering the tunnel into total darkness.

 

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No, what's actually happening is the engineer signals to the fireman that the steam engine needs water. We cut to the shot of the track ahead, what you are seeing between the rails is what was called a track pan. Before track pans, when a locomotive needed water it would have to stop at a water tank to fill the tender. The tender carried both coal for the firebox and a water tank for steam. A track pan was a long shallow rectangular pan filled with water and when Jean Gabin gives the signal for water, the fireman goes to the lever and at Gabin's nod he lowers the scoop that drops into the pan, speed of forward motion forces water into the scoop, up the scoop pipe and into the tanks or locomotive tender on the fly. No need any longer to stop at a water tank and waste precious time. These pans were maybe a couple of thousand feet long.

I just learned so much, thank you.

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The very first shot puts us right in the fiery furnace of hell. I haven't seen the whole film, but I have a strong feeling that initial shot is telling us something about what's about to transpire. The other thing that struck me was the music as the train arrived in Le Havre. It was unmistakably heroic in tone, as if the safe arrival of a train is cause for celebration on a grand scale. It's no wonder because we've just seen how many things could have gone wrong on the trip to the station.

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I agree with The Working Dead', the movement of the train is inevitable...it's on a track, after all.  The fire in the engine at the opening is not ominous to me but intense.  The men are comrades and understand each other; the are capable and comfortable with this 'non-human beast'.  As they arrive in Le Havre, there is triumphant music..a journey safely completed.  We also see so many other engines, so many more journeys .  This is to be the story of one.

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Such a well realised opening. As in The Rules of the Game, Renoir choses to highlight the gritty labor of the workmen rather than the glamour usually associated to train literature. The machinery noise and whistles here are as prominent as the ominous sounds in M, I can definitely see a connection there, even if wholy unnintended. Like many others very well said, the camerawork is a thing of beauty; the bridge and tunnel sequences are outstanding.

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I have to say that I have absolutely no knowledge of steam locomotives, so a lot of what the men were doing was lost on me. I rewatched the clip and it seemed to sink in a little more.

 

I found the whole opening scene very anxiety inducing, from the sounds to the fast movement. I found a great break in the action and a point of humor to be the fireman lighting his new cigarette with the butt of his old one. Classic!

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Okay, I've not seen the film itself so have no idea what it's about and if this opening links to the story at all, but - for me - I just don't see what I suppose I should be seeing. It's technically excellent for the age, and makes for a fine short documentary, yes, but noir? I don't know. 

 

I guess I could say (as others have) that the train hurtling along is somehow ominous, but this is a noir course and that's to be expected: a projection therefore of something we're supposed to feel. 

 

I think I'll need to ponder on this - and watch the whole film, obviously! 

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Beautifully filmed. The opening shot of the firebox looks like the mouth of some giant creature. The locomotive is both graceful and brutal. It's a beast that needs to be tended to. The crew's ease with working with the machine shows their experience. The simple communication that they use is also effective and indicative of their experience. It also shows the grittiness of their job with the ever present dirt and grime that the engineer is constantly wiping off of his hands along with the smoke and dirt. The train's headlong rush to the station gives a hint of what's going to happen later on.

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Everything is so deliberate, yet at many times it might feel as though we are being treated to cinéma vérité. If simulator rides were around in the 1930s, this is the segment that would be played throughout. Also, that bit of music at the end is just terrific, evoking both feelings of adventure and tension.

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Like some other posters, I wouldn't have necessarily said this scene comes from a noir film, except the jarring sounds, and the tunnel, which both automatically made me feel wary. Looking forward to seeing the rest of this film.

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To me, the powerful opening sequence of "La Bete Humaine" conveys the stoic work ethic of the proletariat in the face of the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution.  The opening train squeal over the image of the raging hell of the tender evoke not only the newly mechanized age, but also the maw of Hades.  This may be stretching a visual metaphor, but the men's constant use of cigarettes could imply their unconscious internalization of the fires of an industrial hell.  The underlit, dark, grimy engine cab, even the men themselves bear the stains of oil, sweat and dirt spread by the workings of the locomotive.

 

The director uses low, railroad track level shots of the train's running wheels, and mid range, low angle shots of the train crossing the screen diagonally overpower the few other landscape features.  In his vision the size of the train dwarfs its operators, making scale seem destiny and humanity made to serve this gargantuan, powerful machine.

 

The excruciatingly loud metallic squeal of the iron wheels on the rails, the thumping rhythmic heartbeat of the engine chug, and the screaming whistles of the oncoming trains, as well as their own train's soundings obliterate any attempt at human conversation - negating the one evolutionary capability that separates humans from beasts.  

 

In the face of all this, the men seem, not to accept exactly, but to live with dignity and a certain honor within this world that seems to give no thought to them.  The natural interplay between the two men, through gestures, touches, actions, and facial expressions, see them through their daily lives.

 

This, to me, is the essence of film noir; the struggle of humans to retain their humanity by fulfilling their given jobs.  These films seem to say the world is a dark, dangerous, uncaring place; the only way to survive is to adhere to a personal code of honor and work ethic.  The professionalism of the two engineers allows them manage the "beast" and brings the men safely to the station.  

 

As they near their destination, the soundtrack crossfades from the howlings of the train to a piece of music whose ritard echoes the slowing of the train.

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This beautifully shot opening draws the viewer in with excitement, like the ubiquitous chase scene at the opening of a Bond film, Renoir exciting use of a live action first person and point-of -view shots demand the viewers attention.  I am very surprised they were able to capture many of those shots without the benefit of a hand held camera.

 

The first noir element I see is the documentary style of the opening and may have inspired Fritz Lang's opening of Human Desire.  The second is the cold industrialization of the scene.  No other people are scene save our two engineers.  The shots are framed tight to eliminate everything but the machine and its human operators.  The road scenes too are framed to show only the manmade objects in a cold bleak light.

 

The sound design is important here, like it was in yesterday's clip.  Again only the natural sounds of the environment are heard until the very end when a march like instrumental begins as if celebrating the arrival of train and its characters.

 

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"But Dr. Freud, sometimes a train is just a train."

 

I have not seen the movie and realize that at least here in the USA coal fired trains have become mythic beasts and with the rise of automation, deindustrialization, and the service economy far fewer of us have had the experience of trying to tame powerful machines then was true in the past. With that said, the scene struck me as an acknowledgement of what it takes for men (in this case) to ride and guide the powerful mechanical beast... beyond that not sure what darker touches are being suggested???

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Having not seen this film previously I wondered about the opening. It seems to be establishing a sense of normal, everyday life aboard the train with the exception that you expect something to happen since this is an opening in a noir film. The use of the music, as the train pulls in, builds to a crescendo. It almost seems happy but you wonder how long that will last.

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I liked this. Action and suspense are what I see,with that constant feeling of impending doom lurking ahead. The cutting shots of the weathered engineers,to the tracks,the low angled view of the wheels turning at rapid pace,to the passing train ahead,the sudden darkness of the tunnel,the bridge ect....It's all keeping me on edge in anticipation for what's going to happen next,and it's only when the uplifting music starts as they roll into town,that I feel a sense of relief. Really thrilling ????

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The scene seems to establish a sense of everyday working life aboard a train. With the fire being seen first it makes you wonder about the possibility of fire in the film.

 

As the music at the end builds I expected some calamity to befall the train itself. Perhaps the train is bringing the calamity?

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Jean Renoir's locomotive is no gentleman.

 

La Bete Humaine's opening sequence serves as fair warning: while this industrialized beast may be a modern wonder, there is nothing civilized about him.

 

The director's mise-en-scene and sound design characterize the locomotive as fiery, insatiably hungry (needs constant feedings), loud (always cries out his presence), sexually aggressive (plunges in and out of those tunnels), and fast (hurtles towards his stops). Here we find the grittier precursor to Alfred Hitchcock's train-through-tunnel motif in the closing sequence of North by Northwest.

 

Foreshadowing? Yes, indeed: this beastly locomotive is sure to be an accomplice to whatever happens next.

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After almost entering the jaws of hell, I was allowed out into the locomotive and was immediately struck by the beauty of the surfaces, the softness of the grayscale.  Skin and clothing textures were almost romantic, the lighting appeared heavily diffused.  Then the exterior shot at wheel level taking in the hard-focussed, darkly gleaming, insanely fast-moving action of the wheels.  Again beautiful surfaces, but vertiginous and too fast and too loud.  The engineers appeared to be feeling nothing, thinking nothing that did not pertain to the job at hand.  Not mechanical exactly, just doing a series of actions made mechanical from long habit.  I'll skip forward, past the very scary black tunnel and the awful screams of the whistle, the grinding screeches and unstoppable momentum of the wheels , to the introduction of the musical score.  Others of us have called it "merry" and "uptempo".  For me the tempo was too fast, teetering toward loss of control.  I wanted it to stop so I could slow down. It could have easily underscored a thriller, a chase.    By the time the music began to gradually slow, I was ready to get out of there.  I hoped we'd stop at the first station, but had to wait for Le Havre and that empty platform.  God, how'm I gonna watch the whole thing?

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The realistic depiction of a train speeding along the tracks is exciting, we are right there with the two train engineers.

We are feeling, hearing, and seeing what they are seeing.

There is a claustrophobic atmosphere inside of the tunnels,and  the loud screeching of the whistle, and chugging of the train on the tracks fill the viewer with exhilaration and anxiety. Both definite themes of Film Noir.

I also sensed an atmosphere of loneliness, and isolation. 

So, what this contributes to Film Noir is , anxiety, claustrophobia, excitement, smoke, and great sound.

 

 

 

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Good observation, @spsthompson. I thought for a moment that one engineer used a hand sign for 'drink,' and I fully expected the other to produce a bottle, take a nip, and pass it. This action would have added to the 'laissez-faire attitude' displayed by the workers engaged in their daily drudgery.

Loool! That's what I thought too,that they were going to take a couple hits off a bottle.
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