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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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Terrific beginning...I immediately want to know where the train is headed as I'm caught up with the engineers tasks as the train travels along the tracks...then I felt something disasterous would happen any moment...finally feeling relief as it slows into the station.

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I was thinking of the many train scenes from film noir movies of the forties and early fifties:

"Narrow Margin", "Strangers on a Train",the end scene in "Shadow of a Doubt", etc and how this early film reflects the origins of the romance of the train hurtling into an unknown destiny. The scene where the

two trains pass each other are replicated in so many films - noir and other wise, but always creating

tension and a sense of anticipation.

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I found the silence of the two train conductors compelling, as they were lurched about, surrounded by the screeching of metal wheels.  Their actions indicate a long-time working relationship.  The ceremonial nature of the swelling music lets me know that - for some reason - this train entering this seaport town is going to be very important.  What adventure awaits these two characters? 

 

Their cramped, dark quarters are juxtaposed against the bare whiteness of their expansive surroundings, and their movements almost mimic the jerking of the levers and knobs they operate.

 

I have to say that the opening shot needs more context for me to make a connection regarding its contribution to noir style, other than the historical point that Mr. Edwards has already made.  Is something special going to happen to what looks to be just two ordinary working-class people?  We'll see! 

 

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The train speeding along made me want to find out where it was going.  The dark, black tunnel scene made me wonder what might be coming at the end of the tunnel.  Two trains passing, traveling in opposite directions is always a great scene.  No dialogue, but easy and efficient communication between the two conductors sets the mood for the rest of the film.

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Opening scene sets the tone. Innocent children singing a gruesome song while mundane activites, like washing clothes and cooking dinner, are going on. The panning shots show the grim conditions the children live in. The film being shot in black and white also inhances the mood. Bouncing the ball against the wanted poster once again underscores childish innocence and lack of fear. The menacing shadow as the killer appears and asks her name is made more menacing by her cheery reply. The cuckoo clock puzzled me for awhile but I think it indicates how little of value these people have and how much they cherish it, like they cherish their children.

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This sequence must have been very exciting on a big screen.  It must have felt like being on a roller coaster.

 

We open up on fire.  Kind of hellacious in that engineers' compartment.

 

The moving train shots created an impression of speed, danger and claustrophobia.  The majority of the train exteriors had the view very close to the left edge of the frame.  Things became more claustrophobic when passing through tunnels.  There's no margin for error.

 

In this hellacious compartment in a situation where there's no margin for error are two cool guys. They don't talk.  They whistle and gesture and smoke cigarettes.  They don't need to talk.  They're professionals beyond talk.

 

No wonder the music is triumphant when they're able to successfully stop that roaring smoking missile at the station.  And likely on time from the way Gabin looks at his watch.

 

These two guys could pull of a heist.

 

 

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I like the symbolism of being in a central location as in the engine room, but also traveling to a destination, much like we do in life. The non-verbal communication between the conductors shows the ease at which they do their job and their connection to each other as they are manning the fast moving train. I did think that the trains were going to collide when only they passed by each other, which once again happens in life. The darkness and confinement help to add the noir feel to the opening. 

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That was one heck of an opening scene, eh? All fawning aside, I think that was easily the most intriguing opening scene in a film I've seen in a while. The roaring of the train tracks simultaneously kept me both repelled ( because of how crude the sound was) and interested. As someone said in the message board  before, the dynamic of the two men's relationship is akin to a friendship; the silence is obviously meant to portray both how loud the noise was, and the fact that these men worked so long together they're able to use only hand signals to replace words, (or maybe it IS due to loud decibel levels that surround them- but anyway.) Finally as the train gets to the stop, the score starts. Signifying that we're at our destination and the story is finally about to begin.

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The first shots of the train and the men working on it could be from any documentary film, but as the scene progresses we get to feel that the point of view of Gabin's character is being priviledged: everytime he looks out the window, we see what he sees - the railroad, the "head" of the train, a tunel or a station getting closer. Latter we'll understand that it is him "la bête humaine" from the title, less in the sense of a monster than of twisted or disturbed mind with a dark past, a characteristic that we often recognize in the typical film-noir's anti-hero. In what concerns the realistic depiction of the train in the opening, I must add that it made me thought of other noir films that were shot in a even more evident documentary style, such as Jules Dassin's The Naked City; however, my point here is less to compare the two films than to assert the proximity of the film noir genre to the documentary approach.

 
As the scene is set in the daylight, the moments when the image is obstucted (by the smoke or when the train enters the darkness of a tunel) are particularly important to set the noir mood; also the sound plays an important role here, evolving from a frantic, claustrophobic acoustic ambience, full of realistics sound motifs, to a dramatic music that stresses the fast-paced rhythm and the tension of the unstoppable movement of the train, established since the very first seconds of the clip.
 
We may say that nothing dramatically meaningful happens during this 4 minutes: characters don't interact with each other and nothing is said, but the impression that we're on the move with them, not knowing where we are headed to or when the train is going to stop, makes the spectator feel the rush of the characters and the frenetic mood of the film.
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I am not at all disturbed by the opening sequence.

 

I am impressed by the way the men work together, how everything meshes perfectly as the train continues toward its destination. For a split-second, I worry about the oncoming train, but it is immediately clear that it is on the other track. I am confident that the train will stay on the tracks. It is a fun ride, like a roller coaster. I am not at all afraid. But I wonder: where are we going, when will we get there? 

 

The music begins as we approach the station. It is heroic music. Has the train completed an important mission? Is there a hero aboard who will be welcomed by a cheering crowd and a brass band?

 

I don't know what's going to happen next, but I am not worried.

 

 

 

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We may not know much about Gabin's character, but from this opening we get to know that, at least, he knows how to whistle...  

You know how to whistledon't youSteve? You just put your lips together and blow. - Lauren Bacall, from To Have and Have Not (1944)

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I've never seen this film, but I want to now!

 

So exciting...the speed, the smoke and grime, the overwhelming level of noise. My natural curiosity of all things mechanical kicked in. Wondered at the many things having to be done at once and sequential. I was distracted at one point by the noise levels and how the engineers had to communicate by motioning at each other. I'm certified in hearing conservation and found myself looking closely to see if they had any form of hearing protection (still not sure). Tough job and not for the timid. The speed of the train and steadiness of the camerawork is amazing. I think I could watch this clip over and over.

 

Unlike M, LA BÊTE HUMAINE had an exhilarating opening sequence that didn't fill me dread, but did make me wonder if the dangerous occupation of these two men reflected an equally dangerous life outside of work.

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The furnace looked like a huge mouth.

The two men were like dance partners. They communication with only a couple of words otherwise only hand signals and eye movements were used . The music started and the train whistle blew  as the  train went by  a yard of trains. Could  this be a “grave yard” of trains and the  whistle blowing was showing respect for the idle  train engines.
The style of the training going from darkness into the light represents  the  type of lighting of file noir. 
The speed of the  trains was constant , fire , it raises your  excitement  of viewing this film.
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Intense and beautiful. The combination of noise, speed and grit is really evocative. The rhythm of the wheels adds to the momentum. The darkness of the tunnel  and the pattern of the bridge contributes to the noir atmosphere. MInimal dialogue creates a feeling of man trying to control a machine which takes all their concentration and physical ability.

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Renoir's title, LA BETE HUMAINE or "(The) Human Beast" immediately reminds viewers that in spite of the cumulative splendour of our collective feats, there is also a dark, sinister, and self-destructive side inherent in our existence. 

The film's realistic depiction of a train added a sense of the power and potential for destruction in the locomotive (and in 'us', really, as a species). The camera mounted on the upper left side of the engine car narrowly misses the edge of the tunnel each time, suggesting that despite the power and speed of our transport, we are always precariously close to a life-ending mistake.

The engineer's impeccable timing remind us that a slight mistake could be fatal. His gestures to his partner and his imperative that he should wear eye protection remind us how vulnerable we are even amongst machine we have ourselves created. Similar to Fritz Lang's (1931), human societies, much like the train we ride in La Bete Humaine (1938), are in a state of perpetual movement or advancement; whether we risk ourselves or lose the vulnerable, the innocent, or those ignorant to the dangers that surround us, there is a sense that despite our best efforts there will be losses of our own design.

If we choose to neglect the potential to be consumed by the human beast, we are also proving that we often pay insufficient respect to our fragility. Do the train's engineers pay sufficient respect to the mechanized behemoth they are commanding? Are they truly in command or are they merely passengers on a vehicle they chose to set in motion?


As they pause to smoke, the engineers appear knowledgeable enough about their occupation to be distracted periodically. Despite their expertise over the shear mass of the powerful train we ride on, the viewer is left to question how reliable the engineers are--are they distracted because they are so masterful that they can afford to look away for brief mements?--in contrast, should we doubt their expertise because their distraction represents risky lapses of respect for the immensity of the machine they pilot? As we did with M, we must ask ourselves if their unwillingness to take danger seriously will result in a fatal error (as the children did while singing about murder, and as Elsie Beckmann did while playing ball against the "Murderer" notice).

I personally consider LA BETE HUMAINE a contribution to Noir because it seems preoccupied with a theme that is at the (black) heart of so many Noir films: The dark, destructiveness of human nature. After all, part of the reason we watch Noir is because we are somehow attracted to observing the appalling potential for harm we often wield.

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In the opening scene of La Bete Humaine depicts the reality of a train actually being operated by two men in the cart up front. A majority of the time when a train is being used as a location for filming it's the passengers being emphasized. La Bete Humaine left out the passengers and went straight to the source which is those that actually keep the train moving. There was also the sound of hearing coal being scooped and put into the engine demonstrating the reality of what a train runs on.

 

In addition the sound stood out that was truly a "darker touch" to the opening scene. Once the train began to make the turn you could lightly hear the orchestra playing. As it got closer and closer to the destination the sound got louder and louder. It wasn't a cheerful sound but dark and heavy as if La Havre was not the place to be arriving to at the moment. 

 

The opening scene of La Bete Humaine adds onto the film noir style because it does not always have to include people in a strange place or a crime that has taken place. It could also simply be the operation of a train or the arrival of one to its destination. The sound of the orchestra helped with this scene.

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I found the completely black screen time during the tunnel scene with the very loud noise to be provocative. It made me think that something might happen in that loud blackness. Rarely, do we think of loud blackness. Most of the time with associate the complete dark with silence. Adding the loudness to the darkness throws expectation off kilter. Something isn't quite right about this. I think that all mysteries/thrillers/horror has this quality to it. Something isn't quite right here.

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The furnace looked like a huge mouth.

The two men were like dance partners. They communication with only a couple of words otherwise only hand signals and eye movements were used . The music started and the train whistle blew  as the  train went by  a yard of trains. Could  this be a “grave yard” of trains and the  whistle blowing was showing respect for the idle  train engines.
The style of the training going from darkness into the light represents  the  type of lighting of file noir. 
The speed of the  trains was constant , fire , it raises your  excitement  of viewing this film.

 

Great job noticing the unquenchable "mouth" that feeds the train--I felt that way too. The 'dance partners' suggestions is a neat connection; there is so much dependent upon their wordless cooperation. Thanks for the thought provoking ideas.

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I think that opening scene of the film is the most important part of the plot. While the subject of infidelity is the main point of the story, it really is the backdrop of the railroad business and how the running of that business coincides with the characters' personal lives.

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I wasn't seeing the noir elements, so I really appreciate reading the other comments.  It makes definite sense in the context people are putting it in.  The sense of hurtling forward and the grimy, grittiness of it.  I love that there's no spoken dialog, just gestures.  And what if the engineers get it wrong? 

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Whats not to like, gritty setting, loud noises, speed and the dread of darkness. All observed by us the third party in the engineers cab of the locomotive. The only ones that have any control are the two engineers and due to the noise they use their form of sign language which we scramble to understand while the tension builds.

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(so many contributors to this thread!!!)

 

What caught my eye about this clip was how like a part of the train itself its engineers were.  They make the same noises as the train, whistling and grunting instead of talking, are as grimy as the machine is, and function as another gear or lever on the machine itself at appropriate times.  They pass another train, but don't signal to its conductor or wave to anyone else--they are divorced from the rest of humanity, hurtling along the iron rails through the dark to their destination.

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The noir aspect of this clip is the overall aspect of potential drama and danger in everyday activities.  The screaming of the train whistle, the increased noise within the darkness of the tunnel, the shaky camera maintaing a level of discomfort.  Granted we don't have a setup that suggests this is not a mundane situation, but so often in noir films the innocent setting becomes menacing due to events leading up to the scene.  As an example, consider the grocery store scenes in Double Indemnity, an everyday location for most folks, but knowing that murder has been committed, and some blackmail ensues, taints the innocence of the location.   Similarly with the diner at the beginning of The Killers, and many other examples.

Trains, or transportation, are often indicative of transition and change, potentially more specific to escape, or introduction of an outsider as disruptor to the normal balance.  Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt comes to mind as a latter example. 

 

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