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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 have never seen La Bete Humaine before.  Saying that, it is added to films to watch.  The quick editing, the interactions between the engineers, the darkness in the tunnel that went on long enough to fill me with a sense of dread... quite an interesting opening to a film.  Who are the engineers?  Where are they going? Is the train transporting them or myself into a gritty, realistic world.  What happens when the train stops?  And who will be the focus character?

 

Quite a stirring opening, and one that agains makes me ask questions about Noir and the study of the process.  Interesting enough, like Hitchcock, the director seems to be allowing the camera to tell the story.

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I agree with the above comment.  It felt triumphant as the train pulled into the station.  The tunnel, and maybe the small compartment where the two men are, are the darkest places.  Everything else is well lit.  I haven't seen the full film, so perhaps there are some premonitions I'm not picking up on.  

It was a great opening to the film, but I didn't get any kind of 'noir' vibe here.

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The absence of speech reveals the 'tunnel vision' of the train conductors as being engrossed with their job and paying little attention to anything else. As the train goes into the blackness of the tunnel, the audience has an eerie feeling that something sinister is about to happen. This approach in filming encompasses the viewer with anticipation. You want to continue watching to see what will happen. 

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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.

I love the point about how they engineers appear to "speak train". Great call. *Toot Toot!*

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I haven't seen this film yet, but the opening sequence is exciting. As the train races forward, I feel like my heart is beating faster. The photography and sound are so good, I can almost feel the wind. When the train slows down and pulls into the station, the introduction of the music tells me this is the beginning of the journey, not the end.

The two men stick their heads out to look for dangers ahead and this could be a metaphor for looking out for each other in life.

At this point, the men are equal partners. And they're both covered in grime. Film noir can be grimy too, so there is a connection. The way the men must work in total synchronization to keep the train running is a clue that one of them is going to misstep in the future, with bad consequences for both.

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I agree with several of the posts that mentioned how much a part of the train the engineers were. I am unfamiliar with this film so I don't know what will happen. But the prolonged shots inside the dark tunnels and on the tracks (and missing much scenic views like on a romanticized American train scenes) seems to preclude aimlessness and a sense of careening into the unknown and perhaps into doom.

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I'm posting before reading other posts. I had a hard time seeing any true noir aesthetics in the opening. However, the smoke toward the end of the clip gave me the moor sensation. With a little bit more darkness, sketchy lighting and a lot more smoke like towards the end of the clip it's reminiscent of the train scenes in typical noir films. I'm interested to see the rest of the film after that beginning.

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I'm not too familiar with Renoir or his films (I've only seen A Day in the Country, though Grand Illusion and The River have been on my must-watch list for some time), so I didn't really have many expectations going into this film. When I think of trains, I actually think of Hitchcock's films (The Lady Vanishes and Strangers on a Train in particular), as well as the physicality of trains: they're such a powerful and physically awe-inspiring contraptions of transportation. For Hitch, and certainly other filmmakers too, a train means the arrival of danger. So, as I was watching the beginning of La béte humaine, I kind of looked for some sort of danger or evil to be arriving along with the train. However, that wasn't what I found. It was, as Dr. Edwards pointed out, kind of poetic. Even with all of these mechanical sounds--grunts, hisses, clanging metal, and such--we get a sense of poetry here. The sounds, instead of being loud and menacing, and shots form a certain dance, which plays along to the melody the sound provides (as there isn't any nondiegetic music until the end of the clip). The intercutting of certain shots with the corresponding diegetic sounds gives the film a nice and flowing rhythm, which is atypical for films noir (just like this "dangerous" train really isn't that dangerous here). The realism of the sequence, however, does play into the film noir style. Just like we saw in M, realism can be a scary thing--that's partially why people go to the movies anyway.

 

As others have stated, the long section of film in which the train goes through the tunnel does offset our feelings a little bit, which again is typical of film noir. If we're not unsettled a little bit--if that realism isn't as affecting as it should be--then something is off.

 

Even though the film is just beginning here, we do get that sense of motion, that we are propelled into something (perhaps it's the story or the characters or the train itself). Barreling through the scene, we begin in medias res, and that in and of itself can be a startlingly and off-putting introduction into a film; or it can create action and intrigue, which I believe is taking place here.

 

I'm glad to see that this is on Hulu through the Criterion Collection, as now I'll actually get a chance to watch the film and have further insight into how it fits within the realm of film noir.

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Though a lover of classic movies, Film Noir was never a priority on my list of what to watch.  There was always an air of anticipation that fueled my anxiety and the opening scene of La Bete Humaine did not disappoint.  I have never seen La Bete Humaine and so my first observations were a bit misguided; but after reading through the multiple responses on this thread, I have clarity (to an extent) and I have my many classmates to thank for that.  "La Bete Humaine" translates to "the Human Beast"--that being said the realistic, documentary-ish feel gives way to the realization (at least for myself) that this opening sequence of:

    - a train (one we know nothing about)

    - two gruff nameless men who do not use verbal communication, just grunts, whistles, and hand

       signals 

    - a furnace with a roaring fire as if the start of this movie is that of a train barrelling into the dangers

        of hell only to stop in the unassuming train station of Le Have with a somewhat triumphant but                       borderline dreadful air of ambiguity 

represents that the train itself full of rumbles and unending tracks, with the whistle of a train that could be on the same track, is actually a metaphor and sort of personification of a life.  This train, a beast of sorts, is a parallel for a character in the movie. The protagonist? The antagonist? We don't know yet. Anxiety. 

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Even without seeing the film, the opening scene immediately drew me toward those "darker touches."  The strident sounds of the train's wheels on the track, the brakes, and the whistle in particular were very unsettling.  Pair the gritty audio with the total blackness in the tunnel and the unease is amplified.  Definitely made me want to watch the entire film.

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Wow, what  a beginning! 

   I'm immediately drawn to the to the lives and occupations of the soot encrusted engineers, who add a sense of calmness, confidence and professionalism amidst the jarring, gritty movements and piercing loud train whistle. The low-key lighting of the tunnels and bridges add a sense of unease, while the constant rails reminds us of the mystery of what lies ahead.

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I did not get a noir sense from this opener. I did however get a sense that these two were a dependable team with no questions asked. They just did what they were directed to do by their partner. Long, patient editing was quite wonderful. No rush on the part of the cinematographer but the train hurdles forward at great speed. It was almost like a push and pull - control on the one side and the relentless moving forward of the train on the other. Look forward to seeing the whole film.

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I have never seen ““La Bete Humaine”  ~ “The Human Beast.”

 

The title intrigues me.  What is this movie about?  “The Human Beast” gives rise to many possibilities. 

 

As I begin to watch the Daily Dose clip, I don’t realize I am at the beginning of the movie.  I think I’ve interrupted the movie somewhere already in the movie.  No, I’m being dumped right into the scene!!  It’s fabulous.  I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going fast.  There’s a blackout.  We are going through a tunnel.  There is water between the tracks; the music is rising.

 

The train slows up, and now we’re at an empty railroad platform in Le Havre.  I still have no idea what this movie is about, but I’m on board….

 

8:00 a.m. Friday morning, I’m there.   :)  

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Actually, I didn't get a sense of film noir, but I did get the feeling of energy, because of the speed of the train. There are bits and pieces of dialogue, but it rather sparse.  It almost reminds me of the famous heist sequence in Jules Dassin's RIFIFI (1955), although La Bete Humaine was released 17 years before. In this case, the silence gets to you in which it allows you to anticipate of what is going to happen next.

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The train is going a little too fast. The camera is just a little too close to the oncoming bridges. It seems to portend risk. The slightly unsteady camera adds to the excitement, too. Perhaps best of all is how the editing pulls it all together, and puts the humans right in the middle of it.

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So for starters, my Jean Renoir knowledge is limited (aside from the great film Grand Illusion), so this opinion will definitely be a face value first impression. And to tie a thread back to the director of yesterday's sequence, I was immediately reminded of another Fritz Lang film when viewing this scene from La Bete Humaine. The Lang film I'm referring to is the 1954 noir Human Desire with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. Whether or not he directly bit the opening imagery here, the resemblance is uncanny, particularly the ground level shots of the churning trains tracks. it's definitely a scene that builds a rush of adrenaline, but in very much a different manner than the slow burn of M's opener.

 

As for the realism and docurealism of the actions onscreen, I suppose this could be tied to the semi-documentary noirs of the late 1940's (Kiss of Death, The Naked City) that used several of the same straight up shooting techniques. I can't say I'm immediately hooked by whatever is going on here (plot wise I'm going to assume nothing's happening yet), but based off of the concise and exciting presentation of this menial task I'm definitely intrigued by where Renoir will eventually go with his story.

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Opening scene…  The train in motion pulls the viewer into the scene and, thereby, the movie.  I’m sure this is done purposefully much like the opening in the first Indiana Jones movie with the rolling boulder.  I certainly remember seeing the IJ intro for the first time and thinking it was the best movie intro I had ever seen and, at once, realized I had literally moved forward towards the edge of my seat.  But this seems to be the intent of action introductions; that being the immediate enthrallment into a movie and, hopefully, an escape for a time from the doldrums of ordinary life; entertainment, in other words. 

To our film clip, 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.  I feel much can be read into this.  Most certainly this was an editing choice which puts the viewer directly on the train and in a moment or two… in a pitch black tunnel.  The tunnel scene, which solidifies our personal involvement (no one looked away did they?) in the intro, adds uncertainty to what might lie ahead; pitch black representing the unknown.  Only after a second or two are we able to focus on the faint light of the approaching tunnel exit.  If we stretch a bit, (or maybe not) one could interpret the exterior shots where the engineers look ahead as a scuttle attempt towards getting the viewer to anticipate what is coming; the unknown or what is uncertain.  For me, it was the dichotomy of the two scenes with respect to there pace.  The interior scene was more calm or everyday while the exterior scenes were more uneasy; the wobbly train, the quick wind made apparent by the train smoke, and the bleakness of the surrounds.  This imbalance suggests something uncertain or less than serene is about to unfold.  This scenario is, of course, played out as the film progresses through the storyline of deceit and murder.  All of these visual cues, including the requisite gritty B & W film perspective, portend coming mystery and intrigue creating what could be a great introduction for almost any mystery movie, but especially for one that depicts mans lesser qualities; a film noir fundamental.  While a coal burning train is dirty by nature it provides another scuttle cue towards the gritty drama to unfold.  Yet, one doesn't need look past the title which translated means  “The Human Beast” to see where this story is likely heading.  

From this it is easy to see why this film genre was aptly named when considering most of these 'black film portrayals of societal ills' have as a storyline mans lesser qualities.  Sprinkle that with some quick dry humor and/or bravado, and present it with the ubiquitous ‘in your face’ gritty quality indigenous to B & W film styling’s and you have what I feel are the hallmarks of the film noir genre.  

As for the opening, I can see how this would be a captivating and memorable scene for those who have seen the movie, especially in its day, just as the Indiana Jones rolling boulder intro has been for me.

  

 

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I'm not too familiar with Renoir or his films (I've only seen A Day in the Country, though Grand Illusion and The River have been on my must-watch list for some time), so I didn't really have many expectations going into this film. When I think of trains, I actually think of Hitchcock's films (The Lady Vanishes and Strangers on a Train in particular), as well as the physicality of trains: they're such a powerful and physically awe-inspiring contraptions of transportation. For Hitch, and certainly other filmmakers too, a train means the arrival of danger. So, as I was watching the beginning of La béte humaine, I kind of looked for some sort of danger or evil to be arriving along with the train. However, that wasn't what I found. It was, as Dr. Edwards pointed out, kind of poetic. Even with all of these mechanical sounds--grunts, hisses, clanging metal, and such--we get a sense of poetry here. The sounds, instead of being loud and menacing, and shots form a certain dance, which plays along to the melody the sound provides (as there isn't any nondiegetic music until the end of the clip). The intercutting of certain shots with the corresponding diegetic sounds gives the film a nice and flowing rhythm, which is atypical for films noir (just like this "dangerous" train really isn't that dangerous here). The realism of the sequence, however, does play into the film noir style. Just like we saw in M, realism can be a scary thing--that's partially why people go to the movies anyway.

 

As others have stated, the long section of film in which the train goes through the tunnel does offset our feelings a little bit, which again is typical of film noir. If we're not unsettled a little bit--if that realism isn't as affecting as it should be--then something is off.

 

Even though the film is just beginning here, we do get that sense of motion, that we are propelled into something (perhaps it's the story or the characters or the train itself). Barreling through the scene, we begin in medias res, and that in and of itself can be a startlingly and off-putting introduction into a film; or it can create action and intrigue, which I believe is taking place here.

 

I'm glad to see that this is on Hulu through the Criterion Collection, as now I'll actually get a chance to watch the film and have further insight into how it fits within the realm of film noir.

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

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I did not detect a sense of film noir in the opening scene and I wonder if that is because I have developed certain expectations based on my exposure to American film noir narratives. If I were viewing this film without any expectations I would still be intrigued by the train scene. Seeing two ordinary humans harnessing the power of a locomotive that seems nearly out of control is riveting and creates tension that contiunes to mount with each entrance into the tunnels. I thought the additon of a score was supposed to soothe me or provide some knd of relief, but instad it made me more tense and less unsure of the train's successfuly entry into the depot.

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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?

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The opening of La Bete Humaine is one of the most powerful and frenetic I've ever seen.  Renoir's use of sound, visual timing, and framing, one has a feeling of both speed and the overwhelming character of the train itself.

 

The use of the sounds of the train on the track, the engine, and the sounds of the machinery used by the engineers, and at a very loud volume, Renoir centers the viewer's attenion on the train itself, rather than the two drivers.  Other than the two lines of dialogue spoken in the first approximately four and a half minutes, the only other sounds are those made by the train.  It is only as the train begins to pull into Le Harve station, that the sound of the train becomes a musical soundtrack, which I assume will lead us into a different scene.

 

Visually, Jean Renoir uses an interesting visual timing.  He alternates between tight shots of the engineers working and long shots of the path that the train is taking.  This gives almost a "pulsating" sense to the opening sequence of the film, similar to a heartbeat.  This back and forth cutting and framing gives the viewer a sense of unease, since one cannot feel "comfortable" with either technique.  Also the speed of the cuts sets up a fast pace, which adds to the feeling of speed.

 

Combining the shots and sounds of the train's wheels and other components that the engineers use, reflect the awesome power of the train.  The view of the wheels, the constant adjustments that the engineers give the locomotive, prod the viewer to imagine the engineers as "servants" of this giant iron monster.  This sets up the rest of the film.

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I'd never seen a Renoir film before this clip so I didn't really know what to expect as far a style and all that. The depiction of the train, although realistic, has a suspense about it that only a typical thriller has. The train appears to be going quite fast, the camera is rattling a bit, the engineers take necessary precautions, more than you'd expect on a normal train ride, and it all just seems so busy and majestic like a dance. A dance with all the levers being pulled and silent understanding between the engineers and the whistling and metal moving the big train. The darker touches, to me at least, were the tunnels and the camera angle just a few feet from the tunnel walls.

 

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I have never seen ““La Bete Humaine”  ~ “The Human Beast.”

 

The title intrigues me.  What is this movie about?  “The Human Beast” gives rise to many possibilities. 

 

As I begin to watch the Daily Dose clip, I don’t realize I am at the beginning of the movie.  I think I’ve interrupted the movie somewhere already in the movie.  No, I’m being dumped right into the scene!!  It’s fabulous.  I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going fast.  There’s a blackout.  We are going through a tunnel.  There is water between the tracks; the music is rising.

 

The train slows up, and now we’re at an empty railroad platform in Le Havre.  I still have no idea what this movie is about, but I’m on board….

 

8:00 a.m. Friday morning, I’m there.   :)  

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