Wednesday, 8 October 2014

1899: A Kiss in the Tunnel

I'm going to review two versions of this film, both from 1899 - yes, we're into remakes already. They must have thought they were exhausting the possiblities of the medium.
The first is from George Albert Smith, he of "The X-Rays", and begins with a so-called 'phantom ride' shot, taken from a camera fastened to the front of a train as it goes into a tunnel.  Cut to the inside of a carriage, where a couple take advantage of the darkness to steal a kiss, then forty seconds later, back to the train as it emerges from the tunnel. The second, and I'm assuming this is the remake, is by Bamforth and Company, of Holmfirth, Yorkshire (home of 'Last of the summer Wine'). It's identical in structure but where the Smith film uses a painted backdrop to represent the train carriage, Bamforth uses a proper set, or more likely an actual carriage, and the external shots are objective views of the train.
These basic variations aside, the interpretations of the action are very different. In Bamforth's film, the man is a rakish young chap, looking very much the type who would impudently try to steal a kiss from a nice girl and then get slapped. Well, he doesn't get slapped, and the nice girl goes through the motions as if she's paying for a ticket. Maybe that's the idea.
The Smith film is more sophisticated. The couple are older, elegantly dressed, and ought to know better - only they're not a couple, I don't think. To judge by their rapport they've just met on that train maybe half a hour earlier, which if they're heading down to Brighton from London would put them at the tunnel just south of Three Bridges. They engage in a bit of coy flirting, exchange a few kisses, then propriety is resumed - she returns to her embroidery, he to his newspaper-  though not before sitting on his hat. It's as if the brief moment in the tunnel has given then a fleeting opportunity to escape the strict conventions of late Victorian society, which they must hastily re-adopt before the train emerges. If not exactly 'gentlemen's relish', it probably appeared quite racy and escapist at the time.
If you'd like another take on this film try this chap's review.      

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