This film is part of Free
Over the Tay Bridge on an Express Train (1901)
A journey across the well-known Scottish railway bridge, filmed from the engine front.
'Phantom rides' were simple but intrepid and attractive early films which used point-of-view camerawork to take their viewers on vicarious train trips. They often combined distinct visual pleasures: this example presents a study of an imposing achievement of 19th century civil engineering while offering its audience the giddy sensation of movement over it.
We start slow, noticing the watching railwaymen at the frame's edges. They rapidly disappear as the train passes them, the tempo quickens and the screen space is dominated by the structures of the 1887 iron-and-steel bridge itself. Shafts of light are unintentionally but pleasingly caught on camera, flickering through the overhead beams. Phantom train journeys were common in early filmmaking, but surprisingly rare in Mitchell and Kenyon's work. This is one of just five surviving examples. They more often took their cameras for town tram rides: short-distance transportation was more in keeping with the human, local, earthy, urban presence we now associate with M&K. The colder, faster-moving, almost abstract film experience on offer here feels more derivative of others' work (particularly American film pioneer Thomas Edison's famous 1899 phantom ride across Brooklyn Bridge, which Mitchell and Kenyon may have seen). The ever-savvy M&K were probably intending this film for quite different distributors and viewers than their usual fare. And despite some photographic flaws, it's an enjoyable trip, well worth taking.