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1897: Riding With a Phantom

1897 witnessed the birth of a new and exhilarating movie genre, the ‘Phantom Ride’, with the release of American Mutoscope & Biograph Company’s The Haverstraw Tunnel.   For this short film, a camera was mounted on the front of a train and its handle cranked by the cameraman as the train travelled along the tracks, thus providing the illusion of motion.   For the first time the spectator’s point-of-view was no longer stationary but mobile, travelling forward so that the scenery appeared to rush toward the screen.   The film’s London debut in October was witnessed by a reporter for The Era, a weekly newspaper for the British Music Hall industry, who commented:

“With a very slight stretch of imagination he (the viewer) can fancy himself tearing along at great speed on a cow-catcher, with the landscape simply leaping towards him.   He sees the stretch of metals before him, just as if he were travelling with the train, which rushes into the tunnel, seen looming ahead long before the train enters the darkness, from which it emerges into a beautiful country, bathed in sunlight.   A more exciting and sensational piece of realism has never been presented to an audience.”  1

 Offering an exciting new visual experience to the spectator, the ‘Phantom Ride’ films would prove popular for a number of years. [ADD]


1 Quoted in Barnes, The Beginnings of the Cinema in England, 1894-1901, vol 2.

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USA: 1897



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