December 1, 1905 [The Train Wreckers]

It seems that just out of sight, around the bend—or under your nose, BANG! Chaos waits, jittering like a tin toy powered by dynamite. At first, all seems well in this little picture: the train station sits calmly alongside the tracks, the station girl and her sweetheart attempt the first steps toward romance—but the train wreckers lurk in the woods, and tie our heroine to a tree, threaten all order with logs on the tracks. She is freed by a faithful dog (oh, how lucky are the endangered folk of the cinema, not the least in their pets!) who fetches aid while she removes her petticoat to flag down the train—saved at the last minute, and they seat the poor, fainting girl on the very logs that had spelled doom, and all shake her hand, and resume their trip—and she quickly recovers to wave as the train moves on—but she's ambushed by the wreckers, still intent on disrupting rail travel—and they thump her on the head, leaving her senseless on the tracks, and off they go on a stolen handcar. The train bears down on the heroine—but she is scooped up by her hero, perched at the edge of the cow-catcher, and their romance resumes—while the handcar is pursued, the anarchists speedily dispatched in a blaze of gunfire, finis!

I'm tired simply remembering the fantastic thing. This is a world whose hold on the everyday—couples united, trains chugging innocently along—is alarmingly tenuous, but not to be denied, no matter how loudly voiced the arguments of reason, let along simple mechanics. Young women fly wide-eyed through the air, landing atop calamity with nary a lock displaced—and wrestle it to the ground, tamed and stilled. It's comforting and ridiculous at the same time—and, I won't deny, exciting in its abruptness. There's a structure here—the threat of society dismantled, and the reckless courage that meets it—but there's also a mad freedom, as if the sheer motion of the film running through the camera encourages its subjects to run as swiftly, with as much clatter and whiz.

I know, I know: They're motion pictures, after all. It's just that they seem to be moving downhill, at exponentially increasing speed, with no hint of how we're going to be able to halt the runaway.


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