Interior New York Subway (1905)
There's a beautiful version of this on the first collection of Treasures From American Film Archives; I just showed it to my Cinema 101 class, and every time I see it projected on a screen, I'm carried into a state of cinephiliac bliss. So much of early cinema was about capturing moments of urban modernity, slicing images out of time, but this feels almost futuristic. Look at the way the light flickers on the subway door, the manner in which it bounces off the tunnel walls and frames the train like something out of 2001. Look at how it pauses in musical fashion as the train comes to a halt, and then starts again, like movements in a classical piece. Shot by the great Billy Bitzer, who would go on to work with D.W. Griffith on Birth Of A Nation, we can see here the transformation of documentary into something other: magical, contemplative, transformative. Framed by people entering and exiting the train, the subway ride becomes a brief reverie amidst a bustling modernity, a four-minute pause that bends the light, and remakes the space.