#198) Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)

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#198) Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)

OR “The Talk of the Midtown”

Directed by G.W. Bitzer

Class of 2017

The Plot: That’s a pretty self-explanatory title. Follow one of the earliest subway trains on its 28-block journey under Manhattan. This train makes all stops.

Why It Matters: The NFR highlights the film’s technical feats (it required three trains to film this) and praises the “artistic flair” of G.W. Bitzer.

But Does It Really?: Historical significance, sure. It’s an interesting watch, but I don’t know if I can argue the need for preservation. It’s harmless enough, so I give it a pass. Perhaps it’s my own jaded experience with the New York subway system that tarnishes my thoughts on this film. I will conquer you yet!

Everybody Gets One: The only name connected to this film is G.W. Bitzer, who was three years away from his first of many collaborations with D.W. Griffith. At this point in time, Gottfried Wilhelm had made several “actuality films” with Biograph and was starting to branch out into narrative films. He also invented the “fade out”, so he’s got that legacy going for him.

Wow, That’s Dated: The Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) line had been open for seven months when this was filmed.

Other notes

  • As previously mentioned, this shoot required three trains: the train being filmed, the train behind it with a camera mounted on the front, and a third train on a parallel track lighting the first train.
  • There’s a great meta moment at the beginning when you can see the train with the lighting equipment on it. This is followed by a fun moment at the end where the first train gains speed and the others have to catch up.
  • Speaking of, how fast are these trains going? They don’t seem to be going that fast, but maybe that’s just the frame rate playing tricks on me.
  • The 42nd Street station is Grand Central, but not the one you’re thinking of. The current Grand Central wasn’t built until 1913.
  • We get a lovely sample of 1905 fashion while at the 42nd Street station.
  • Just a reminder that this film was added to the National Film Registry the same year as “The Goonies”, meaning that these two films are equally significant in the eyes of the NFR. Think about it, won’t you?

Legacy

  • Bitzer and Mutoscope followed this up with a narrative short that was also filmed at the 14th Subway station: “2 a.m. in the Subway”.
  • The IRT line is still in operation today, and will take you from 14th St Union Square to 42nd Street Grand Central in about eight minutes. It’ll run you $2.75.

Further Viewing: The most famous IRT train in film history is the titular subway car in 1974’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”. It’s an exciting action film populated by smart-ass New Yorkers, what more could you ask for? The film was so popular (and the premise so real) that it’s still considered bad luck to run a Pelham train at exactly 1:23.

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