Augmented Reality

“Early cinema held an instant fascination with the train, as is evident from the numerous actualities of engines entering and leaving stations, including the famous Lumière brothers film L’Arrivée d’un Train (1896). In the train, cinema found a technology to rival its own wonders, and early train films are often records of one modern technology marvelling at the other. It was a relationship that in a way began decades earlier; through the train carriage window, passengers were offered a cinematic experience years before the emergence of cinema itself. With the ‘phantom ride’, these two technologies were fused together to produce an all-new cinema spectacle.

“Phantom rides were films shot from the very front of moving trains. The films would present the journey from the train’s perspective, capturing the approaching track, surrounding landscape and the passage through tunnels. To obtain these films, cameramen would literally tie themselves and their cameras to the buffer of a speeding train. From this position, the film would appear to be moving by aid of an invisible force, hence the name ‘phantom ride’ by which they soon came to be known. The first phantom ride, The Haverstraw Tunnel, was made in America in 1897. The concept quickly caught on in Britain and would become one of the most popular forms of early cinema…

“As was standard practice at the time, the films would only last a few minutes at most, and would have been part of a programme of similarly short actualities, comedies and trick-films. But in 1906 a number of specialised cinemas, under the banner ‘Hale’s Tours of the World‘, opened across Britain, styling themselves in the manner of a train carriage and offering trips to ‘the Colonies or any part of the world (without luggage!)’ for sixpence. These cinemas took the realism of phantom rides to another level: the benches would shake and the images would be accompanied by the sounds of hissing steam and train whistles. In effect, the Hale’s Tour is an ancestor of the sophisticated rides simulating space travel or flight in many fairgrounds and amusement parks today. There were four of these cinemas in London (two of them on Oxford Street), while others appeared in Nottingham, Manchester, Blackpool, Leeds, Liverpool and Bristol.”

Text: Christian Hayes, Phantom Rides, BFI Screen Online.
Video: View from an Engine Front – Barnstaple (1898)

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