Friday, October 3, 2008

Ramble on Trains

Today I’m just going to ramble a little about trains as thematic preparation for the next post: The Great Train Wreck Quizery. It’s the first follow-up to my Zombie Battle Quiz, and will hopefully inspire me to put together other random trivia test for you film aficionados out there. A little after the quiz I’ll post the answer key and award prizes.

Unlike cars, there’s something I love about trains. I don’t take it far enough to actually know much about the workings of trains or to engage in the birdwatching of the industrial age: trainspotting. I don’t even ride the rails very often, but I do find train trips extremely relaxing. The stretch from here in St. Louis up to Chicago is my favorite route, though it’s sometimes 6+ hours late. Closer to home is the Metrolink, St. Louis’s endearingly pompous light-rail transit system.

Trains were the first widespread form of mechanized transportation and became an international symbol of progress and freedom of travel, not to mention a classic cinematic cliche. They were once the toast of tycoons and hobos alike, changing the cultural landscape as much as the physical one. Yet perhaps what captures my imagination so much about trains is the loss of that empire; the sense that the era of locomotives is part of a mythical past.

I’m far from a rarity: train enthusiasts are a large group individually known as railfans. One of my college friends was once quite serious about tattooing an abstracted map of the Tokyo subway system onto his shoulder. Trains have featured prominently in paintings, novels (from Agatha Christie’s classic mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” to Geoff Ryman’s influential hypertext novel “253”), videogames (such as the groundbreaking strategy sim Railroad Tycoon and Syberia, one of the last great adventure games) and even music (Kraftwerk’s landmark “Trans-Europe Express”).

But of course, we’re here to talk about films. There’s no shortage of films about trains that I like (some more than others). Here’s a sample:

Blind Chance
Brief Encounter
Central Station
The Darjeeling Limited
Emperor of the North Pole
The Great Train Robbery
High Noon
The Lady Vanishes
The Metamorphosis
Murder on the Orient Express
My Twentieth Century
Night Mail
North by Northwest
Silver Streak
Sliding Doors
The Station Agent
Strangers on a Train
The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three
Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train
While You Were Sleeping

My own embarrassing short film from college was titled “Plague Train” and was, if nothing else, a good excuse to hang out around the tracks (did I mention I also love hobos?). If I ever magically get the opportunity to create a big-budget horror film I would give it the treatment I envisioned. The picture would be the surreal, supernatural story of a train travelling inexplicably into an unexplored jungle (the rails have been laid by some unknown force) while beset by giant obsidian millipedes and a mysterious mutagenic plague. To be shot in B/W. Probably not a blockbuster…

Coming soon: The Great Train Wreck Quizery!


Molly said...

I would like to throw in a plug for the ridiculous but oddly charming "Night Train to Munich" (1940), which sports not only a central train but also Charters and Caldicott from "The Lady Vanishes," a climactic tram scene, and Rex Harrison fighting Nazis (and singing in a seaside resort, as I recall).

Mad Dog said...

Seeing While You Were Sleeping on there astonished me.

FilmWalrus said...

Exactly Why,

I'll have to check it out. I think I remember Barr mentioning it.

Mad Dog,

I'm not proud of liking While You Were Sleeping, but I do. Don't tell anyone, but I've seen it twice.

Mad Dog said...

Also, might I suggest North by Northwest? It has some prominent sequences in a train. :3

FilmWalrus said...

Good point!