Parallel Lines

Yesterday a colleague at work sent me a link to a wonderful website called Europa Film Treasures, which contains a huge archive of films from as long ago as the 1890s. In particular, he highlighted a short 1913 film featuring a tram ride through the streets of Dunkirk.

That may not sound terribly promising, but the key thing is that the film was taken from the tram, not of it, so the viewer is treated to a fascinating glimpse of life in the early 20th century. Our view of the early 20th century as a rather stuffy, orderly world with polite, well-behaved children, seems a far cry from the more anarchic one in this short film.

I haven’t been able to embed the video, so you’ll have to click on the picture to see the film:

The cheeky lads who dodge in an out of the tram’s path and kick a market stall would probably receive an ASBO today. But given that this was 1913, a much grimmer fate must have awaited some of the boys.

The website also includes another tram-based gem from 1908, shot in Barcelona. In this film, a ridiculously large number of people appear to have a death wish and narrowly escape from being crushed under the wheels of the tram. Perhaps these people still dared to think that the streets belonged to them.

You can see the film here:

The website’s other gems include an 1899 re-enactment of the Dreyfuss affair, a history of saucy Austrian films from the fin de siecle and this hilarious performance of the Traffic Policeman’s Song.

These short films strike a contrast with the stiff, formal world portrayed in many photographs from this period. Suddenly, the past doesn’t seem quite so foreign.

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