Phantom Rides: Trains & Cinema

Programmed by Tien-Tien Jong

Trains have a longstanding, special relationship with the history of cinema. As twin inventions and symbols of the modern era, trains and cinema both offered fresh possibilities for ways of seeing and relating to the world. Like the cinema, trains are creatures of rhythm and drive, and embody an irony of simultaneous action and confinement, suspense and sleepy contemplation. From the very earliest films which took trains as their setting and subject (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, The Great Train Robbery, and countless phantom rides - short actualities and panoramas filmed from the front of moving engines) to the persistence of trains as a recurring motif in the works of filmmakers such as Hitchcock, Lean, von Sternberg, and even Disney, the majestic sight and sounds of trains on-screen have enthralled both filmmakers and spectators. Train films are an inexhaustible genre unto themselves, sometimes emphasizing the train's physical location as a stage for danger and heroism, and other times as a romantic metaphor for destiny and fate. This Doc Films series celebrates the dynamic allure and expressive power of trains across a range of other genres, from spaghetti westerns to murder mysteries to epic historical romances. Reprising the urban legend that early audiences screamed at the sight of oncoming trains, this series seeks to highlight the strange thrills, wonder, and other ineffable feelings we still experience from seeing trains in film. (Classic "phantom ride" shorts such as the View from an Engine Front series will be included before some features.)

1/7/2017 @ 7:00 PM

Once Upon a Time in the West

(Sergio Leone, 1968) · With his electrifying spaghetti westerns, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone redefined the most American of genres. A ruthless railroad baron and his blue-eyed hired gun barrel towards the dusty town of Sweetwater where a shadowy, harmonica-playing stranger awaits them. Featuring lightning-fast pistol duels, exquisite Techniscope vistas, and an excess of cinematic style, Once Upon a Time is an unforgettable tale of how the West was won, and then lost.

runtime: 164m format: DCP


1/14/2018 @ 7:00 PM

Doctor Zhivago

(David Lean, 1965) · "The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it." Against the backdrop of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution comes one of the greatest love stories ever filmed. Omar Sharif and Julie Christie shine as the doctor-poet Zhivago and the nurse Lara who are torn apart. The Siberian taiga becomes a character of its own through Lean's masterful compositions, which render even harsh Russian winters, glimpsed through train doors, striking, romantic, and lush.

runtime: 197m format: 35mm


1/21/2018 @ 7:00 PM


(Wong Kar-Wai, 2004) · A hotel room number; a sci-fi serial; the last year of Hong Kong's autonomous rule; a future place where memories can be recaptured, reachable only by a mysterious train; the English words "To Owe For Sex" - all these add up to 2046, Wong's dizzying, magnificently strange sequel to In the Mood for Love. Told through a series of love affairs on four Christmas Eves in the life of a pulp fiction writer, 2046 is an epic about the pleasures of heartbreak.

runtime: 129m format: 35mm


1/28/2018 @ 7:00 PM

Mystery Train

(Jim Jarmusch, 1989) · Two Japanese teenagers, a young Italian widow, and a down-on-his-luck Elvis look-alike with a British accent and a bad attitude all catch a case of wanderlust one night in Memphis: legendary home of Sun Studios, Stax Records, and the final resting place of the one and only King. With its abiding devotion to rock 'n' roll and sixth sense for the cultural memory of places, Jarmusch's chronicle of strangers in strange new American lands is wondrous to behold.

runtime: 110m format: 35mm


2/4/2018 @ 7:00 PM


(Akira Kurosawa, 1970) · "Dodes'ka-den, dodes'ka-den," so says the teenage Roku-chan as he mimics the rickety engine of the trolley he imagines driving every day into the slums of Tokyo. Kurosawa returned to the Gorky-esque "lower depths" for this compassionate and surreal blend of social realism, comedy, tragedy and fantasy. Featuring eye-popping experiments with color and zoom lenses, Dodes'ka-den marked a new chapter in the late career of one of Japan's greatest directors. Sponsored by the JSA (Japanese Student Association)

runtime: 140m format: 35mm


2/11/2018 @ 7:00 PM

Closely Watched Trains

(Jirí Menzel, 1966) · Droll, absurd, and enthralling, this coming-of-age comedy is one of the best-loved films of the Czech New Wave. Miloš, a bumbling apprentice at the local railway station, spends his days more concerned with the question of how he will lose his virginity than alert to the Nazi occupation and political unrest around him. With one of the most famously shocking endings in cinema, Closely Watched Trains is a subversive lesson about the power of close observation.

runtime: 93m format: 16mm


2/18/2018 @ 7:00 PM

Emperor of the North

(Robert Aldrich, 1973) · Set entirely aboard trains, on the incendiary tracks, or in the derelict wastelands of railroad yards, this sprawling, brawling epic from Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen) is an undersung tour de force. In the spirit of Jack London's best work, this rail movie immerses us in the dog-eat-dog world of sadistic conductor Shack and the freight-car-hopping, self-made King of the Hobos fighting to the death - all for the right to squat on Shack's train.

runtime: 118m format: 35mm


2/25/2018 @ 7:00 PM

Beggars of Life

(William A. Wellman, 1928) · Before she was Lulu or a Lost Girl, Louise Brooks mesmerized in this dark adventure drama about two drifters on the lam. Exploited by her stepfather, a farm girl hops a freight train in drag with a handsome vagabond, only to enter a perilous world of double-dealing drifters and sexual menace. With scenes set in a raucous hobo camp and a daring clash staged atop a moving train, Beggars of Life is a harrowing depiction of life on the fringes of society.

runtime: 100m format: DCP


3/4/2018 @ 7:00 PM

Murder on the Orient Express

(Sidney Lumet, 1974) · When a billionaire is murdered on-board the luxury Orient Express, it's up to Agatha Christie's great detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) to weed out the murderer. A galaxy of Hollywood stars - Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, and Anthony Perkins (in a role satirizing his character in Psycho) - make up the gallery of suspects. Lumet proves, as he did with 12 Angry Men, that no one is better at crafting nail-biting suspense in tight spaces.

runtime: 131m format: 35mm


3/11/2018 @ 7:00 PM

Night Train to Munich

(Carol Reed, 1940) · Part Hitchcock and part Lubitsch, with quirks of its own, this charming spy thriller features trains as a vehicle for heroism and romance. A debonair double-agent (Rex Harrison) hatches a plan to help a Czech scientist and his beautiful daughter (Margaret Lockwood) escape from the Nazis... if they can keep up an elaborate ruse of being long-lost lovers. Made at the start of WWII, this surprising comedy offers a glimpse into British attitudes at a time of crisis.

runtime: 95m format: 35mm


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