If you were a film major or took film classes in college like I did, you might have heard of the story of the black and white film that freaked out a theater full of people. L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, or Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat is a black and white film that came out in 1986 that is hailed as being the first movie, even though that concept has been argued against throughout the years. Also, it was only 50-seconds long and was called “views” at the time. In our film class, the teacher would say that this train film had people so scared that the train was coming towards them that they ran out of the theater. Is this true? Turns out, it’s more like an urban myth.

The History of the Film

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat was created by Auguste and Louis Lumiere, who were brothers who were some of the first people to create moving pictures. While we call this snippet a movie, it seems that they were barely films even back in the day. Martin Loiperdinger, who is a film scholar the University of True Germany (as of 2016), described:

“This film is memorable among all the other 1,400 one-minute films (they were called ‘views’ at that time, like ‘living’ picture post cards—single-shot films without any editing), which are listed in the Lumière film catalogue.”

Loiperdinger expresses that there’s no tangible evidence that this theater stampede ever happened. He even calls the movie and the fable surround it “Cinema’s Founding Myth”. Even if not everyone knows about this start of cinema, at least we’re still talking about it to this day, right? Film majors raise their hands.

The “Film” Itself

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat takes place on a train platform, while riders are around the station. A black steam train arrived at the platform, facing the camera. This scene was staged and not a natural action at a train station. Nowadays, we have incredible special effects and gorgeous machinery to capture truly captivating movies, some that run for hours. So, you may shrug at a 50-second clip essentially. But, do we ever think back on how something like this and views like it are what led us to have movies like the Godfather, Avengers: Endgame, and Joker?

The Movie Received Praise

Loiperdinger expressed that there are no accounts of audience reactions from back in the day, but journalists did write their amazement over the movie. The movie was in black and white and had no sound but still was a hit.

Since there are no accounts of the audience stampeding out of the theater, we’ll never truly know, but Loiperdinger suspects this is untrue:

“There is no evidence at all about any crowd panic in Paris or elsewhere during screenings of L’Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat – neither police reports nor newspaper reporting.”

He continued:

The anecdote of train films and panicking audiences was already in the air before 1900.”

Why was it necessary to write an article about this? It’s a story that I always remembered in film class. I remember even when my teacher told me about it, I was confused. How could anyone think that it was real? They went to a theater and the film quality was grainy and skipped. At the time, though; I said that no one else had seen something like this so as it was unlikely for us to believe that this event happened, we also have never lived a life without movies. So, who was I to judge our 1800s ancestors?

One of The First Films

By the way, here it is:

Have you heard of Arrival of a Train? What are some movie myths that you’ve heard of?

Source: Atlas Obscura

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