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This content is taken from the The British Film Institute (BFI)'s online course, The Living Picture Craze: An Introduction to Victorian Film. Join the course to learn more.

What is a phantom ride?

Here you can watch Tram Rides through Nottingham (1902) by Mitchell and Kenyon, a filmmaking duo you will learn more about later in the week.

Please note: This film has no sound.

This surprisingly long film (running at just over six minutes) was shot from the driver’s platform of a tram on a single journey through the city centre. Watch the film and then read about the fascinating visual spectacle of ‘phantom rides’.

The train and the cinema

From natural movement to mechanical motion, early film also held an instant fascination with the train, and it is easy to understand why. 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 much 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.

What is a phantom ride?

The earliest phantom rides were films shot from the front of moving trains, although they were not limited to that mode of transport. These films would present the journey from the train’s perspective. Cameramen would literally strap themselves and their cameras to the buffer of a speeding train. From this position, the film would appear to be moving thanks to 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 filmmakers delighted in presenting many impossible points of view shot from other types of transport by cameras travelling up mountains, along rivers and in hot air balloons.

Foreign phantom rides

Since the camera in Victorian films was usually stationary, phantom rides presented a dynamic new style of filmmaking. Although it was the speed, motion and unique perspective that were the main pleasures of the phantom ride, the films’ exotic subjects offered up another thrill for audiences. Early British phantom rides were filmed along local tracks, but filmmakers soon became more ambitious and British cameramen were sent all around the world to film rides through foreign lands. In the same way, filmmakers came from overseas to Britain to record and share the landscape of the UK. We will explore the travel film genre in more detail later this week.

To view phantom ride films on our course Vimeo account please click here and use the following password: bfi-LPC:IVF

Next you will have the opportunity to create and share a phantom ride of your own.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Living Picture Craze: An Introduction to Victorian Film

The British Film Institute (BFI)

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