SEPIA SATURDAY: Shattering Bubbles of Time
Every moment is a bursting bubble of time, gone even as it happens.
This concept has fascinated me -- and Landron -- for a very long time. The Shattering of Time.
Nothing embodies this concept more than "A Trip Down Market Street", perhaps the most important film ever made in and about San Francisco.
I was pleased that 60 Minutes chose to feature it and the recent conclusion that it was not made in 1905 -- as was long assumed -- but in April 1906, likely days before the great earthquake and fire if not the day before. In 12 minutes of real time, we see people, buildings, vehicles and animals, many of which likely perished shortly after the film was made. The only familiar sites are the street itself and the ferry building in the distance that at first looks like a painted stage set and then becomes increasingly real as the camera nears.
It's at the ferry building, in the final minute of the film, that things become truly fascinating and the images are closer, more fleeting and transcendent. The man in the Eureka - California wagon appears for less than a doezen frames, but I find myself wanting to know his story.
The car driving erratically with a group of men in bowler hats equally fascinates me.
As we arrive at the end of Market and seem nearly to crash into the Ferry Building, men gawk and women seem to either sneer or demure. Who is the woman in the cape? The woman on the left seems equally dubious about being captured on camera.
Suddenly, this cheeky fellow on the right races in, seemingly aware that this is a chance to be caught for posterity but not aware of the fate facing him mere days or hours ahead.
Finally the cable car and the camera rest for a moment, but not the action. We see this trio of men standing near the ferry building's corner stone.
The camera is motionless, but the old man's long gray beard dances in the Pacific breezes. Just a few years earlier audiences were fascinated when they witnessed trees and grass blowing in the wind in films by the Lumiere brothers. The very concept of capturing the action of wind was completely revolutionary. Seeing this old man, the emotion of his eyes only faintly shadowed by the brim of his hat, I wonder if he could have been part of the gold rush less than 50 years earlier.
Finally the camera pauses, then rapidly pivots to give a reverse, westward view, the final miles of the continental U.S. before the Pacific. A sea of news boys jump and wave -- a joyful, sunny moment in the early 20th century spring sunlight. It's as if they are shouting "We were here!" across more than a century, and for a few seconds we are there with them, and then it's all gone. A bubble of time forever captured. People caught and unaware of tragedy looming. Joy pressed in a book forever, like dried flowers whose petals and colors we may distinguish, yet we'll never experience the exact aroma and freshness.
Each moment, already over just as it has begun. I don't know how many frames are in "A Trip Down Market Street" but I want to explore each one, champagne bubbles forever holding the moment in amber.