Saturday, June 11, 2011

Peter von Bagh: Junassa / [On a Train] (a book)

Printed in the EU: Love Kirjat / WSOY, 2011.

Peter von Bagh is the most incredible guy I know in the field of international film culture. Only one of his many activities is that of a writer. Almost annually he publishes a telephone directory sized book, mostly about the cinema but also about Finnish cultural history and popular music. Some of the latest have been some of his biggest and best, especially Tähtien kirja [The Book of the Stars, 2006], one thousand pages in small print with some of his best writing.

Junassa is different, a hard cover pocket book with an essay approach. It is a reflection of the profound parallels between railway travel and the cinema: a new sense of the categories of space and time, a new way of seeing the world, covering essential dimensions of modern life. There are many literary connections here from Walt Whitman and Marcel Proust to several Finnish writers who wittily observed the shock of the new that the railways brought to the backwoods of our country.

Good summer holiday reading - especially on a train.

Some of my favourite train movies discussed in Peter's book: La Bête humaine, Shanghai Express, La Bataille du rail, The Train (1964), Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains), Night Mail, Pociag (Night Train), Strangers on a Train, The Narrow Margin (1952), Human Desire, Un flic, Wild Boys of the Road, The General, Palm Beach Story.

Some of my other favourite train movies: Méliès: Le Voyage à travers l'impossible (antithesis to the Lumière arrivals of trains), Tengoku to jigoku (High and Low), Daybreak Express, Man of the West, Turksib, Rotaie (Rails), Our Hospitality, The Railrodder, Source Code, Calino chef de la gare, and my all-time favourite: Petchki-lavotchki (Happy Go Lucky).

There would be many interesting subway films, too, but they don't belong here because this book is about seeing the world.

Interestingly, the Russian masters were fascinated by trains. Dostoyevsky's The Idiot inspired Patricia Highsmith for Strangers on a Train. Trains are central in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and also in the Kreutzer Sonata, and in the films based on them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Train movies are a great subject indeed. I'd like to add to the mentioned Trans-Europ Express as one of my favorites: it just seems so bold from today's perspective and has stood the test of time well. On the other hand, I couldn't finish The Train and I found Source Code to be shallow and unsatisfactory. Alongside trains, the other method of transportation that is a great cinematic obsession is the bicycle, also in need of a good essay book. - AvM.