Two mechanical marvels of the early twentieth century, the New York City subway and the motion picture camera, converge in this four minute film, shot on May 21, 1905, seven months after the subway opened. G. W. Bitzer, the chief cameraman of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, mounted his camera on the front of one subway train that followed another on the uptown track from Union Square to Grand Central Terminal, with lighting provided by a rig mounted on a train running on the opposite track. The play of light on the support columns creates a strobe effect that edges this documentary material into abstraction.
Gallery label from 2019
When New York's Interborough Rapid Transit system opened in October of 1904, it was hailed as an engineering marvel, and people across America expressed wonder and curiosity about what it was like to move swiftly below the surface of the nation's biggest and busiest city. Within seven months of the subway's opening, G. W. Bitzer provided an answer, taking a Biograph camera underground to film this "actuality" film. The bulky photographic apparatus was mounted on the front of a train trailing just behind the one being filmed, while a flatcar filled with lights traveled on a parallel track, providing illumination in the dark tunnel between Union Square and the old Grand Central Station. The result was an unprecedented view of the future of urban travel in the new twentieth century. Although copyrighted and exhibited on its own, footage from Interior was included in another American Mutoscope and Biograph Company release of 1905, the comic farce Reuben in the Subway.
Publication excerpt from In Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of The Museum of Modern Art by Steven Higgins, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 29.