A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1906 – San Francisco Aftermath of Earthquake

This feels like a late addition. I’m trying to remember what I had for this year before this came on. I think it was A Trip Down Market Street, so I could talk about the actuality and maybe mention the Phantom Ride films as well. But this is basically the same thing and adds a lot more novelty to it.

Now that I’m looking, other options were other Melies films (redundant), The ‘?’ Motorist (which is nice, but more of a combination trick film and fantasy film), and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend (which doesn’t provide much to talk about). This one really manages to check all the boxes.

This film is basically one of the first documentaries. The great San Francisco Earthquake happened in 1906 (which became the climax of its own film, thirty years later, starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy), and after it was over, someone took a camera and started filming all of the destruction. So they actively thought, “Let’s document this on film.” Which is essentially what a documentary is. And it captures incredible footage for the time of the destruction caused by the earthquake.

It’s a beautiful and haunting film. It’s just scene after scene of a city just utterly destroyed by a force of nature. The images are incredible. And it’s easily the film that stands out the most amongst the others of 1906. And, like I said, it is also an example of the actuality, that was so popular of this era. There are so many films that were made that are just, “Here’s Moscow in the winter,” “Here’s Times Square,” “Here’s a ship leaving the harbor for its voyage across the Atlantic,” and all of these other things happening. It’s basically them documenting life. Trains coming over the Brooklyn Bride. Trains traveling along their routes. There’s a great film called The Georgetown Loop, that just films a train as it circles around (presumably) Georgetown, and you see these great images of the train as it rounds a bend, and circles what looks like a mining town that was clearly just set up around this mountain. It’s really striking stuff.

So the actuality is a really important film of this era, and I couldn’t think of a better one to choose than one that perfectly represents its year by documenting one of the great historical occurrences of that year.

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