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New York: Broadway at Union Square (1896)
"New York, Broadway et Union Square" (original title)

 |  Short, Documentary
5.7
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A stationary camera captures the hustle and bustle of Manhattan on Broadway at Union Square in Greenwich Village. As streetcars pass with rapid regularity, two police officers make sure ... See full summary »

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Title: New York: Broadway at Union Square (1896)

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A stationary camera captures the hustle and bustle of Manhattan on Broadway at Union Square in Greenwich Village. As streetcars pass with rapid regularity, two police officers make sure that pedestrians who are crossing the street do so safely. Horse-drawn carriages pass as well. The men wear hats and ties; the lads wear caps; the women are in long skirts. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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New York: Broadway at Union Square  »

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How not to direct traffic
11 April 2005 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

In this approximately 35-second long Lumière Brothers short (Lumière No. 328), the camera is placed at the intersection of Broadway and 14th Street--the southeast corner of New York City's Union Square/Union Square Park. You can see the Lincoln Building prominently in the top center portion of the screen (1 Union Square W.), which had just been built 6 years before, and new construction just to the left of that. Policemen direct pedestrian and streetcar traffic along the roads, and we see a number of horse-drawn carts and carriages go down 14th Street.

The first thing that struck me as unusual about this short is how nonchalantly, even haphazardly, the three policemen are directing traffic. They seem to be somewhat arbitrarily waving everyone on, pedestrians and streetcars alike, in a manner that reminds me of the way you used to be waved into Mexico from the United States by the Mexican border guards. It's quite funny. Of course, the streetcars aren't traveling as quickly as cars do today (and that corner tends to have cars speeding by to catch the traffic light), but still everyone seems to be standing dangerously close to the tracks. I suppose this changed after a few severed feet.

As I've pointed out in my comments about a number of other Lumière Brothers shorts, we again have a visual composition of "obliques and processionals", designed to maximize the novelty of the then new medium of motion pictures. The obliques are provided by the streetcars rounding the corner at Broadway, and most of the motion in the shot is a processional.

Among the elements that are fascinating to note historically, aside from those already mentioned, such as the streetcars, are the clothing, which tends to look very formal and dour compared to today, the newspaper boy who lingers in the foreground, often staring at the camera, and the final streetcar that passes--which is designated as a "Smoking Car". I was surprised to see the separate facility for smokers this far back in time.


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