City Traffic in Variable Moods

City Traffic in Variable Moods
Access fees

This is a whimsical item from a newsreel segment that shows the road and pedestrian traffic around the Flinders and Swanston St intersection in Melbourne, as well as a ride on a South Melbourne tram. It ends with a comedic sequence about learning to drive.

Summary by Poppy De Souza

This series of vignettes experiments with visual effects achieved through various camera techniques that change the speed and mood of the action we see on the screen. In the first few setups around Flinders Street Station, the camera films from a fixed position and captures the crowds in super-fast time (almost time lapse appearance), then slow-motion. This effect was probably achieved in-camera at the time of the original shoot. Filming at a speed of less than 24 frames per second and then projecting it back at conventional speed could have accelerated the apparent speed of the traffic. The slow-motion scenes would have been filmed at faster than 24 frames per second and projected at conventional speed. Older film cameras were 'hand cranked’ meaning the film was wound by hand while filming, hence the expressions 'overcranking’ or 'undercranking’ to achieve slow or fast motion effects.

The intertitles in this clip address the audience with a clever use of humour and directly influence the way in which the audience interprets the images on the screen. The married men who ‘bustle’ their way home in slow-motion is an example of this.

Other simple effects employed in this clip include filming with the camera upside down and then rotating it 180 degrees; and playing the film in reverse so the action appears to be moving backwards.

This film was donated to the National Film and Sound Archive by Roy Driver, a cinematographer from the early part of last century.

City Traffic in variable moods Synopsis

This whimsical item is probably from an Australasian Gazette newsreel. It shows the road and pedestrian traffic around the Flinders and Swanston St intersection in Melbourne in the 1920s, as well as a ride on a South Melbourne tram. It ends with a comedic sequence about learning to drive.

City Traffic in variable moods Curator's notes

The fascination with the moving image (present even in the prehistory of cinema) has, and continues to, invite experimentation, exploration and new ways of seeing the world. This newsreel item is a strong example of the ability of simple camera techniques to dramatically alter the appearance and mood of the scenes that are filmed.

In this segment, various camera techniques are used to change the speed of the moving images. In the final vignette, the car appears to drive backwards. This is achieved by playing the segment of film in reverse. As a novelty item, this Australasian Gazette segment would have brought delight to contemporary audiences, but the effects also capture beautifully the atmosphere and modernity of the bustling 1920s city of Melbourne.

Experimentation with in-camera effects and the possibilities of cinematography can be seen from the first days of moving images (going all the way back to French pioneer George Méliès). At the turn of last century, ‘trick films’ or short comedies were being made which used stop-motion effects (where the camera is turned off, the visible objects are altered and the camera turned on again) and under and over-cranking. Audiences in Australia were exposed to some of these films when travelling exhibitor and entrepreneur Leonard Corrick and his family toured them around the country in the early 1900s. Amateur filmmakers and home movie-makers also found they were able to play with how the image was displayed when projected.

Australasian Gazette was a weekly newsreel produced between 1913 and the advent of the ‘talkies’ in the early 1930s. In that time, over 1,000 weekly editions were produced.

Notes by Poppy de Souza.

Education notes

This black-and-white silent film shows pedestrian and road traffic, including trams, cars, motorcyclists and a few horse-drawn vehicles, in Melbourne’s city centre in the 1920s. It begins with an intertitle, 'City Traffic in variable moods’, and then features shots of the South Melbourne tram and Flinders Street Railway Station. The film incorporates humorous intertitles: 'Observe the married men bustling their way home’ (followed by slowed-down film), 'As seen by a gentleman after a convivial Saturday afternoon’ (followed by inverted images), 'He would of course insist on a front seat on the tram’, and 'MELBOURNE Learn to Drive Drive Wellington Parade South is now the Mecca of the future motorist’. The clip concludes with a comic sequence about learning to drive that features a car going around in circles.

Educational value points

  • The clip includes sequences in which the film is sped up, slowed down, played in reverse and inverted for comic effect, suggesting that the filmmaker recognised the dramatic possibilities of film. The effects were possibly achieved by either over- or under-cranking the hand-wound camera as it was filming. The accelerated traffic may have been filmed at fewer than 24 frames per second, while conversely the slow-motion scenes may have been filmed at more than 24 frames per second. Intertitles precede each scene and provide the humorous context for the footage to follow.
  • Melbourne city in the 1920s is depicted as a bustling centre. The economic revival Melbourne experienced in that period brought people to the city not just to work, but to visit department stores, cinemas and theatres. Melbourne was also an important centre of government. At Federation in 1901 the area known as Canberra was chosen to be the site of Australia’s capital. However, until the new city was built, Melbourne was the provisional seat of national government with most of the federal public service departments based in Melbourne’s city centre.
  • As indicated in the scenes of Melbourne city traffic in the 1920s, trams and motor vehicles had become the main form of transport in the period, although motorcycles and bicycles were also popular (particularly for those unable to afford a car), while horse-drawn vehicles were still used for deliveries and as short-distance cabs. Motor vehicles and the tramway enabled the suburban expansion of the city.
  • The clip shows Melbourne trams in the 1920s. Private tramway systems began operating in Melbourne from 1885, but in 1920 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (MMTB) took over operation of the whole tramways system. Today, the Melbourne tram network is the third-largest in the world. The MMTB introduced the distinctive W-class trams in 1923, and variants of these trams (W1 through to W7) were the mainstay of the Melbourne tramway system for 60 years. The W-class tram is an iconic symbol of the city, and 53 of these trams are still in use.
  • A large number of motor vehicles of the period are shown in the clip, illustrating that during the 1920s the motor vehicle was becoming a feature of everyday life. In 1920 there was one car for every 55 people in Australia and by 1929 this had increased to one for every 11 people. When motor vehicles first appeared in Melbourne in 1900 they were a luxury for the wealthy. However, car prices fell sharply, due to the introduction of assembly-line production, and registrations of motor cars, trucks and motorcycles doubled between 1917 and 1922, reaching a total of 44,750.
  • Traffic congestion caused by the myriad of vehicles on the road was a relatively new phenomenon in the 1920s. Complaints were made about the noise, fumes and speed of motor vehicles, which alarmed both pedestrians and horses. The increasing popularity of cars led to the introduction of road rules in Melbourne in 1916, whereby vehicles had to travel on the left-hand side of the road and, when stopping, a hand or a whip had to be raised. Hand signals for turning were introduced soon after.
  • Flinders Street Railway Station and the busy Flinders Street and Swanston Street intersection are shown in the clip. Built between 1901 and 1910, Flinders Street Station is a prominent Melbourne landmark and meeting place. It is the central railway station of the Melbourne suburban rail network and between the 1920s and the 1940s, it was the world’s busiest passenger station.
  • The clip shows examples of the clothing worn by men and women in the city in this period. In the 1920s, both men and women wore hats in public. The helmet-like cloche hat was popular for women, while men tended to wear brimmed felt hats called fedoras. Women wore loose-fitting dresses with a dropped waistline and hemlines just below the knee. The lounge suit, which consisted of a single-breasted jacket, matching waistcoat and trousers, was favoured by men for both work and leisure.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia.