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Locomotion (1975)


Main image of Locomotion (1975)
35mm, colour, 15 mins
DirectorGeoffrey Jones
Production CompaniesGeoffrey Jones Films
 British Transport Films
ProducerJohn W. Shepherd
PhotographyRonald Craigen
 Trevor Roe
ComposerDon Fraser

A montage of prints, paintings, lithographs, photographs and films tracing the chronological history of railways and rail travel in Britain 1825-1975 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of railways.

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The third and final film made by Geoffrey Jones for British Transport Films (following Snow, 1963 and Rail, 1967) was commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary of the introduction of the Stockton to Darlington Railway, the birth of one of the greatest transport revolutions in human history. The same year, BTF's Rail 150 (d. Ronald Craigen) recorded a celebratory steam cavalcade.

Jones's film depicts the growth of Britain's railways in chronological sequence, drawing on a wide range of archive material (approximately 400 paintings, drawings, prints, lithographs, photographs and film clips). Typically for Jones, there is no commentary and virtually no textual content aside from a scene-setting opening title. Instead, a chugging electronic accompaniment by Donald Fraser, performed (uncredited) by members of folk-rock group Steeleye Span, suggests the inexorable march of Britain's industrial might, with the use of the medieval 'Dies irae' theme (Fraser's suggestion) perhaps sounding a cautionary note as the railways cut ever greater swathes through the countryside.

Although the content of the first half is almost entirely sourced from still images, Jones uses numerous techniques to give them the same rhythmic propulsion characteristic of his best work. A rostrum camera was used to add pans and zooms, the resulting footage being intercut (often rapidly) with close-ups of nineteenth-century locomotive machinery in motion, filmed at London's Science Museum. As in Snow, Jones contrasts the lives of the workers constructing and running the railway network with the passengers making use of it - and the hierarchies occupied by those passengers as they take up one of three available compartment classes or sit in mobile cattle trucks.

As the twentieth century gathers pace, the stills are largely usurped by authentic moving images. Two short sequences show the way the railways were co-opted into service during the First and Second World Wars, and mini-montages depict the logos and livery of the various railway companies prior to their nationalisation in 1948. Much of the footage was sourced from the 1963 BBC/BTF collaboration Giants of Steam (d. John Read, 1963), which Jones greatly admired, though some shots from Jones's own Rail can be glimpsed towards the end. Jones later recalled that his historical adviser, the distinguished transport historian Professor Jack Simmons of Leicester University, was hugely complimentary when he saw the finished film, believing it to be as interesting as its subject.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Geoffrey Jones: The Rhythm of Film'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Steam railway (3:01)
2. World investment (3:08)
Complete film (14:46)
Rail (1967)
Snow (1963)
Jones, Geoffrey (1931-2005)