The Scenic Disaster Film

Au Pays Noir (In the Mining District/The Life of a Miner/The Great Mine Disaster)

Ferdinand Zecca, Pathé-Frères, France, 1905

The story unfolds quite conventionally, with eight scene-shots separated by eight intertitles, but as these postcard reproductions show, the scenic design is often richly detailed, and spaces, such as the opening shot of the town in (1), accommodate some complicated movement among people, props, and even a horse drawing a coal cart. The scenes in (2) and (3) are both incorporated into an elaborate 90º panning shot that follows miners through a complex of shafts until the main characters (a father and son) sit down to lunch with their comrades. The tale is a tragic one, as an explosion kills several of the workers, including the main character’s son: audiences are treated to the spectacle of water cascading into the mine shaft (4), and (as Richard Abel points out), Zecca sought to embellish the impression of an explosion by making scratches directly onto the filmstrip.

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