Monday, 12 October 2009

Someone Left The Cake Out In The Train

Grumpy Git Productions presents: 1968 – The Last Days of Steam. This film came about because of the recent 1968 Gala held at The Nene Valley Railway and you can read about the ins and outs of my visit in the post below.

Although much of the filming took place at the event, I’ve been working on this project for a while, ever since it was postponed back in September – truly a blessing in disguise. During visits to other events at the NVR and even different locations, I gathered some useful additional footage to include in the finished film. This includes some scenes featuring the Jinty tank loco (masquerading as Thomas) at the Midland Railway as they offered some rather pleasant variety to the scene.

The song may seem to be an odd choice for a railway film. MacArthur Park is an over-the-top , evocative and haunting melody, beautifully orchestrated and filled with lyrics that mean - absolutely nothing. It’s not often you hear anyone lamenting that ‘Someone left a cake out in the rain’ and even less frequently does that make a good backing track for a railway film - until I hit on the obvious title to this piece of nonsense! The words are supposed to be symbolic rather than descriptive, I have read. They symbolise, to me at any rate, that the composer, Jimmy Webb, was off his head on LSD when he wrote it. But it’s a nice tune for all that.

I chose MacArthur Park because I needed a genuine hit from 1968 to add some period flavour, and most of the other hits from the era are short ditties about You love me and I love you but you bonked the milkman and now I’m so blue school of sixties songwriting. As the song has four distinctive sections, these would be ideal for creating different themes to break the film up visually and avoid it becoming a copy of the Diesel Gala, which was basically just a long procession of trains one after the other. As I’d be filming from many identical locations, avoiding too many repeat scenes was essential and I wanted a more cinematic atmosphere this time round. As it turned out, it was far more complex a song to work with than I anticipated, but I believe the end result is rewarding and is quite unlike my other railway films. Or indeed, cake films.

Editing in colour or black and white was a tricky question. The bright sunshine of the day brought out the trains and scenery to advantage, but also brought out the pale blue of Thomas and the Post Office red of the TPO set. What decided the matter was the opening sequences in Wansford Yard – shot against the sun with clouds of smoke billowing around the 4F simply oozed period atmosphere, and the decision was made.

Audio was again a problem – some clips had excellent quality sound, whilst those shot in more exposed places had intrusive wind noise. In very few cases the locos were working hard, and much audio was simply wheels-on-rails, so I edited all of it out.

Attention to detail by the NVR was good, and very little smacks as being out of place. In black and white the TPO set looks acceptable, whilst other details are minor and don’t detract from the film to my eye. Careful editing in Wansford Yard was required, but lineside scenes were timeless. The closing sequence is fantastic, and I’ve been itching to use it ever since I was truly in the right place at the right time. Mind you, it came at a cost – the loco was not just blowing steam, but large quantities of thick ash as well. I was caught up in the middle of it as you can clearly see – well, not see due to the large amounts of swirling steam and ash – but by ‘eck, was it worth it! The occasion was actually the start of the 1940’s war re-enactment gala, and as I walked down the platform to the toilets to clean up, many visitors thought I’d entered into the spirit of the occasion by coming as a survivor of an air raid. When I made it to the toilets, and a mirror, I could see their point. Chimney sweep, anyone?


  1. Really enjoyed this one, Martin. Choice of B&W was spot on and I love the funky sixties fades! The choice of music was a powerful one for me as it still brings back strong memories of my teens, peopled by the dying ghosts of 9F's and Black Fives.

    The filming in the largo passage is brilliant, particularly when the type 2 comes towards the camera...almost as if there is a calm after the struggle. Other points I loved- the horses running from the train, the man doffing his bowler, all instances of the 4F (beautiful) and of course the Deltic, which brought appreciative comments from Petra. You are right, the closing sequence is nothing short of brilliant. Well done!

  2. Many thanks indeed; of the purely railway orientated films I feel that this is the best - but I had such great material to work with. So many moments are simply being in the right time at the right place and it's great to cature them on film. The 4F looks fantastic in steam, hope to pay a visit if she's running again soon.


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