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Film / A Trip Down Market Street

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A Trip Down Market Street (1906) is an "actuality film" directed and produced by the four Miles brothers—Harry, Herbert, Joseph, and Earle. The film has no story, and is exactly what the title describes, namely, a trip down Market Street in San Francisco, starting at 8th Street and going down to the Embarcadero, stopping in front of the Ferry Building. Harry Miles set up his camera on the front of a cable car and hand-cranked it for approximately 13 minutes, filming Market Street as the cable car progressed downhill to the end of its route.

"Actuality films" were sort of proto-documentaries in which early filmmakers simply rolled their cameras and filmed things they deemed to be interesting. They were more common than scripted films in the early days of filmmaking. This film, besides being a unique portrait of transportation, dress, and urban architecture at the turn of the 20th century, is notable for having been filmed right before the earthquake and fire that destroyed almost all of San Francisco. The exact date is not known, but historical research and analysis of the film indicates that photography took place about three weeks before the April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed everything in the film except for the Ferry Building.


  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Several pedestrians can be seen looking into the camera. A few of them wave.
  • Documentary: An actuality film, showing what urban life looked like in the early 20th century, and what San Francisco looked like before it went up in flames.
  • Downer Ending: Isn't San Francisco a lovely city? Well, it will remain so for a few DAYS after the film ends. Then the Great Earthquake and Great Fire of 1906 will hit, 3000 people will be dead, 250,000 people will be made homeless, and virtually every building in that film will be in ruins. This is likely one of the last- if not THE last- documents of old San Francisco ever made.
  • Drives Like Crazy: There was no traffic control whatsoever on Market Street. People amble through the street, and wind up having to dodge the cars making aggressive turns. Those same automobiles can be seen aggressively changing lanes, including right off the bat when a car darts right in front of the camera. At one point a truck and a horse-drawn trolley making left turns appear to narrowly miss colliding.
    • Wikipedia says that a lot of the traffic was staged by the producer to make Market Street look more prosperous in a time when automobiles were a luxury. Many of the cars circle the trolley multiple times.
      • That one car at 15 seconds in could be called the "villain" of the piece (Or at least a "recurring character"). Check the license plate on it - 4867. It continues to weave in front of the trolley at 1:31, 2:32, 3:38, 5:19, & 9:18. Given that it moves much faster than the trolley, either he had a lot of short stops along the way, or he might have been Trolling the camera.
    • The trolley itself is a bit of an example. A trolley moves at the speed of the cable pulling it, unless it lets go to coast or apply the brake. It looks like they might have dropped cable a few times (around 7 minutes and 10 minutes), but they only apply the brake once, crossing the embarcadero at 10:47 (and when turning around on the turntable at 11:07)
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a trip down Market Street.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: As with many films shot at the dawn of moviemaking, no one is concerned with telling a story, just showing interesting pictures.
  • The Oner: Trope Maker. There appear to be a couple of Jump Cuts in the early going, but almost all of the film is a single uninterrupted take.