I love silent movies. I admit they don’t have the “punch” movies nowadays—in color and with incredible special effects—have. Yet, they were quite something when they were made, and they still remain a window into yesteryear.
Take, for example, one of my favorites, A Trip Down Market Street, filmed on Saturday, April 14, 1906, in San Francisco. Somebody set up a hand-cranked camera in the front of a trolley and recorded everything that occurred until the car reached the end of the line and turned for the return journey. Once in a while, you can tell a person has noticed the camera and is astonished by it, but for the most part, the picture captures a typical afternoon in early 20th century San Francisco. We see cars (some of which have the steering wheel on the right instead of the left), bicycles, and an occasional trolley car headed the other direction. What’s fascinating is all the folk who, going about their business on an ordinary day, had no idea this little slice of their lives was being preserved for posterity.
[SIDENOTE: You can view this short film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q5Nur642BU Sound has been added to this version.]
But the impact of this film is far greater than just that. When I watch it, I can’t help but be reminded of Luke 17: 26-29, which tells us of how people went about their usual lives, unaware disaster was about to strike . . .
. . . because, you see, the people in this film have no idea that come Wednesday morning, they would live to see their beautiful city, including Market Street, pretty much destroyed—that is, those who actually lived through the devastating San Francisco earthquake. Thousands were about to die. It is entirely possible that some of the folk in this film had less than four days left to live. Many of the buildings you see in this picture ended up as nothing more than piles of rubble.
Of course by now all the persons in this motion picture have died—it was, after all, filmed well over 100 years ago. Many of those buildings would now, even if there had not been an earthquake, most likely also be gone. (The clock tower of the ferry building at the end of the video still exists, and I saw it during my last excursion to the city.)
It’s a sobering thought. We too go about our lives as if tomorrow is a guarantee.
I like to think of this film as a reminder that we never know the day or the hour when we too will have to give an accounting to God.