Thursday, February 25, 2021

Erie Canal Scenes: Are They Realistic?

In an attempt to provide a realistic—and brief—illustration of life on the Erie Canal, I have excerpted canal and boat scenes from the movie, The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935) (Wikipedia) (IMDB), and arranged them in four one-minute clips.

The story takes place on the Erie Canal, but it was actually filmed on the Lehigh Canal. I believe the canal scenes in the movie present a realistic reflection of life on the Erie Canal.

There are four clips. Each is about one minute long. Please let me know if you spot anything that strikes you as typical or atypical of the Erie Canal at the time (the movie was set in 1850). Please share your observations in the comment section below or send me an email.

1. Canal & Boats

These clips show the canal its boats. There is one brief segment that shows a packet boat.

2. Neighbors

This collection of clips is intended to illustrate the neighborly intimacy of life on the canal.

3. Canal Towns

I purposefully removed the soundtrack from these scenes so it doesn't draw attention from the views of the town. Further I would ask people to focus their attention on the background scenery to get a sense of the town (rather than focus on the actors in the foreground). Are there particular elements in these scenes you would draw attention to? 

In the scene at 0.19-0.26, notice the smoke rising from the boats' kitchen stoves and the laundry hanging out to dry on the line. As the characters walk, notice the stores along the canal (one of which they enter at the end of the scene); this is main street.

4. Life Aboard

Illustrations of the interior of a freight boat are rare. (There is one in Richard Garrity's book, Canal Boatman: My Life on Upstate Waterways.) If these film scenes are anywhere near realistic, I think they would help to convey a sense of life aboard a boat. The furnishings are surely Hollywoodified and, consistent with the story line, the owner of the boat has been furnishing it in anticipation of buying a farm, so they are perhaps oversize for a canal boat. In this case too, I have deleted the soundtrack.

I would appreciate your feedback.


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