CC Vintage Film: Toccata for Toy Trains (1957)


I totally fell in love with this film when someone got a copy of a 16mm print at the tv station I was working at in the late 70s, and transferred it to video. I still have that 3/4 Umatic tape, but rather than try to convert it, it’s here on YouTube, of course. If you love really old toys, you’ll love this.

From the introduction comment to the film at YouTube:

Toccata for Toy Trains is a 1957 short film by Charles and Ray Eames, one of several films (including Powers of Ten, made many years later) the husband-and-wife design team made during their career. Toccata for Toy Trains is also the title of the instrumental music composed for the film by Elmer Bernstein, a frequent collaborator on the Eames films. The film features mostly antique toy trains moving within fanciful settings to a toccata. Other antique toys, such as dolls (representing passengers and townspeople), automobiles and horse-drawn carriages are featured. Most of the toys come from a mix of museum and private collections, including that of the Museum of the City of New York, and apparently date from before the 1920s. The film is shot from a toy’s-eye-view, as if the viewer is following the journey of trains from two cities, beginning with the busy activity of the departure train station and surrounding downtown neighborhood, traveling across the countryside, and ending with trains pulling into the arrival station. A short opening narration by Charles Eames, set in a roundhouse, extols the design merits of toys, especially antique toys, with their “direct and unembarrassed manner”, versus scale models. Eames says the modern era has lost the art of toymaking in the attempt to have “a perfect little copy of the real thing”.


Charles and Bernice “Ray” Eames were a design couple whose legacy is vast and lasting. And comfortable. At our friends’ house in Half Moon Bay, they have a pair of these Eames loungers and ottomans ($6,195 from Henry Miller), and they are the perfect place to sit, read a book, and watch the surf in the distance.