Toccata for Toy Trains

This is a post made for the sheer pleasure of sharing an extraordinarily beautiful short film made in 1957. It’s called Toccata for Toy Trains, and anyone who loves vintage toys and the art of film should see it.


Probably best known for their iconic chair designs and cutting edge buildings, Charles and Ray Eames ran a design and architecture studio where their workforce was given free rein to be playful in the process of solving problems. It was a laboratory of ideas, and though the revolutionary furniture designs alone would have ensured the success of the couple, there were any number of other disciplines at which they excelled, including producing short films. It seems that Toccata for Toy Trains came to be made simply because they had the idea and wanted to try it out. They created it out of a love of toys and the ingenuity and craftsmanship of their construction.

Above: Charles and Ray Eames working on Toccata in their design studio

I won’t say too much about the film, because those of you who don’t know it are in for a treat that will be all the more enjoyable for coming at it fresh. It’s not really a puppet film, though it contains elements that nudge it in that direction. It has a wonderful score by the great Elmer Bernstein. Every viewing of it thrills me anew. It was made in the Eames design studio, in a make-do space created by rolling back the office-furniture. Now that’s the way to do it. Sit back and enjoy.


5 thoughts on “Toccata for Toy Trains

  1. This is brilliant Clive, what a lovely film, thank you for sharing it. I love model and miniature trains and things. I always wanted to set up a model village in my garden when I was younger… saying that, I’d still quite like to do it now!

    It’s a bit different to the setup in the film as it’s outside but have you ever seen the Llechfan garden railway in Tywyn? 🙂 We went to an open day there a couple of years ago and I loved it

    • Thank you, Chloe. I’ll check out that link. In the meantime you should click on the first link in Sean Flender’s comment below. Another Eames film, this one a circus parade reconstructed in toys.

  2. Clive, this is wonderful. I had not seen this particular film from the Eames studio. I do recall seeing the “Parade” on late night public television when I was too small to have a context for what I was seeing. I found an example of it online, HERE.

    These both have a debt to Sandy Calder’s enchanting “Circus”, which you can still see behind glass at the Whitney in New York. They show these puppets alongside short film clips such as THIS.
    It is an experience as close to real magic as one can come. Thanks for reminding me of these.

    • Hello Sean. I hadn’t seen Parade, which is wonderful, and so thank you for the link to that.

      Our friend Clarissa, who is the daughter of John and Myfanwy Piper, knew Calder well (to her he was ‘Uncle Sandy’) and recalls seeing the circus performances when she was a girl. What an extraordinary man he was, conjuring ingenious life out of wire and snipped-tin. A Master Magician/Puppeteer/Artist!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s