The Great Train Robbery (1903)
The Great Train Robbery is a 1903 western film by Edwin S. Porter. The film is only twelve minutes long, but is a milestone in film making, expanding on Porter’s previous work Life of an American Fireman. The film used a number of innovative techniques including cross cutting, double exposure composite editing, camera movement and on location shooting. Cross-cuts were a new, sophisticated editing technique. Some prints were also hand colored in certain scenes. None of the techniques were original to The Great Train Robbery, but no previous movie had combined them to such a dramatic effect. The film uses simple editing techniques (each scene is a single shot) and the story is mostly linear (with only a few “meanwhile” moments) but it represents a significant step in movie making, being one of the first “narrative” movies of significant length. It was quite successful in theaters and was imitated many times.
The movie was directed and photographed by Edwin S. Porter, a former Thomas Edison cameraman. Actors in the movie included A.C. Abadie, Broncho Billy Anderson and Justus D. Barnes, although there were no credits.
Also this piece of trivia:
The film was originally distributed with a note saying that the famous shot of the bandit firing his gun at the camera could be placed either at the beginning or at the end of the film, or both. Most modern prints put it at the end. Audiences at the time, for whom moving pictures were still very new and unfathomable, would usually scream in fear, then laugh in relief.
If you haven’t seen it, you should. You will be amazed how exciting it still is.