The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, 1903, USA)

The Great Train Robbery, made by Edison associate Edwin S. Porter in 1903, is arguably the first American film of any significance. Inspired by the films coming out of the Melies Company in Europe, Edwin S. Porter made over 250 films throughout his career. The film, at only 12 minutes in length, was inspired by several sources. The western genre was very popular in American culture at the time, especially on the vaudeville circuit, and the film draws from several stage plays. The film would have drawn the attention of audiences at the time, as train robberies were still a rather common phenomenon.

While retrospective critics have negated both the stylistic innovation and influence of The Great Train Robbery, the film was an immense success by any standard. It headlined many vaudeville houses for several years, was copied by many, and even parodied by Porter himself. Part of the film's appeal was no doubt its violence - such images were probably quite striking to audiences at the time who had never seen violence on screen before. Likewise, the film's most iconic image involves actor Justus D. Barnes shooting directly at the camera. This shot has been imitated many times throughout film history. 

The stylistic innovations are very much present in the film, from the aforementioned breaking of the fourth wall to the use of cross-cutting - a technique that had barely been used before. Likewise, Porter was one of the first filmmakers to use a moving camera, something that was also very uncommon before 1903. While the film is perhaps not as entertaining now as it was in 1903, especially compared to a film like A Trip to the Moon, it is worth viewing to understand the evolution of cinematic language and technique. Also definitely worth it for fans of the western genre.



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