Greta Garbo and Victor Sjostrom

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Scott Lord Silent Film: The Great Train Robbery (Porter,1903)

In the autobiographical reminiscences William N. Selig printed in Photoplay Magazine during 1920, Selig, perhaps almost graciously, credits Edison with the "first single reel picture containing a story in continuity", although he adds that "The Great Train Robbery" was only 800 feet and that he was soon on Edison's coattails with films of his own of length equal to it. Interestingly, Selig recounts in the article director Frank Boggs as "the real pioneer in photographic reproduction", his during 1908 releasing a one reel film every week; Selig claims Boggs was assasinated on the Selig Studios during 1912. Vladimir Petric in A Visual/Analytical History of Silent Film (1895-1930), Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, notes Porter's "The Great Train Robbery" as a "primitive use of parralel editing to dramatize the narrative". Not only is this in sharp contrast to the earlier cinema of attractions that relegated storytelling to the act of display, but the film is significant as the first film made in the Western genre. It is uncanny that the closing shot, as a subjective shot, is an attraction, something static and something dispalyed, urging the spectatator to draw and shoot back. Patric Vonderau and Vinzenz Hedigar have written, "The visuality of the display, however, is still indispensible to its effect."- albeit their recent volume, Films That Work, is primarily concerned with international industrial films.

Author Nicholas A. Vardac opines that it was the films of Edwin S. Porter that D.W. Griffith aquired the technique of viewing the shot within its context as a "syntax for the melodrama". Whether crosscutting began with Edwin S. Porter and "The Great Train Robbery", a film which is attributed as having used croscutting in the volume The Film Idea, written by Stanley J. Solomon, or whether it was more properly developed by D.W. Griffith around 1908, as with the parallel editing in the 1907 films "The Greaser's Gauntlet" and "The Fatal Hour" (Phillipe Gauthier, Harvard University), author Stanley Solomon points out that crosscutting was intrinsiclly cinematic, rather than dramaturgical or theatrical by describing it as "a technique suitable to the form of cinema but unnatural to the form of nineteenth century stage drama, which was at that time a significant influence on the new media." A recent online film class on how to "read" a film from described the film as being comprised of "seperate shots of non-continuous, non-overlapping action" while being careful to designate the film as an early example of crosscutting.

Film historian Charles Mussur, in Before the Nickelodeon :Edwin S. Porter, writes, "Porter's film meticulously documents a process...The film's narrative structure, as Gaudreault notes, utilizes temporal repetition with an overall narrative progression." As narrative it was essentially a reenactment film. He adds that "Porter exploited procedures that heighten the realism and believabilty of the image" (David Levy).

It is apparent that "The Great Train Robbery" was filmed not only in the studio, but on actual locations, including in fact a train Porter had borrowed in New Jersey; it also apparent that "The Great Train Robbery" released during 1904 by Sigmund Lubin also combined scenes filmed both outdoors and inside the studio, the film also concluding with a close up of an outlaw. Catalougues "free upon request" featuring "Lubin's Latest Hits" list Lubin's "The Great Train Robbery" as running 600 ft, there being sixteen seperate scenes to the film. The 1903 Edison Manufacturing Company catalougue lists the running legnth of Edison's "The Great Train Robbery", a "sensational and highly tragic subject", as 740 ft, the film divided into fourteen scenes.

The sequel to "The Great Train Robbery", titled "The Little Train Robbery" (1905) although directed by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Company, is a parody, and features an all child actor cast.

Silent Film Silent Film D. W. Griffith

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