Thesis: Silent Film Critique

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Silent Film Critic

One cannot talk about the great milestones of film history without mentioning Edwin S. Porter's 1903 film The Great Train Robbery. In fact, the film is still considered to be the "mother of all American film narratives" (Auerbach 122). The film may be considered primitive to modern audiences with its 14 scenes and length of only a mere 10 minutes -- however, the film was commercially very successful and it established the belief that film could be a commercially-feasible medium (Dirks 2010). This film also contained many of the plot elements which would go into so many of Hollywood's future films, making The Great Train Robbery a model for what would become one of the most popular genres in America -- the Western.

The Great Train Robbery was originally advertised as "a faithful duplication of the genuine 'hold ups' made famous by various outlaw bands in the far West" (Dirks 2010) and the plot was taken from a real-life occurrence that happened on August 29, 1900 when four members of Butch Cassidy's 'Hole in the Wall' gang stopped the number three train on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks toward Table Rock, Wyoming (2010). Like in many dime novels of the time, the outlaws forced the conductor to disengage the passenger cars from the rest of the train. They then blew up a safe filled with money and escaped on the disengaged train.

The Great Train Robbery was probably the most successful narrative genre from 1903 until 1906 as it featured the exciting element of chase (Auerbach 88). To depict the feel of a great chase, Porter used many innovative and new elements to filmmaking to create a sense of excitement and urgency. The film also used pioneering techniques for the time -- and many of those techniques were used for the first time in the making of the film. A few examples of those innovations are parallel editing, small camera movements, location shooting and "less stage-bound camera placement" (Dirks 2010). The action that takes place on the moving train features the early use of special effects as the landscape rushes past the open door in the background. This is something that we have come to know very well in films, but in 1903, it was a first.

The film's action is told by using one shot for each scene and nearly every single shot is a static long-shot (except for the famous ending close-up shot of George Barnes and his pistol), confining the action to the viewpoint of the camera at eye level. The camera is not moved much and thus the actors' movement creates the action in this film. The ending scene, a gun pointed straight in the face of the audience by actor George Barnes, as noted, and the subsequent firing, was used very effectively to get the audience's full and immediate attention. It was this type of realism… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Silent Film Critique.  (2010, July 26).  Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/silent-film-critique/4516971

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"Silent Film Critique."  26 July 2010.  Web.  19 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/silent-film-critique/4516971>.

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"Silent Film Critique."  Essaytown.com.  July 26, 2010.  Accessed July 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/silent-film-critique/4516971.