Eyewitness Reports First Major Movie The Great Train Robbery Part 2
An eyewitness account of the the first major movie The Great Train Robbery.
The First Major Movie--
The Great Train Robbery
The Life of an American Fireman was originally supposed to be just another of the hundreds of quick films Edison was producing, put together from stock shots of fire stations in action. Porter took the stock shots, filmed some additional scenes, married them, and produced beginning, middle, and end--a story. Porter became the first filmmaker to edit his scenes, abandoning Melies's strict chronology altogether in order to focus on the story line more clearly. For the first time, audiences had a character (the fire chief) to worry about and identify with. It was a simple but revolutionary step. Fireman swept the motion picture industry.
What Fireman taught the industry, Train Robbery taught the public. Soon after Fireman was released, Porter did a short film about "Phoebe Snow" (played by Mae Murray), "a mythical girl in white who rode on The Road of Anthracite without soiling her gowns." The slogan and the character were the brainchild of a young man in the advertising department of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.
A short time later, Porter chanced on a title, The Great Train Robbery, while trying to come up with a new idea for a film. He worked out a preliminary scenario, the first in the history of the movies, and started hiring actors, the most memorable of whom, Max Aronson, played one of the robbers. Aronson later became famous as "Bronco Billy," the first western hero. He was a train robber this time around.
The Lackawanna lent Porter a train for the film. Most of the scenes were shot in Paterson, N.J.
In that one 10-minute film, Porter established some of the methods that would remain a filmic bible for years to come. He created the classic western and also the notion that audiences wanted characters to identify with characters they could love and hate and cheer and hiss. He abandoned entirely Melies's strict stage methods and cut back and forth as the action progressed. The film ended, as exhibitors would declare, with a "punch." Robber George Barnes turned to the audience and shot straight at them. Porter's use of three frames of red film evoked a convincing gunshot.
The Great Train Robbery opened in late 1903 at Huber's Museum, the Eden Musee, and Hammerstein's, all in New York. Within a few months it was sweeping the country. With that one picture, many enterprising exhibitors opened theaters. Porter single-handedly transformed the movie industry from a weak, barely surviving novelty into a vibrant new medium.
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