THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY
Int.: G. M. Anderson, George Barnes; Prod.: Edison Mfg. Co.; 35mm. L.: 219 m. D.: 11’ a 18 f/s. Col.
The “story film”, a term used in the period to denote longer films with more complex story lines, constitutes an innovation which had been developing since 1898, when Méliès began issuing special films of longer lengths, inspired by the spectacles he had staged in his “Theatre Robert Houdin” (the first of these La Lune à un mètre, drew on his 1891 stage production Les Farces de la Lune et les mésaventures de Nostromdomus). But it is important to realize such films were exceptions, even in 1903; they were “features” in the meaning of the term derived from vaudeville, of an unusual, more elaborate act, the hit of the show. Only a few such films were issued each year and both film production companies would provide many other shorter, less elaborate films. Intertwined with their narrative ambitions, such film are notable for their use of editing, weaving a line of action through a number of shots. However, most of these films still display an essential non-continuity. Although physical movement of characters from shot to shot often holds these films together, others maintain semi-independent tableaux. The later practice of continuous editing may be adumbrated in these films, but alternative approaches are also evident. The repeated action during the fire rescue in The Life of an American Fireman, for instance, presents the action first from an exterior view, then repeats it as seen from the inside of the burning house. Such repetitions were frequent in early cinema of this period and represent a different, yet not less logical, approach to the portrayal of action seen from different viewpoints. The chase film which offered early cinema its first clear model of continuous action only really appeared at the very end of 1903 with Biograph’s The Escaped Lunatic, although a number of films from 1903 seem to edge toward this form.