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Legacy Review

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

As one of the first American narrative films, there is astonishing achievement and innovation in this 12 minute proto-western.

The story hops between multiple settings before its conclusion — this “cross-cutting” allows for an expansion of time and space to add depth to the story. Here, it’s used to show bandits robbing a train at the same time a town rallies to stop the bandits.

Hand-coloring and “double exposure” (implanting multiple shots on the same frame) add visual pop. And while the very minor camera pans are trivial in the context of modern cinema, they contribute to the vast sense of space in some shots.

The movie’s real thrill is in its sheer spectacle: With live horses running towards the camera, and rolling steam engines, and convincing gunfire, it’s not hard to imagine this as a novel and visceral viewing experience at the turn of the century. There’s even some raw emotion as passengers crowd a wounded peer after the bandits run off.

The film is capped with an iconic shot: a close-up of a robber firing a six-gun point-blank into the camera.

(I’m attempting to watch 1001 Films to See Before Your Die in chronological order. This is film number 2. Up next is Birth of a Nation, 1915… yikes.)

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

A few words on "Is It Good?" ratings for early cinema.

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.


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