Great Train Robbery (1903)
Director: Edwin S. Porter
While this is far from the first Edison film, it seems like the best place to start a discussion of the Studio, as it was undeniably their biggest blockbuster hit. It represents a high-water mark for the studio in terms of innovation and artistic success as well, I’d say. It was directed by Edwin S. Porter, who was in charge of motion picture production at Edison and was its main director from 1899 until 1909. At this point, due to Edison’s patent lawsuits against rivals, Porter had a claim as “the” legitimate American filmmaker. In this movie, he shows himself a master of early film narrative, a rival for Méliès, whose masterpiece “A Trip to the Moon” came out the previous year. “The Great Train Robbery” is in many ways more sophisticated, in its use of moving camera, clever editing, and realistic action sequences, although it lacks the elaborate set pieces and camera trickery of Méliès. There’s an ongoing debate as to whether or not to call this “the first Western” or even if it’s a Western at all, since trains were robbed by men on horseback in the East as late as 1903. To me, it feels like a proto-Western anyway, due to the costumes, the style of action which closely follows “Wild West Shows” of the period and the theme of desperate bandits against a posse of lawful gunmen. If it wasn’t the first, it was surely influential on the Western genre that followed.
Run Time: 12 min
You can watch it for free: here.