Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 11

The Great Train Robbery

“I liked it best when he talked about the moving pictures. He described the moving picture The Great Train Robbery so many times that I felt I had seen it myself and could replay it in my dreams.” ~ Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux

Edwin S. Porter’s groundbreaking cinematography in his 12-minute 1903 film, The Great Train Robbery (made for Edison Films), was most certainly an inspiration for Oscar Micheaux’s later career as a filmmaker. An article from Turner Classic Movies explains part of the film’s innovation:

“Before Porter’s film, audiences were used to primitive cinematic depictions of actual life, such as people riding subway trains or walking down a sidewalk. Or maybe the nickelodeons showed the flip side of actualities– surreal dreams of fantasy life, as depicted by magicians such as Georges Méliès, who used editing tricks to make people disappear, fly, morph into other creatures, or anything else that was ordinarily impossible to achieve in real life. Whether films captured waking life or fanciful dreams, they were always structurally rudimentary, often taking place within one shot, one setting, a handful of characters, and a bare-bones plot. What Porter’s film did was tell a story with many roughly sketched characters, several settings, and an editing scheme that dared to suggest that perhaps multiple scenes or story turns were occurring simultaneously. It may be difficult to understand this last point, since audiences today are expertly conditioned to be able to follow very quickly a story that’s told with multiple shots, edits, subplots, and frequently contradicting points of view. Viewers at the turn of the century were not equipped with these skills, so when the film would change from one scene to another, with an entirely different setting, it was considered to be a radical development in filmmaking.”

Watch The Great Train Robbery in its entirety below (or download the original from the Library of Congress or Internet Archive).


Click HERE for the full Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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