#2. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

great-train-robbery-poster These movies are over a hundred years old and so obviously it’s hard to ignore how antiquated they are in terms of the technology, for one thing, but also the framing, the cutting, the acting, et cetera. A Trip to the Moon, old as it is, was silly enough to sort of get lost in. I followed the story in that one. I laughed. I was able, at certain points, to focus on something other than its age.

The oldness of The Great Train Robbery is harder to ignore. I’m trying to appreciate how innovative this probably was at the time of its release, when the overwhelming critical consensus was “Hot fuck it’s a train!”, and trying, by extension, to be delighted simply by the fact that I can follow what’s going on. That a coherent narrative was set to film. But the version I saw of this movie wasn’t even supplemented by music. A Trip to the Moon had music as well as some really faint voiceovers (does that mean I saw the wrong one?). I think even some ambient crackling to complement the film’s graininess would’ve helped keep me focused. The movie’s like twelve minutes long and I could hardly focus. So I guess the only way to appreciate it, or to have a good time, is to try to marvel at the fact that it exists at all? Sounds very Leonard Cohen. It makes me feel like an asshole for some reason. “Your movie’s boring, but it’s nice that you tried.”

train-robbery
The filmmakers were still just playing with the technology, feeling it out for new stuff to do, which is made evident with this inexplicable closing shot, unrelated to the story, in which the cameraman is murdered.

What’s interesting is that, even on just the second movie of the list, I find that there are shortcomings in The Great Train Robbery (no shit) that make me look back and appreciate things I hadn’t noticed in the first movie. I didn’t realize, for example, how beautiful and creative the sets of A Trip to the Moon were until I watched this. Nor have I ever really taken into consideration how important it is to have a close-up now and then so’s to distinguish, for instance, one hat-wearing guy from the group of hat-wearing men with whom he’s riding.

train-robbery-fight-on-train
 The fight scene on the roof of a train is pretty quaint, but it’s easy to see how exciting this must’ve been.

I guess my point is that this movie sucks but I also realize that it isn’t fair of me to say so. I’m holding The Great Train Robbery up to a set of standards that didn’t exist when it was made. I’m comparing its strengths to those of movies that probably wouldn’t have been made were it not for this one. It’s like eating a tablespoon of raw flour, before it’s been mixed with the other ingredients, and barking that this is the worst cookie you’ve ever eaten. Or eating a hundred-year-old cookie and bitching that it’s stale. Like yeah, it’s stale, but can you kinda detect how it must have tasted when it was fresh?

I can’t.

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