Friday, October 10, 2008


Capture of Boer Battery by the British
US 1900. PC: Edison. P+DP: James White; orig. l: 100 ft.; print: LoC, 100 ft /16 fps/ 1'33", no intertitles. - Too slow.
The Great Train Robbery
US 1903. PC: Edison. D: Edwin S. Porter; CAST: Gilbert M. Anderson, Marie Murray, George Barnes, Frank Hanaway, A.C. Abadie; première: Dec 1903. Print: MoMA, 720 ft /16 fps/ 12 min colour [tinted]; no intertitles.
David Levy: "The Brighton screenings organized at the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art by Eileen Bowser and Paul Spehr in the fall of 1977 helped me understand the meaning of the 1904 Edison company catalogue description of Edwin Stanton Porter’s The Great Train Robbery. The film, said the January 1904 Edison Films catalogue supplement (p.5), “has been posed and acted in faithful duplication of the genuine ‘Hold Ups’ made famous by various outlaw bands of the far West.”
By “faithful duplication” the copywriter, Porter or someone else, was describing the film as a re-enactment, in other words a work of art rather than a “fake” which involved the false claim of a cameraman having been at the scene of an actual event. Fake newsreels and re-enactments accomplished the transformation of motion into action by the manipulation of frame depth and edge, a practice that shaped the compositional features of the film narrative.
In Robbery’s concluding scene, three felons in the frame foreground are counting out the loot as the seven-man posse emerges from out of the frame edge on the right-hand side and advances in the direction of the camera for the concluding shoot-out, firing in the direction of the robbery crew and the audience. The scene was itself a re-enactment of scenes previously seen in the fakes which before long led to questions in the press. (...)
A point of interest is the apparent need the Edison people felt to explain.
In Capture of Boer Battery by the British (1900), James White placed the camera behind the Boer unit to film the kilted Highlanders advancing out of the depth to overrun the Boer position.
“Nothing can exceed the stubborn resistance shown by the Gordon Highlanders, as we see them steadily advancing in the face of a murderous fire of the Boers, who are making their guns speak with rapid volleys. One by one the gunners fall beside their guns, and as the smoke clears for an instant the Highlanders are seen gaining nearer and nearer the disputed ground. Finally, a grand charge is made, the siege is carried, and amid cheers they plant the colors on the spot they have so dearly earned.” (Edison Films, July 1901, pp.28-29)
In the filming of actions based on Wild West Show stunts, men on horseback ride out of the frame depth at the camera, the scenes organized in patterns of arced and diagonal movement, animals and vehicles cut off at the bottom of the frame. In Biograph’s Roosevelt’s Rough Riders (1898) > (1903, per LoC Copyright Catalog), several dozen riders gallop at the camera, turning to the left a few yards from it. Charge of Boer Cavalry (1900) depicts riders charging the camera, passing close to it on either side. The Edison Films catalogue description (July 1901, p.28) recalls Sadoul’s Lumière train legend: “…you can see that they are straining every nerve and urging their horses to the utmost speed…so that the audience involuntarily makes an effort to move from their seats in order to avoid being trampled under the horses.”
It is not clear whether such an involuntary audience reaction had ever actually occurred; perhaps it had. The fact is that the newsreel aesthetic soon became dominant, displacing both Muybridge and Méliès visual modes." David Levy

No comments: