NOW SHOWING: The Great Train Robbery

 In MOA Artwork, MOA Features

NOW SHOWING: The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Edwin S. Porter – Director, Producer, Writer, Cinematographer

Two early Western films, both shown in their 12-minute entirety, are now showing within the current exhibition Branding the American West: Paintings and Films 1900-1950. One of these films is Edwin S. Porter’s iconic The Great Train Robbery.


Porter created over 250 films over his career. Began working in film in 1986, as a touring projectionist, so he learned how to do projectionist work and what audiences liked in films, which informed his filmmaking in future years. Then, was a cameraman for Edison Studios. From there, he began making his own films, using the technical skills he picked up and his knowledge of what made films successful.


The Great Train Robbery is probably Porter’s most well-known film, from which dozens of film techniques, story techniques, homages, and parodies have been adapted. The Great Train Robbery – inspired by a 1896 stage play – is twelve minutes long and was created on a single reel. The film features ten locations, both indoor and outdoor, which was an unprecedented number of locations in a narrative film to that point.


Porter showed simultaneous action via a new editing technique called “cross-cutting” which he created in order to better tell the story to audiences. As a touring projectionist, he knew what was effective for film audiences and knew that making simultaneous action more accessible would require more innovative editing efforts. Of course, the most famous bit of the film is the iconic last scene (which Edwin S. Porter said could also be shown at the beginning), of one of the bandits in the film shooting a gun point black towards the fourth wall, the audience.

Great Train Robbery film still

The film was a major success with audiences and went on to tour to eleven cities in the United States due to popular demand. It is one of the films that has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, in 1990, was added to the National Film Registry for preservation.

Edwin S. Porter also made a parody of The Great Train Robbery titled The Little Train Robbery (1905), with an all-child cast in which a larger gang of bandits holds up a mini train and steal their dolls and candy.




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