Several weeks ago I ventured to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I went on a Friday during free admission hours; perhaps the greatest deal of all time. Before proceeding I must first point out that the design and layout of the museum is rather impressive. The all white stairs and walls temporarily led me to believe I was way hipper than I actually am.
The one exhibit I enjoyed the most was the full length presentation of 1903's The Great Train Robbery by Edwin S. Porter. My reason for loving this presentation is the surroundings with which it is placed. In the museum there were video game exhibits, special effects exhibits, virtual movement exhibits and many more. While watching the film, I realized that simple bare bones film making like Porter's is what made any and all of these modern developments possible.
Something simple like cross -cutting in The Great Train Robbery really put the history of cinema into perspective. This simple tool has been fueling narrative films for the last 100 plus years. Furthermore, Porter developed this concept in 1903, years before groundbreaking narrative films such as Birth Of A Nation appeared.
Moreover, Porter set the tone early for what audiences want to see. A placard in the viewing room boasted how grand of a success The Great Train Robbery was. I would like to think this film was a precursor to the blockbuster. Porter established that spectacle and innovation were key to reeling in audiences; a fact that is still true today. Porter put his camera on top of a moving train and allowed the action to unfold on top of it. For a contemporary audience, this must have been leap years beyond Avatar in terms of spectacle. The gun fight in the woods was also rather effective. Here, the audience is clearly not on a set, but in the heart of the action as it is happening.
For the non-initiated, I would recommend a full viewing of The Great Train Robbery as a must. Viewing the other exhibits without seeing this film is like trying to be a rock star without first learning how to play guitar. While the costume designs and computer graphics exhibits were all great, it was the innovations of Edwin S. Porter in 1903 that truly were impressive.
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