Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Great Train Robbery

(1903) ****

“What the hell?” you might be saying to yourself. But hear me out on this one. TGTR was not only the first truly narrative film ever made, not only the first film to use the technique know to us moderns as “editing,” not only was it the first true box-office smash (it pulled in roughly $2 million in 1903 which, adjusted to 2009 dollars, is approximately $999 octillion), not only was it all of those things, but it was also the first film to literally freak its audience the fuck out.

People shat themselves, screamed in terror and reportedly dove for cover when this clip appeared at the tail end of the movie:

People actually thought they were going to be shot. (There’s a similar clip from another film of the era, where the camera was placed low in the middle of a railroad, and a train drives right at the audience and over the camera. People apparently had heart attacks.) You might chalk it up to innocence and naivete over a new medium, but a reaction like that is inconceivable nowadays (until we get into holographic VR interactive movies or whatever). This 6-second clip of film is arguably what made all of us, as a species, fall in love with movies and their psychoactive power over us. It’s almost like this clip was the awesome drug that gave us that first awesome high, and we’ve been abusing that drug for 100+ years to try to recapture that peak. We still get the rush, but we have to get increasingly more inventive to feel it (see Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity).

Anyway, in a Horrorthon first, here’s the entire actual reviewed movie posted within the review:

Some highlights –

5:00 – the train passenger that gets shot looks like he REALLY fucking got shot. They may not have used blanks back then…

6:52 – the fourth bandit reveals himself to be the klutz of the bunch, failing to negotiate the rock path across the stream, and falling in the water.

7:10 – the same Klutz Bandit has enormous difficulty mounting his horse, after the other 3 have long since galloped away. Hilarious. Conjures up quite the backstory with these guys. (“Where in tarnation is that damn Buford?” “Fell in the stream again, Boss…”)

7:40 – the inexplicable recruitment of a square dance as a law-enforcement posse. Just like in real life.

Overall though, due to its place in history as the first film to truly scare the holy living fuck out of people, TGTR gets four stars.


Johnny Sweatpants said...

Really cool. Can't believe I've never seen that before. The gunman would make a great avatar!

Octopunk said...

Hmm. If this counts as a Horrorthon entry then perhaps Julie's five-minute instant film should count too...

Ninteen oh fucking three? Definitely the Horrorthon record for oldest movie.

HandsomeStan said...

In posting this movie, I realized that not only does it not make the cut in terms of length, but it doesn't even come within shouting distance of the cut in terms of what you would call a "horror" movie. But I knew this, and plunged forward anyhow. 10 minutes of the Oldest Film Ever may not count, but i ain't in the counting business here.

I know I'm stretching the boundaries of what's going on blogwise in October, but my posts during the month (I can't compete) are never about the quantity - it's more about something specifically horrific about the film (i.e. Meet Joe Black, horribly bad, V: The Mini-Series, personally horrifying as a child, etc).

I'm certainly not trying to justify anything, because I'm going to review (I don't know) Driving Miss Daisy if I find it horrifying for any reason. Ditto Howard The Duck. (Mental note: review Howard The Duck because it's Lucas being horrifyingly disastrous and embarrassing...)

My point with TGTR is that the specific part of our minds, that chemical release, that thing that the sight of moving pictures does to us, that Reason We Watch Movies In The First Place...THAT'S what I wanted to address, in unconventional fashion. TGTR started that, apparently, as my research tells me. Fascinating stuff.

Octo, I hear ya, and I'm not being contentious by even the slightest degree. Count everything, I say! Each year, I gun for Honorable Mention. That's all I could hope for, based on my schedule.

I would like to think i've achieved Oldest Movie and also Most Ridiculous Stretch For A Horror Review status.

Thank you all very much. Love you.

Jordan said...

I'm so glad you did this, because I've always been into this movie for exactly the same reasons.

In my humble opinion, the final shot of Goodfellas (Joe Pesci, in a hat, firing a gun at the camera) is a direct reference to this movie.

HandsomeStan said...

Oh, it totally is, Jordan. Scorsese said as much in an interview somewhere.

I wish I could find the actual movie with the actual train clip. The Simpsons actually referenced it in a brief cutaway in some episode.

Whirlygirl said...

You've sold me, Stan. I have to see this.