See the moving picture


A Nonlinear Concept of Continuity

Life of an American Fireman

Edwin S. Porter, Edison Manufacturing Co., USA, 1902-03

Shown here are 2 frames each from 8 of the 9 shots of which the film is composed; Shot 7, apparently showing the arrival of the firemen at the burning house, is missing. The action frequently overlaps. In the second frame of Shot 3, for example, the firemen slide down the pole at the firehouse and disappear. In the first frame of Shot 4, they slide down the pole again, landing in the garage below, where they harness the horses to the fire wagons. In the second frame of Shot 4, which is still an interior view of the firehouse, the horse-drawn wagons charge out of the building. In Shot 5, we see the same action, this time in an exterior view, beginning with the opening of the firehouse doors and the emergence of the wagons onto the street. Shot 8 is an interior view of a burning bedroom in which the following action transpires: a woman tries to open the window, cries for help, and faints; a fireman enters through the door, smashes the window, carries the woman onto a waiting ladder, and returns to save a child hidden under the bed covers. In Shot 9, the entire sequence—viewed from an exterior perspective—is repeated. As Charles Musser observes, however, the compression of time in the two sequences is not identical: in Shot 8, the fireman’s trips up and down the latter transpire quite quickly; more time is allotted to the action in Shot 9 because the fireman doesn’t go back up the ladder until the mother revives and cries “Save my child!” Such a way of arranging narrative action, Musser reminds us, “is radically different from the linear continuity of the classical Hollywood cinema.”

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