See the moving picture


Once Upon a Time

The Great Train Robbery

Edwin S. Porter, Edison Manufacturing Co., USA, 1903

In Shot 1 of The Great Train Robbery (left), the bandits enter the telegraph office, force the operator to stop the train, and tie him up. A clock on the wall reads 9:00. Shots 2–9 detail the story of the well-planned robbery (see Chapter 5.2). Shot 10 (right) returns to the telegraph office, where the operator is still bound and gagged. The set, of course, is the same as that in Shot 1, including the clock—which still says 9:00 despite the fact that time has obviously elapsed. The practice of relying on prepainted clocks was common in pre-1908 films and is usually irrelevant. Once filmmakers learned, however, to manipulate time in the telling of their stories, accurate clocks would be necessary to support the illusion of temporal continuity. Here, “real” time—the time that it really takes to rob a train—is condensed in the interest of drama. Competently handled continuity makes the tactic acceptable to the audience (indeed, invisible) but is potentially undermined by a prop clock that fails to reaffirm it.

Back to CHAPTER 8/Part 2