Movies before editing


Among the very first films to tell a story, The Great Train Robbery was made by Thomas Edison’s studio. It’s maddening to watch, even for just one minute. That’s because the scene never shows you close-ups of the good guys or bad guys. As a result, you can’t really get a sense of the emotion of the moment. Watch it.

In the beginning, filmmakers didn't really grasp that skillful editing could help tell stories. Instead, movies were shown in much the same way a modern dad might show a video of his daughter's recital: one long shot of the camera pointed at the stage.

The scene on this page is an excellent example. It's from The Great Train Robbery, a landmark silent film from 1903. While the film does incorporate many innovations, the editing is, well, nonexistent. This scene is only a minute long, but it seems much longer because there is no editing. All the action happens in a single stationary wide shot.

For example, note how long it takes to tie up the good guy toward the end. That’s because the bad guys are actually tying the ropes in real time. It seems to take so long, it’s almost funny. Normally, an editor would cut to a different shot to make this go much faster.


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