#2 The Great Train Robbery (1903)

This falls into the category of earliest films that ended up sparking what we see as the definitive film making and consumption of our era. it was the first western, the first multi-shot narrative with consecutive story lines happening at the same time, the first breaking of the fourth wall (which we remember hearing sent audiences screaming into the streets from thinking they were actually being shot at?) and the first “blockbuster.”

We watched this film on YouTube as it is in the public domain.


This is considered one of the first films to have a narrative story line ( cowboys holding up a train!  Classic!).  Interestingly, the original negatives of this film are archived by the Library of Congress and is still in excellent condition.  One of the visual effects I found quite interesting was the frames that are hand tinted with color, and how amazing bright these frames are.  This is a great quick film to watch.  It’s also really curious to consider how different it is to tell a story without dialogue – how precise and purposeful each visual image must be to further along the sequence of the narrative.

Also, sort of a timeless story.  Made in 1903, my seven year old would still find this story relevant and exciting.


I don’t have much to say about this film, except that as a modern film viewer this film does a lot of what I expect to happen when I watch a film. The thing that makes it so remarkable on every level is the fact that this is one of the first films to do all of this so much. I was coincidentally reading Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures at the same time, and that added a fun dimension of experiencing this early work of film art once again.

It is a cool flick, and much of what is presented in this film is revolutionary and remarkable for the time considering so many people were just figuring it out at the time. It reminded me of the antique nickelodeon hand-crank films I watched at Canobie Lake Park as a kid – where one would still insert a nickel to watch a short film in a little box made from hundreds of little paper cards flicking by like a zoetrope. Fun, short, and really cool little film that must have astounded Edison’s audiences at the turn of the century as this stuff started picking up!

#1 Le Voyage dans la Lune (Rest. 1902/2011)


Today we watched the restored, colorized version of A Trip to the Moon from 1902 (but the restored, colorized version from 2011 with music by AIR!). One of the first feature films ever made with a storyline and an extensive cast, it tells the story (a story!) of a trip to the moon, with conflict! intrigue! suspense! action! comedy! Everything a film needs. A “revolution” at fourteen minutes, Schneider’s book suggests that this is the first chance a film had to present a purely cinematic fictional “fantasy constructed for pure entertainment,” opening a door to the future of film as a grand escapist platform.

We watched this film on YouTube as it is in the Public Domain.


This film instantly reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkin’s album  Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (…and the Tonight Tonight video.  Go ahead, watch it again.  I just did).  A Trip to the Moon is filmed more like a play with several acts, with each “scene” unfolding with the familiar directions and staging of a something from the theater.   The colors are almost garish or obscene in their brightness and boldness- but this just adds to the appeal.  I was struck most by what a delightful and imaginative story this is, from the sets, to the costumes, to the magical powers of umbrella.   I would love to know what someone watching over a hundred years ago was thinking after a first view.


I thought this was a charming little film – mainly for its connections to the Tonight Tonight video that Jennifer mentioned. We couldn’t stop talking about it, along with the documentary we watched about Wayne White called Beauty is Embarassing, an incredible film where White discussed his work with puppetry, MTV/Smashing Pumpkins, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and other great art projects.

This film is pretty revolutionary in a lot of ways. As I watched I couldn’t escape what I think of when I think early film…all of which don’t have a plot, and are just short snippets of something happening. Like The Horse and The Kiss. I also thought of the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret which romanticizes the fictional genesis of this film along with the Paris film industry. Interestingly, I also saw the movie which was something…different.

This was a gorgeous film in its use of stop-film tricks, weird theatrical cardboard sets that at times were two dimensional and at times three dimensional, beautiful and complex costumes and makeup, and some really impressive special effects. A pleasure to watch in its new colorized incantation that added a somewhat extra level of magic to the film. Furthermore, having been scored by one of my favorite bands, AIR, it was a joy to experience. Audiences at the time must have been astonished!