Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fear and Loathing In 1903

Picture yourself in a movie theater in 1903. You've just sat down to watch this new "film" thingy called "The Great Train Robbery". The "film" starts, and you're skeptical. "The way that camera moved made me dizzy!". After an exhausting 12 minutes later, the film finally ends, except...suddenly, one of the bad guys from the movie faces you--THE AUDIENCE--and slowly raises a gun. Oh no! We're doomed! He's going to fire upon us! Nooooo!


Scared? No? Well, that's because we aren't idiots.

I remember watching a great Simpsons 'Tree House Of Horrors' episode where they did their take on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven".

At the end of the story, Bart questions the poem's classification as horror:

Bart: Lisa, that wasn't scary, not even for a poem.
Lisa: Well, it was written in 1845. Maybe people were easier to scare back then.

Lisa suggests that people in the past were a lot more prone to easy scares than we are today. (How else could the romantic horror of "The Raven" ever give someone the chills they get today while watching something like "The Ring".)

Maybe using this theory, we could infer that in 1903, when Thomas Edison and Edwin S. Porter's "The Great Train Robbery" came out, people were still easily scared, and a fictional character on a movie screen could actually pose a real threat.

No, I'm sorry, I've got to call BULLSHIT.


I know film was a new medium at the time, and theoretically, many of the people in the theater probably didn't know what "the moving pictures" were capable of, but to honestly believe that a character on a screen can break the fourth wall and shoot you? Come on.

The movie-going audience of 1903 was more familiar with live theater like plays, and vaudeville, so maybe they though the same rules apply. In a live performance, yes, a guy holding a gun on stage has the ability to actually shoot through the fourth wall...but here's the kicker...I bet that if this was an actual live performance, the audience wouldn't have even blinked. I bring your attention to the Iroquois Theater Fire of 1903. At no more than a month old, the theater broke out into flames during a performance. As the fire spread out of control, THE AUDIENCE DIDN'T MOVE. They thought it was all part of the performance. The actors kept on acting and the dancers kept on dancing. It wasn't until comedian Eddie Foy told the audience that it's wasn't part of the act that anybody did anything.

602 people died because the audience wasn't scared of no heat and flames.

But a 2 dimensional movie character shooting through the fourth wall...well now, that's a pants pisser.

I also have to call bullshit on the idea that people were more prone to be scared back then than today. Case in point.

So, I'm calling every film professor in this country wrong. There ain't no way in hell the people of 1903 were scared of being shot by a two dimensional man. Unless of course, they were idiots.


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