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Comparison between Porter and Orson Welles

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2277 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Edwin S. Porter and Orson Welles


 More and more Science fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and other recent movies been well made nowadays, we must see that there are incalculable directors and other artist’s endeavors in early cinema history. Numerous serious movies, like The Avengers, Star Trek, and all the movies have been loved by couple generations used multiplex of techniques. The techniques seem fancy and realistic. In fact that most ideas and editing came from influences by early cinema history. Two artists in film history well known as innovating film techniques in early cinema. Also, the techniques are still used in many times all the movies currently. The two men are Edwin S. Porter(1870-1941) and Orson Welles (1915–1985). Edwin 

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 S. Porter was a path-breaker of editing in cinema. Also, Orson Welles was an insightful and brilliant director who led the enlightenment of Soviet cinema. I believe the two outstanding directors have many similarities, but also differences. I chose the two films The Great Train Robbery (1903) by Edwin S. Porter and Citizen Kane(1941) by Orson Welles for comparing and contrasting the two film and directors. 

 The Great train Robbery is Porter’s one of first Western Films. He focused on editing when he made a movie always. Edwin S. Porter’s landmark 10-minute dramatic film was a primitive one-reeler action picture, with pioneering cinematography and editing. The Great train Robbery was based on a real robbery in the United States in 1900. The film used a scene of 14 scenes to tell a more complicated story, the first Western film shot by Porter. This work brings a new Western-style to American movies, and the western film gradually prospers. The great significance of this film goes far beyond this. The most important point is that the film uses the montage creatively, breaking through the limitations of time and space, freeing the film from the stage play and becoming an independent art form. It took 12 minutes to clearly express the whole process of a robbery from the occurrence of the robbery to the police, and did not stick to fixed photography. The mobile lens was used early. The montage technique invented by Edwin S. Porter laid an important foundation for the prosperity of the film, which was later promoted by Griffith and became the most important pillar of film art. His contribution to the development of the film is indispensable. It was the first to use several innovative, modern film techniques, many of them for the first time, such as parallel editing, minor camera movement, multiple camera angles, composite editing, jump-cuts and cross-cuts, location shooting and less stage-bound camera placement. Porter’s parallel editing cutting made between multiple locations, sometimes cutting away before a scene ended and back to another location this helped establish to viewers that events were taking place at different locations, in turn, establishing a cinematic language. The first to utilizing parallel editing is the sense of cowboys are riding through the woods when they were run away. The film has very unique shots. Most of the scenes do not have a single of main characters, and actors are grouped abstractly. Although there are no subtitles or narration, the narrative is clear to look through. Also, Porter started to put the narrative story in the film. His montage is measuring shot of length, shorter and shorter and repeating again to delivery ideas. He used to describe emotions lights, shadows, and framing. While sound hadn’t been fully adapted for the screen, yet the use of music helps create a suspenseful mood to the scenes and while the quick movement at times can hard to follow the use of wide angles really helps better capture what takes place in a scene that the Great Train Robbery became to a famous typical Western Film. 

 Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest films ever made. It made cinematic advancements not only with the technology used but in the methods employed on the screen to tell the fictional biopic of Newspaper Tycoon Charles Foster Kane. The story has characters recalling the story’s about Kane during different parts of his life. While Flash Backs wasn’t a foreign idea, they were first employed in D.W. Griffith’s The Greaser’s Gauntlet in 1908 while originally being called a Switchback. This was the first-time audiences ever saw a character truly at different parts of their lives and ages. Welles worked with Cinematographer Gregg Toland making sure every shot was meticulously planned. Welles and Toland worked so closely together that both their names are on the same title card in the credits. Orson Welles was considered one of the cinema’s greatest directors because he had the vision to do something different and the talent to inspire collaborators to experiment and help him realize that vision.

 Orson Welles also focused on editing like Porter. Not only for the editing, after thirty years later Welles made up new techniques. The one of famous thing is “Switchback”. Nowadays switchback is called by  flashback. He was the first director using switchback in the movie. Switchback is way to show recalling past memories in the present time or going back to the past to explain what happened in the past. The other technique he used as first is Parallel Editing. Parallel editing is a technique to show two different situations happened in the same time but in different locations. This is called by cross-cutting, too. Parallel Editing used many time in war films. With the development of new lenses Toland was able use a method called Deep Focus which allowed images to have a greater depth of filed. Deep Focus would become the standard in filmmaking for many years. This allowed viewers to focus in where ever they wanted on screen since the entire image was in focus and with the use of long takes Welles payed homage to Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion 1937 giving scenes a more lifelike approach. Toland created layers in a scene with the use of wide angle lenses the camera, props and actors were meticulously placed creating mise en scène. The method of Unlimited Depth created by The Smooth Camera pans that took place creating an Unlimited Depth of Field for Kane’s world are similar to those of Edwin S. Porter’s 1903’s The Great Train Robbery allowing for the world to become believable. Welles and Toland created a believable celebration of life News Reel based on Welles experience on RKO’s adaptation of H. G. Welles 1987 War of the Worlds where it was said that people actually believe that Martians had invaded earth. Wells employed multiple techniques like speeding up and slowing down footage to show the use of older cameras during the beginning of his life, while scratching the film to make it look old and worn out while choosing a narrator that had a similar sound voice that viewers were used to all while shooting footage handheld to give footage a realistic feel. The use of sound was utilized to better help make cuts between scenes as well as cut together as well as understanding the importance of using sound to help introduce characters into a scene having sound be lower and higher at times. Toland’s camera work is similar to that of German Expressionism having hard slanted shadows present as Kane grows old. Eastman Kodak had released Color Film Stock in the year 1941. However, Welles chose black and white because it allowed the hard shadows to leave a larger impact as well as help enhance the mood created. The Cinematic advancement’s Orson Welles and Gregg Toland created helped make Citizen Kane an innovative film for the 1940’s creating methods that are still being used today.

 The similarities between The Great Train Robbery and Citizen Kane is many of scenes are the two movies that are filled with groups. They still contain many of the same techniques and methods. As I said, Orson are very focused on group scenes, he avoided to put the single main character in a scene under deep focus, there are more than two people in the most of the movie. The Great Train Robbery was also very similar with The Citizen Kane in group scenes shooting scale. They all been well editing in expressing compactness and straightforward narrative methods. While Cameras still didn’t have the best depth of field, Deep Focus can be seen in the earliest of films when looking at The Great Train Robbery and Citizen Kane the scenes are stagnant at times while actions or dialogue takes place allowing you as a viewer to look around in the frame. While at the beginning or end of a clip a pan takes place immersing you back into the unlimited depth of field Porter utilized in The Great Train Robbery. While Citizen Kane takes a linear approach to editing even with the use of flashbacks and time jumps. Porter uses the parallel editing to show different locations however both films seem to be preferred a cut over a fade. A small amount of special effects takes places in both films. Most of the figures seemed like a silhouette in the dark and the huge white smog made contrasting with figures. 

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 Welles uses trick photography to create Xanadu on the shadowy hill top as well as other shots from the News Reel Montage. While Porter uses fake pistols to create a hostile yet thrilling atmosphere during the shoot outs on horseback as well as during the train car scene with the passengers on the tracks. While the addition of sound hadn’t of been solidified in cinema yet both films have scores that match each other’s grand nature. I think that Edwin S. Porter really built the foundation for the begging of Dynamic Camera Angles taking audiences out of a studio and into the real world which was quite rare at the time. When you watch Citizen Kane you can see the low ceilings this creates a more realistic feel since you can see the top unlike in an open studio where you would see a light or would see the same shot from a more horizontal angle. This ultimately immerses you further into Orson Welles Citizen Kane. The two contrasting scenes are made up tenser and conflict. 

 The Great Train Robbery came out 10 years early than Citizen Kane. As the later technologies, Citizen Kane has more clear views. Lightings seemed also more interesting and more narrative. Porter and Welles both are used a short cut and the scenes changed very fast. The two directors are famous as concentrating to editing. However, The Great train Robbery was the sign as Western Films, it has more rhythmical editing as Porter used montage and cutting techniques in the movie. Sometimes, scenes are changing fast and repeated as rhythms and increased tenses. Comparing with The great train robbery, Citizen Kane fully focused on whole, wide view scenes, With the climax of the character Kane’s life, the clear rhythm, sometimes screen shows whole towns and people seem looked tiny. However, Porter very focused on parallel editing, minor camera movement, multiple camera angles, composite editing, jump-cuts and cross-cuts, location shooting, less stage-bound camera placement and unusual point of view. Welles used many parallel editing, close-ups, strange camera angles, flash-forward, backlighting, and high contrast lighting, deep focus, “Xanadu miniature” with dissolves, fades, superimpositions, low angle with the view of the ceiling to show stories. 

 Both directors have common ground. They have been made and started new techniques in cinema, or developing. Porter had been pioneered many techniques, such as Parallel editing and montage. Eisenstein is famous as switchback, complicated plots, opposing angles, and deep focus. Many people described Porter had focused on more narrative. He also made several Western movies. However, I thought he had enough artist aspects himself. I had any expectations from the early cinemas, and I did not know about anything, but I got unexpected many influences through his movies. Lighting, compositions, and angles like cubism were very interesting for me. Both movies affect to me getting out prejudice about silent movie must be boring. In my personal opinion, I felt the two films were very similar, and both films made by one person. Fast and repeated editing and abstracted wide shots from far away, most of the scenes seemed very similar, there is only time of decade between the two of film. Not only the movies, I thought the two directors were the same as deserved applause for lead developing early cinema. 

Works Cited

  • “Citizen Kane.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Jan. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_Kane.
  • “The Great Train Robbery (1903 Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Jan. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Train_Robbery_(1903_film).
  • Porter, Edwin S, director. Life of an American Fireman. Edison Company, 1903.
  • Porter, Edwin S., director. The Great Train Robbery. Edison Manufacturing Co., 1903.
  • Welles, Orson., director. Citizen Kane. RKO Pictures, 1941.


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