Life of an American Fireman (1903)
Director: George S. Fleming, Edwin S. Porter
Cast: Vivian Vaughan, Arthur White, James H. White
Synopsis: Porter’s continuity editing links several shots to form a narrative of firemen responding to a house fire.
Porter’s ambitious Life of an American Fireman, an early example of narrative story-telling, must have been exciting back in 1903, but today, used as we are to rapid-fire editing designed to achieve a sense of excitement and urgency, the film serves more as a curio than anything else. That’s not to say it’s without charm. The choice of camera position to capture the racing horse-drawn fire engines is a good one, but after the fourth or fifth chariot has passed the camera it gets a bit dull. Despite this, Life of an American Fireman is, for its time, both groundbreaking and sophisticated. It holds an important position in the history of cinema and is therefore worth a look by anyone interested in the history of film. And it’s still more original than Ladder 49…
(Reviewed 25th June 2009)