I was introduced to a great site the other day, called framerater, (I am christof on there) which asks you to tick off movies you have seen, from various ‘best’ lists from IMDB and elsewhere. I was quite surprised with how many I had seen.
One of the lists was a 1001 movies you must see, which is ordered chronologically with the oldest films at the start.
The two oldest were filmed in 1902 and 1903, and are well worth watching. Many of the oldest on the list are out of copyright and available on either archive.org and YouTube.
Here is one: The Great Train Robbery, by Edison’s studio.
A couple of things stood out for me, a couple of cinematic conventions, one of which has been retained, and one amended.
Firstly, the convention that if you hit someone on the back of the head with a pistol, they will instantly lose consciousness until someone splashes water in their face. I have no personal experience of being clubbed, but I imagine it is rather difficult to judge a blow so perfectly that you do more than leave a nasty bruise, render someone unconscious, but still stop short of permanent brain damage.
Secondly, how people react to being shot. People seem to die instantly when shot in movies (expect for important characters, who linger quietly, without vomiting or convulsing, until they have said their piece), and indicate that they have been hit by hunching and falling, and remaining still. But in one of these movies, they do not hunch: they all throw their hands vertically into the air as they fall.
Perhaps that is more realistic: heck, in 1903 you might have a people around who could draw upon personal experience of western gunfights. But it looks odd to modern eyes.