Defining Moments of Cinema Pre 1930s – The Originals That Inspired

1. ‘The Jazz Singer’ – Alan Crosland (1927)

This 1927 American Musical produced by Warner Brothers, is famous for being the first talking full-length feature film using the Vitaphone method to give it sound. The star of the film (Al Jolson) performs six songs throughout the movie, as he plays a Jazz Singer struggling between conflict with his father and perusing his dream of becoming famous and successful.

This classic film goes down in history to be the first ever film produced that included synchronized dialogue, with Al Jolson’s first line to be ‘You ain’t heard nothin’ yet’, which left audiences in the 1920s very much in awe. This film is a great defining moment of pre 1930s cinema.

2. ‘The Great Train Robbery’ – Edwin S. Porter (1903)

The Great Train Robbery is a very important as well as famous milestone in film history; being that it was the first ever narrative film made. This classic Western movie was extremely popular with audiences at the time with its introduction of many new editing techniques. These included filming the movie in several different geographical locations, camera panning, and crosscutting.

Inspired by Scott Marvels Play ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1896), the short film which ran for approximately 10 minutes,  inspired many film producers in the years following its release.

3. ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ – Dziga Vertov (1929)

‘Man With a Movie Camera’ was an experimental film directed by Dziga Vertov, and focused on portraying the reality of society during the time of the Soviet Union. The significance of this film was that it was shot in a documentary style, with the intention of representing images of the real world through a cinematic representation. The film rejected such conventions as the use of plots, scenario and props which very much separated itself from other successful films at the time.

The time-frame of the movie follows the life of a city from early morning till the late evening, capturing moments of every day procedures of the people, whilst the music of the Alloy Orchestra plays over it; creating a rhythm to the film instead of a narrative (which the director intended to do).

4. ‘A Trip To The Moon’ (Le Voyage Dans La Lune) – George Melies (1902)

In 1902, French Director and master magician George Melies created ‘A Trip to the Moon’ (Le Voyages dans la Lune), which stands to be the first science-fiction film ever made. This film was one of the originals to create a narrative, as well as one of the earliest examples of a film which made use of special effects.

This epic and imaginative film, which had an astonishing budget for its time (10,000 francs) became hugely successful, and has inspired some modern-day film makers. This included the production of HBO‘s 12 part docudrama mini-series From The Earth To The Moon (1998) based on the making of the film with actor Tom Hanks, as well as inspiring the production of the Apollo films.

5. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Robert Wiene (1920)

This fascinating fantasy film based in post World War One Germany, has been recorded as the first true horror film. The significant feature about the film at the time was it’s intriguing use of distorted landscape; with jagged scenery, tilted walls and windows, and absurd diagonally angled staircases. Earlier cinematic pieces had focused more on portraying a sense of reality through film, and the way in which this film opposed this is what has made it so outstanding in film history.

The film contains many metaphors relating to the state of conflict which Germany was in during this post-war period, and is open to much interpretation. The distorted imagery symbolises the fragmentation of Germany at the time, and the films picture has inspired many modern day films such as Edward Scissor Hands starring Johnny Depp, which contains very out-of-the-ordinary imagery.


  1. Angel Fire. 2007. The Jazz Singer. [online] [Accessed 4 March 2013]
  2. Filmsite, 2012. The Great Train Robbery. [online] [Accessed 3 March 2013]
  3. Filmsite, 2012. Voyage Dans la Lune. [online] [Accessed 4 March 2013]
  4. Listal. 2011. 20 Greatest Films from the 20s. [online] Accessed 5 March 2013]
  5. Nthuleen. 1994. Expression and Character in the Movements of Cesare. [online] [Accessed 5 March 2013]
  6. Silents are Golden. 2001. Man With a Movie Camera [online] [Accessed 6 March 2013]
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