Train Scene from the General

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In the beginning of the clip from The General, the use of costume and camera position helps to clearly introduce and identify the characters of the film. The clip opens with a medium close up shot of the protagonist Johnnie Gray as he looks into the distance, showing his importance in the film and directing the audience’s view towards the other characters of the film (General Thatcher and the ten men) respectively. A few of these men first appear in a long shot, hammering the top of the train. This builds their characters as bad guys. As more of these men are introduced, the use of props –dark colored hats and guns, help to establish them as a group and further emphasize the fact that they are there for destruction. In addition, they appear mostly in long shots, showing their relative insignificance in comparison to the protagonist Johnnie.

In the next scenes, the audience is brought to focus on Johnnie by the camera positioning and blocking as he loads the cannon several times. While Johnnie loads the cannon, the use of multiple tracking shots of him allows the effect of natural interaction, whereby the audience gets a sense as though they are physically present with the protagonist. The medium close up tracking shots of Johnnie further emphasizes his importance in comparison to the bad guys and suggests that the filmmaker is beckoning the audience to be on Johnnie’s side – suggesting a positive outcome for Johnnie’s mission to stop the bad guys’ destructive actions. Moreover, Johnny’s lively movements that lead the camera back and forth as he prepares the cannon to fire, and the fast pace background as the train moves forward gives a sense that he is running out of time, establishing a tense atmosphere. Subsequently, this provokes the audience’s anticipation to escape the upcoming danger with the protagonist.

Johnnie’s struggle to run away from the cannon ball is shown to and shared by the audience through the shifts in camera position and the use of...
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