My trite answer was Louis Le Prince on that bridge in Leeds in 1888 filming a horse and cart because without that we have nothing. That’s the first shot. Then there’s the train coming into the station by the Lumiere Brothers, in 1895. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch that, I well up. Because without that I wouldn’t have a job, my children wouldn’t eat.
But to be serious it is about storytelling, so it’s Georges Melies’ ‘A Trip to the Moon’. It’s 1902 and it’s quite a lengthy piece of work, it’s got a narrative to it, it’s colour, it’s got all the things that are going to come later on in a more sophisticated manner, possibly. There’s just that moment where the train takes off and then eventually goes through the eye of the moon. That’s Melies saying, cinema is a magic ride. That’s what’s at the heart of cinema, sitting in a darkened room going ‘wow’. And that’s the first one for me, that’s the first big ‘wow’ moment.
Joint with that, at almost exactly the same time, is ‘The Great Train Robbery’, by Edwin S. Porter in 1903. There is the idea that you need characters to engage the audience and you need to move them around the screen. And that shot at the end where the guy just fires his gun. That’s almost the first recognisable character in cinema – it’s not a long shot, he’s looking at the camera. And then fast forward to Joe Pesci doing it all those years later in ‘Goodfellas’.
Has any art form moved that fast? From making it work, to ‘here comes the train’, to ‘I’m going to make a film about a bunch of people on a train going to the moon’.