VideoVista
-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-


 Join our email list for chat about movies
 - send a blank message to CineMania

Blackstar
In Association with Amazon.co.uk  
 
In Association with Amazon.com
The Zone SF
Girls with Guns
VideoVista is published by PIGASUS Press

copyright © 2001 - 2002 VideoVista

The Birth Of A Nation
190 minutes (15) 1915

Intolerance
177 minutes (PG) 1916

Way Down East
145 minutes (U) 1920

Broken Blossoms
88 minutes (PG) 1919

Abraham Lincoln
94 minutes (PG) 1930


See also:
Russia In Revolt:
Myths, Mystery And Manipulation
- silent movies by Sergei Eisenstein

 
 
July 2002                                                         SITE MAP   SEARCH
D.W. Griffith: Monumental Epics
casts: Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Mae Marsh, Constance Talmadge, and Walter Huston

director: D.W. Griffith

695 minutes (PG) 1915-30
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Peter Schilling
David Wark Griffith (1875-1948) was arguably America's greatest maker of films, and this DVD package of five titles includes his two greatest works. Griffith was a pioneer of cinema and, along with his European contemporaries, was responsible for developing much of the visual language of film narrative that we may take for granted today. Griffith was among the innovators that devised creative editing to generate tension within a story, switching of locations - geographical, temporal - for contrast and analogy, and casting fresh talent not bound by the old traditions of stage performance. The films in this set have all been digitally re-mastered and fully restored for DVD using the best archive materials available.

The Birth Of A Nation, adapted from The Clansman by white supremacist Thomas Dixon, was Griffith's feature-length debut. It tells of two families, the Camerons and the Stonemans, whose sons take opposite sides in the Civil War. The uneven balance of domestic melodrama and national epic is more ideological statement than history lesson, and Griffith's landmark film sparked a controversy over its abhorrent racism that still burns today, making it the most successful and popular silent movie ever. It has proved remarkably influential, too. A scene with a white girl jumping off a cliff to avoid a Negro rapist was re-enacted, albeit somewhat differently, in Michael Mann's The Last Of The Mohicans (1992), while the helicopter assault in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), like the gathering of this film's Ku Klux Klan horsemen, is accompanied by Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries.
   DVD extras: recent making-of documentary (24 minutes), addresses the film's historical inaccuracies, and includes some intriguing pre-production details and rehearsal footage, plus scene finder in 36 chapters.

"Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking -" Grandly ambitious, but unable to avoid its gross pretensions and sentimentality, Intolerance tells four interlinked stories (united by the above Walt Whitman quote), of "Love's struggle throughout the Ages" with dramas of inhumanity, and hate versus charity, in settings that weave from modern America (The Mother And The Law), 16th century France (The Medieval Story), biblical Judea (The Nazarene), and ancient times (The Fall Of Babylon). Prominent, and by far the most spectacular, of these lyrical morality plays is the Babylonian strand. The revels of Belshazzar's magnificent feast were filmed on a gigantic mile-deep set, approximately 120 feet high, and have retained the power to amaze us. Despite the film's epic nature, and its reputation as an enduring classic, Griffith's follow-up to Birth Of A Nation seems too artificial now in its thematic construction to enjoy as anything other than an old cinematic curiosity. And so, with this in mind, it's interesting to find that DVD indexing of 62 chapters enables the whole film to be played as Griffith intended, but also untangled into its four distinctive stories, which may now be played separately for the first time ever, via the special menu option. Although this subverts the snowballing impact of the simultaneous climaxes, it certainly does make for some fascinating re-viewing.
   Disc extras: scrolling text biography of the director.

After the above strikingly impressive films, Broken Blossoms offers a quieter, character driven tragedy. A disillusioned Buddhist missionary finds his place in modern London as a shopkeeper, and tries to help young waif Lucy (Lillian Gish, Griffith's favourite actress), regularly beaten by her stepfather, a racist boxer...
   The film depicts a cruel and violent world only made bearable by the sensitive performances of Gish, and Richard Barthelmess as the oriental (billed as 'yellow man').
   DVD extras: text biographies of young star Gish, and director Griffith.

Although based on a stage play full of Victorian melodrama, Way Down East is one of Griffith's most accomplished works - a confidently produced picture about betrayal and heartbreak, with high suspense during the finale's rescue sequence.
   'A simple story of plain people' was Griffith's own description, but this is so much more than vapid soap opera. Lillian Gish plays the poor girl Anna, seduced by her playboy cousin, abandoned when she becomes pregnant, and then thrown out by wealthy relatives. She travels to find work, and nearly comes to grief on a frozen river when the ice breaks...
   Not satisfied with fake snow in the winter scenes, Griffith waited for the seasons to change so he could shoot on real ice floes. The whole cast and crew suffered, yet the resultant footage looks amazing, and was surely worth the trouble.
   DVD extras: scrolling introductory text.

Abraham Lincoln was a safe project for Griffith's first sound picture. It's one of only two cradle-to-grave movie biographies of the greatest American President, here played with measured assurance by Canadian-born Walter Huston. As with Birth Of A Nation, Griffith's film reconstructs Lincoln's assassination in 1865 (at the Ford Theatre by demented actor John Wilkes Booth), and it's interesting to be able to compare both screen versions of this event. As the only proper sound film in this boxset, Abraham Lincoln is available to buy separately.
   DVD extras: expert commentary track by Russell Cawthorne.

NEXT

copyright © 2001 - 2002 VideoVista