By: Eric J. Grimm
1916. Directed by DW Griffith. Starring Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, and Constance Talmadge
DW Griffith’s silent film epic, Intolerance, is playing at Film Forum until August 20. A film whose ambition is awe-inspiring even by today’s standards, Intolerance is required viewing for those interested in the genesis of adventurous film editing and parallel storylines.
Made partially as a response to accusations of racism toward Griffith’s previous film, The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance follows four stories of persecution throughout the ages. Griffith remarkably balances visual grandeur with powerful storytelling.
Of the film’s four plots, two are particularly compelling. The fall of Babylon is documented with then unprecedented sweeping shots and enormous replicas of the doomed city. At the other end of time, a young woman below the poverty line finds herself the victim of capitalism and moral policing. The Babylon scenes are still breathtaking nearly 100 years later. The mobile shots, in particular, floored me. The 20th century scenes were the most watchable from a story perspective. Mae Marsh is heartbreaking as The Dear One, whose life becomes more and more unbearable even as she holds her chin up.
The film’s new restoration makes a big screen viewing a must. The dyed film frames are clear and sharp, allowing you to lose yourself in the stories.
Griffith’s sense of spectacle outshines most contemporary filmmakers’, though it has undoubtedly inspired them. While the film can be both heavy in its condemnation of the “cruel hand of intolerance” and troubling in how it deals with minority representation, it is a landmark film accomplishment that movie buffs should catch while it is on beautiful display at Film Forum.