Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Intolerance (1916)

Happy New Year everyone!  It's time we get back in the swing of things, and what better to start with than one of Griffith's epics?

First, a disclaimer:  I've never seen Birth of a Nation.  Now I know what you're thinking: "Jen, how can you call yourself a film buff - a silent film buff - and still not have this one under your belt?"  My reply would be "My good reader, I don't wear belts." 

*ba-dum ching*

This was my introduction to the world of Griffith, and I enjoyed it for the most part; the main drawback for me was the film's length.  I found myself on the edge of my seat for the Babylonian and Modern Day sequences, but when the French Renaissance sections came on I was - to be blunt - bored out of my skull.  I realize how each part was necessary to tell his story in whole, but I can't help but feel Griffith could've left out the French part entirely and still have had a wonderful film.  Having said that, Intolerance is beautifully shot, with an ageless story to tell, punctuated by Lillian Gish's endless rocking.

I also discovered the revelation that is Mae Marsh.  I have rarely seen - especially in a picture this early on - someone with such natural skill.  She becomes the Dear One: innocently effervescent, then heartrendingly sad; a quiet, gentle soul who becomes the fires of Hell itself when her child is threatened.  Her scenes with Bobby Harron are so frank and intimate you almost forget it's a movie.

Constance Talmadge is the Mountain Girl, and I don't think I've cheered that hard for someone in a long time.  Her tough and spunky portrayal rescues the Babylonian story from being a one-dimensional condemnation of decadence. 

Definitely see this one - it is considered a masterpiece, and for good reason.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy a belt.

I give this one:


whistlingypsy said...

You have written a wonderfully succinct review of the film, given that it is told on a grandly epic scale. I had a similar experience when I attempted to watch the film for the first time, and I am embarrassed to say that I walked out of the theater before the end. I recently re-watched the film when it aired on TCM, and I wish my younger self had been less impatient. I agree with you regarding Mae Marsh and Robert Harron, their natural intimacy and rapport is evidence of the beauty of films from this period. I also agree with you regarding the Babylonian sequence and the role of the Mountain Girl, however, the actress who portrayed her was Constance (Connie) Talmadge and not her elder sister Norma. Thanks again for your review of an excellent film (your rating system of cradles is a poignant touch).

Jump_Raven said...

I thought that Griffith was very bold to take on four parallel story lines, but while the modern day and Babylonian sequences were fleshed out, the other two were barely on screen enough to make them worthwhile.

Make sure the belt leaves enough room for more Griffith and the French Griffith, Abel Gance.

Avalon76 said...

Whoops! Thanks, WG, I'll fix the Talmadge error.

JR, that was just it - the other stories seemed like throwaway insert. *nods*

Claroscureaux said...

I appreciate Griffith's amazing contribution to film history, but so often his dreary sentimentality puts me to sleep.

I really liked Intolerance, though -- mainly because of the performances by Harron, Marsh and of course, Constance Talmadge -- who also plays the part (I think I have the character's name right) of Marguerite de Valois in the Huguenot sequence.

That, and the AMAZING sets.