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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Silent Film Marathon: Film 3

For the third part of this marathon I'll be writing about Griffith's follow up to his infamous The Birth of A Nation.
But before I start the review I must mention that I have been unable to see the entire film due to technical difficulties. Basically, I managed to watch about 2 hours and a half of the film, but the remaining 1 hour seems to be corrupted and unwatchable.
So this isn't really a review of the entire film, just some thoughts on what I did see. 

 Even after being slightly disappointed with The Birth of a Nation, I was still looking forward to watching Griffith's next film, which is widely considered to be better than The Birth of A Nation yet is far well known and produced far less money.I was expecting Intolerance to be superior to The Birth Of A Nation, but I was expecting to find it vastly superior in every way imaginable.This film dwarfs The Birth Of A Nation is terms of technical acheivements, narrative quality and compelling drama.
 Intolerance is divided into four separate stories, all of which intertwine throughout the film to form the central theme of the film, which is the continuing struggle between Intolerance and Love.

I really can't say much about the stories, as I didn't see the conclusion to any of them.

The first one is set in modern times (when the film was made, naturally), and tells perhaps the saddest story of them all. This storyline took up much of the run time and I think worked rather like the "main" storyline, from which the others branched off in a way...
This story I found to be the most thought provoking. Some very interesting ideas are displayed here and although it lacks the majestic flair of some of the other stories, this is probably the one that makes the most emotional impact.
The second one is set in Jerusalem and shows Christ working his miracles, but this is the story with the least screen time, and I didn't see the conclusion, even if I'm sure we all know how a story about Christ will end.

From what I saw this is the least developed of the all the stories, it gets little screen time and although I could see it's purpose in the film as a whole, it did feel a nit out of place.

 The third story takes place in France, in 1572. It depicts the events surrounding the infamous St Bartholomée massacre. We see Catherine De Medici and her son the King of France, as well as the rest of the court in a sumptuously designed set.
The costumes and other such accoutrements were very convincing, Griffith actually succeeded in creating a very interesting little period piece with these segments, I was always looking forward to the next piece, but sadly they are rather few and far between as most of the run time is taken up y the first and fourth stories.
The fourth story is set in ancient Babylon, in 539 BC. 
This is by far the most impressive story, and while it is less thought provoking as the first story, it is far more spectacular.
This segment is the most recognised of all the film, in particular the image to the left. For many film buffs, this sums up everything these Silent Epics were about.
But this is by far the most impressive I have seen, if you think the technical acheivements of Griffith's previous film were impressive, then you haven't seen anything until your see Intolerance, one year after Birth of a Nation yet a hundreds times better.

All of these stories were intertwined gracefully and the final result of their combination is "Intolerance", Griffith's masterpiece and a triumph in film making.

The image you see to the left, of a woman rocking a cradle. It is s interspersed throughout the film and serves as a way to link all the stories together as well as providing a general theme to the film.

The film's main theme is that of the constant and everlasting struggle between Intolerance and Love.
It's full name is Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout The Ages, but in the introduction to the film, it is written "A Drama of Comparisons", this is a particularly apt description of the film as  it attempt to get it's message across, not by criticising the modern state of things, but showing how this state has been in various stages throughout history.
I won't go into any details upon my thoughts about this film's story and themes as I have yet to see the conclusion, which for a film of this nature, is of utmost importance.

Instead I will share my thoughts on the technical side of the film.  And there is much to say about the genius with which this film was made.
For a start the choice to have four separate yet parallel narratives was an ingenious one and I think quite an innovative one. Interestingly each narrative is assigned a different shade of colour tint, as you can see in the shots I have posted previously, Black and White for the Modern, Blue for Jesus, Green for French, and Golden Yellow for the Babylonians. These aren't however the only coloured tints, pink and red are also put to use, in different context, Red in the battle scenes and pink in the scenes involving the priestesses. But on a whole the colours aren't strictly assigned to their own function, exceptions are often made when needed and the result is one of the most amazingly tinted Silent films I've ever seen.

The techniques employed to film The Birth of a Nation were considered revolutionary, but now I see them as little more than a small elude to the marvels accomplished in this film.
Take for instance the close up shots such as this one:
 Extremely innovative and although they aren't used as often as they were in later films (such as the German Expressionist films) they can still be very powerful when used well. And Griffith does use them well.

With The Birth of a Nation, Griffith had already started to disacard the feelign of limitation that often came which films of teh time, limited to a small amount of sets, only a couple of different camera angles and a handful of actors. But here he takes it to a whole new level, producing a film that takes place in 4 different countries and 4 different periods with countless extras as well as all the costumes, weapons animals etc that come with it all.

 As I've said before, the most impressive sequences were the ones of the Siege of Babylon, a battle filmed on a scale to rival many CGI battles of recent years.Here are some screenshots and keep in mind that they are all sets:

 This bottom one here is particularly amazing, possibly one of the best shots in the film, I can barely imagine how arduous it must have been to film on such a scale, directing this must have been one of the greatest feats in Cinema, and for that I greatly respect Griffith.

One of the most surprising things about this film as the fact that occasionally, the camera moved, it would swoop forward on a massive crane shot, roll slowly forward on a dolly and more.
Also the editing was crucial to making this film so great, the battle scenes for example would not have worked without it, it is swift and deft cross cutting that brings the film to life and holds one's interest.

These battle scenes were surprisingly violent, decapitations, penetrative wounds and more were clearly shown in a manner that I would never had expected from a film of this time, additionally, several scenes featured women in extremely light and see-through clothes, which was also unexpected from a film of that time. But I suppose it's just another example of how ahead of it's time the film was.

The sets were clearly inspired from the Italian Epic Cabiria, which Griffith openly cited as his main inspiration in the making of this film, but Intolerance actually surpasses Cabiria is many ways, making it not only one of the best Silent films I've seen but one of the best films of any kind.

All in all, Intolerance is a wonderful film that I think everyone should seen. It's message is strong and very relevant, it's storytelling style is innovative and engaging and it's techniques are so innovative that even one not accustomed to Silent films will find much entertainment within.

I only wish I had seen all of it, I'm sure the endign is marvellous and I feel like I am really missing out.
Please excuse this review, it wasn't so much of a review as a few of my general thoughts on the film with lots of pictures in between but it's the best I could do considering I couldn't see the whole film.

Next up is the German Expressionist Classic The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari!

As always all comments are welcome!

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