Saturday, September 11, 2010

Capsule Review: Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919)

While the level of cinematic innovoatin apparent in The Birth Of A Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) may not be as evident here, D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms is a much more coherent and attractive ode to tolerance, even if it's without the epic trappings of his earlier films. The film, based on a short story called "The Chink and the Child by Thomas Burke, must necessarily be viewed in the context of the time it was made - Caucasian actors play all of the lead Chinese parts (and not very convincingly) and racial slurs are tossed around quite casually - but it's gentle ode to tenderness and peace, and isn't afraid to make Americans look barbaric. The story follows the waif Lucy (the luminous Lillian Gish), a young girl continually abused by her brutish boxer father until, after a particularly violent beating, she collapsed on the floor of a shop owned by Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess) who nurses her back to health. Compared to the huge period sets of Intolerance, Broken Blossoms focuses on a handful of locations (shot on a stage compared to the location shooting of Griffith's earlier films), but it's still clearly a Griffith film - employing cross-cutting, period detail, and stylish cinematography by Billy Bitzer.

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