Sunday, September 5, 2010

Capsule Review: Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)

Unbelievably epic, D.W. Griffith's Intolerance was originally concieved to be a response to the - quite legitimate - complaints that his Birth of a Nation promoted racism in demonstrating the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Griffith devised a film that covered almost the entirety of human history, demonstrating repeated (and reflective) acts of intolerance in four different eras: The Modern Story (A.D. 1914), The Judean Story (A.D. 27), The French Story (A.D. 1572) and the Babylonian Story (539 B.C.). Griffith cuts between each story rapidly during the over three hours of running time, featuring some astounding set pieces - particularly in the jaw-dropping Babylonion sequences - and some quite risque examples of violence and nudity. Frequently Griffith cuts to the lovely Lillian Gish as the symbol of eternal motherhood forever rocking the cradle of life. Full of cinematic invention (particularly in its non-linear storytelling) and featuring a scope (and cost) that was the biggest of the time period, Intolerance may not always hold together but remains an astounding achievement. Many versions of the film exist, but Kino's release trumps the muddy public domain prints.

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