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Saturday, October 12, 2013

D.W. Griffith classics Birth of A Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), Way Down East (1920)






The Birth of a Nation (originally called The Clansman) is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and based on the novel and play The Clansman, both by Thomas Dixon, Jr. Griffith co-wrote the screenplay (with Frank E. Woods), and co-produced the film (with Harry Aitken). It was released on February 8, 1915. The film was originally presented in two parts, separated by an intermission.
The film chronicles the relationship of two families in Civil War and Reconstruction-era America: the pro-Union Northern Stonemans and the pro-Confederacy Southern Camerons over the course of several years. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth is dramatized.

The film was a commercial success, but was highly controversial owing to its portrayal of African-American men (played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women, and the portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan (whose original founding is dramatized) as a heroic force.

There were widespread protests against The Birth of a Nation, and it was banned in several cities. The outcry of racism was so great that Griffith was inspired to produce Intolerance the following year.

The film is also credited as one of the events that inspired the formation of the "second era" Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in the same year. The Birth of a Nation was used as a recruiting tool for the KKK.

Under President Woodrow Wilson, it was the first motion picture to be shown at the White House.

Despite the film's controversial content, Griffith's innovative film techniques make it one of the most important and influential films in the commercial film industry.


Intolerance is a 1916 American silent film directed by D. W. Griffith and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Silent Era. The three-and-a-half hour epic intercuts four parallel storylines, each separated by several centuries:

A contemporary melodrama of crime and redemption; a Judean story: Christ’s mission and death; a French story: the events surrounding the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572; and a Babylonian story: the fall of the Babylonian Empire to Persia in 539 BC. Each story had its own tint in the original print. The scenes are linked by shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood, rocking a cradle (Lillian Gish)

Intolerance was made partly in response to criticism of Griffith's previous film, The Birth of a Nation (1915), which was attacked by the NAACP and other groups as perpetuating racial stereotypes and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan.


Way Down East is a 1920 American silent romantic drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. It is one of four film adaptations of the melodramatic 19th century play Way Down East by Lottie Blair Parker. There were two earlier silent versions, and one sound version in 1935, starring Henry Fonda.

Griffith's version is particularly remembered for its exciting climax in which Lillian Gish's character is rescued from doom on an icy river. Some sources, quoting newspaper ads of the time, say a sequence was filmed in an early color process, possibly Technicolor or Prizmacolor.


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