”Briefly stated, the theme of Intolerance is the emotional basis of history – or more specifically, intolerance is the cause of wars and is a prime mover of the World in all ages.”
This ambitious theme D. W. Griffith brought to the screen in the most immense film of all time, through the interaction of four separate stories, each illustrating his central argument. The four stories are: the Judaean Story, depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, particularly the conflicts with the Pharisees; The Medieval Story in 16th century France and chronicling the struggles between Catholic and Huguenots; the story of the Fall of Babylon and a Modern Story dramatising the conflict between capital and labour in contemporary (1916) America.
Intolerance is chiefly remembered for its astounding spectacle scenes and by film historians, for its use of practically all the technical devices which have come into standard use. Besides this, however, it contains in the Modern Story, one of Griffith’s most passionately felt dramatic works.
Griffith’s concepts profoundly affected the development of the European as well as the American film. Leading European directors have freely admitted their debt to Griffith, and Dreyer, Eisenstein and Pudovkin are but three of many international figures who have publicly acknowledged him as a master of the film medium. Perhaps Pudovkin paid the simplest tribute by stating that his interest in films began when he first saw Intolerance. —Melbourne International Film Festival
Griffith was born in rural Kentucky to Jacob “Roaring Jake” Griffith, a Confederate Army colonel and Civil War hero. He grew up with his father’s romantic war stories and melodramatic nineteenth century literature that were to eventually mold his black-and-white view of human existence and history. In 1897, Griffith set out to pursue a career both acting and writing for the theater but for the most part was unsuccessful. Reluctantly, he agreed to act in the new motion picture medium for Edwin S. Porter at the Edison Company. Griffith was eventually offered a job at the financially struggling American Mutoscope & Biograph [us] where he directed over 450 short films, experimenting with the story-telling techniques he would later perfect in his epic The Birth of a Nation (1915). Griffith and his personal cinematographer G.W. Bitzer collaborated to create and perfect such cinematic devices as the flashback, the iris shot, the mask, and crosscutting. In the years following Birth… read more
The most ambitious undertaking in film history...and it works. It's the best I've seen from Griffith. That being said, a little past the midway point, i did begin to wonder if things were going to be allowed to wander too much - but that last 45 minutes or so is a whirlwind, with rapid cuts between the four stories that serve to heighten the drama of all four strands. The editing and camera work are spectacular.
This is a flawed film, a very flawed film. Only the Modern Day story holds this film together; the Christ story is very stilted, the Babylon story is just a show-off for amazing set design and some… read review