D.W. Griffith’s film Broken Blossoms frequently ranks highly on top film lists. But I don’t get it. I mean, I can appreciate it, but it is so damn painful to sit through, the intertitles are didactic and often unclear, and the storyline is cheesy, IMHO. Now, of course I can understand that it was an important film at the time and within its context, but other silent films from the same era are way more interesting and way less didactic.
Does anyone else think it’s an overrated bore? Or am I missing something? I realize that D.W. Griffith is an important pioneer of filmmaking, and I recognize his contributions to the craft, but with so many great films afterwards, I can’t see what the big deal is about something like Broken Blossoms.
It’s the simple, naïve yet strong beauty of pure melodrama expressed with the raw yet delicate means of cinema’s second decade.
Lilian Gish plays a child though she is a woman; Richard Barthelmess plays a Chinese man though he is white; his love for her is innocent though it is believed by her father to be sexual; the ending is everything but a happy one. In many ways, it doesn’t fit into the social, narrative, or sexual codes that we, almost a hundred years later, have developped and yet it just as fully human, in ways that are refreshing and awe-inspiring. Close-ups were a brand-new invention at this time, and each one of Lillian Gish is like a painting, like theater, and also completely modern.
Ditto to above (wonder6789).
Good example of a film you really haven’t seen! unless it was at a revival house & new 35mm print. These older films quite often do not translate well on any TV big or small. Need to see a great silent at the show to appreciate what I’m trying to convey. Even titles may be different from print to print.
Well, my complaint is mostly with his overbearing social message. It feels too preachy.
Overbearing social message-D.W. Griffith in a nutshell!
Lillian Gish – Maybe greatest silent film actress
Watch for this one at your local art house and prepare to be amazed
You can say it’s preachy, and it may certainly seem simplistic to our film/media/technique-saturated times.
The anti-racist message was pretty bold for that time.
But you can see it as a beautifully rendered modern fairy tale.
You can admire the performances, and what they convey about how we have changed in a century, yet also how we haven’t.
You can be fascinated by all that this film doesn’t do: all the sophisticated cleverness and technique that wasn’t available yet, and how something authentic and moving is being created despite that, or thanks to that.
Yes, but the anti-racist message somehow feels less genuine, in light of The Birth of a Nation. It feels like Griffith is trying to say, “Look, I’m not so racist after all… Right?”
And I definitely appreciate it for all that it is—Lillian Gish is indeed great—but I just don’t get why it is on so many top lists. I think it’s way overrated. But of course, these are all just opinions.
There was that strange ambivalance with Griffith. Some of his early shorts are strongly pro-American Indian, anti-white.
But “Blossoms” is pure melodrama, a statement about human emotion, the rest is secondary. It’s all about those close-ups.
One of my favorites is Renoir’s “The Little Match Stick Girl”, a less well-known silent era fairy tale. Check it out if you don’t know it. Not preachy and really wonderful.
I love Renoir. I will definitely check it out.
I hope I’m not breaking any unspoken rules by bringing up a year-old thread. But there’s one sequence in Broken Blossoms that I’m not sure how to interpret.
It starts with this 45 sec. long (quite long for this film) shot of Lucy knitting a sock. She puts down the needle and gently strokes the sock. (fig 1).
What is important is that it shows Lucy alone, at home, in her own world. She’s not ecstatically happy, but she is calm and contented, absorbed in her work. No one else is shown so poignantly alone in his own private world! The boxer is only happy when he is fighting, Chinky is only happy when he’s spreading Buddhism. Does this shot suggest to the horror of feminist critics that a woman can be happy at home?
The rest of the sequence concerns with the outside world becoming part of Lucy’s private world as she prepares to go shopping. She reads a letter from her mother mentioning her “weddin” (Fig 2), puts on a hat, a new ribbon (Fig 3), then puts on a smile (!) (Fig 4) and goes outside.
This is more in line with the movie’s main theme: identifying yourself through others. The two main male protagonist are preoccupied with just that. However, only Lucy can be contented with quietly being alone. What do you make of it?