Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Intolerance, 1916

Actually, it's Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages, but I thought that the single word looked better for the title of this post.  This is my inaugural blog post, so I must keep it looking snappy, eh?

This silent film is my initial installment of the American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Movies tenth anniversary edition.  I'm planning to watch all 100 movies over the course of my spring semester (about four months).

My first remark on this film is that it's BIG.  It is big in every way that a movie can be.  The sets were huge, the cast was huge, it was the most expensive film of its day, the ambition was gigantic, and it was really, really long.  3.25 hours, roughly.  But to watch this movie and consider the technical limitations of the era in which it was made, it's...  well its...

In fact big hardly describes it.  As I read about this movie one word repeatedly comes up that I feel is completely fitting when referring to anything about this film: colossal.  The only movie at this time which could possibly compare to Intolerance is 1915's Birth of a Nation, which, incidentally, was also directed by D. W. Griffith and is, too, regarded as one of the most important films of the silent era.

Incidentally, Birth of a Nation had a considerable influence on Griffith making Intolerance.  It would seem as though Griffith felt the need for a little redemption after many forward thinking folks took offense to the barbaric depictions of people of color in Birth of a Nation, so he modified a working script about love in the face of intolerance to include three more parallel stories that take place across three millennia.

What was made out of that script was a movie which displayed the power of the narrative, perhaps more than any movie before it.  For the four stories we have one set in modern times (turn of the century United States), one set in the time of the Huguenots rebellion in France (16th century), ancient Babylon, and the story of Jesus Christ.  The four narratives intermingle with often similar story lines and themes that are given greater meaning by the cutting from one scene to another.  Often times used as a segway between the different story lines is an image representing eternal motherhood, reinforcing that the themes present transcend the periods in the film and are, in fact, timeless lessons.  

In short, this may have been one of the first films to be more than a story.  It told about man's arrogance and our inability to empathize with people's situations when we cannot understand them, and that it's often easier to attach stereotypes to those on hard times.  Even more, this film shows mankind's ability to persevere through such intolerance and love one another.  

Anyone who cares about film history should watch this at least once.

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