Archive for the ‘Mae Marsh’ Category


05 Oct

Intolerance – directed by D. W. Griffith. Epic. Four stories in four historic eras interleave one another. 3 hours 10 minutes with intermission. Color-tinted Black and White. 1916.


Once we get over that, except for the historical figures, none of the main characters have a name, but are called The Belovèd Princess, The Boy, The Dear One, The Musketeer, The Mountain Girl, we are willing to go along for the ride. The ride is given a perpetual flat tire by the gestural style of the performances. “Performance” rather than “acting” is what is on view, and hardly anyone spares us the hysterical gesture of the arms thrown up in the air, at all dances, Bacchanals, battles, and anything involving multitudes.

It is strange that this director, for all he brings to us, and it is plenty, was not able to devise a rubric of acting suitable to filmed melodrama. Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson and Valentino certainly discovered the rubric of film acting for us soon enough, and Lillian Gish may have done so even before that. She is present here, but simply as a woman endlessly rocking a cradle. She never gets out of her chair. Also characteristic of the style is the habit of responding to everything four times when one will do. That is to supply the deficiency of sound. I don’t mean the deficiency of words, for I have never read so many placards in a silent picture. However, both Mae Marsh and Constance Talmadge in close-up are quite good. Griffiths evidently allowed his actresses to do as they pleased, and both of them hop around as though they had St. Vitus Dance. But presently our hearts go out to them.

The four stories also all go off the rails in the theme of Intolerance. We are involved instead in three last minute rescues, two of which fail, I won’t tell you which one doesn’t. We are really involved with 1,2,3 Melodrama, or I should say, 1-10 melodrama since each one is long. The Epic style refers to its length and to the interleaving of the periods. And this eventually has its impact, for Griffiths ends it with the chaos of War – and one was raging (one is always raging) in Europe at the time it was made. The Persian (aka the Iranians) invade Babylon, and one sits there in one’s own time and sees the same.

The version (and there are many) I am speaking of is the new Coen/Thames version, with the new score by Carl Davis. There are a number of reasons to see it but one of them is the siege of Babylon. It’s one of the greatest passages ever filmed. It goes on for a good while. It takes place in sets the size of which has perhaps never been matched, with forces that have never been so numerous again. The sets have not dated in their impressiveness. The costumes are so detailed one cannot quite see them, and there are thousands and they are sensational. The expense of the wigs for the men would pay for a modern epic.

But the real reasons to see it are to witness Griffith’s sense of spectacle, which is infallible. And his placement of camera, which is beautiful and gripping – Billy Bitzer filmed it.  And finally to be present at the display of the imagination of Griffith, which seems ceaseless, overwhelming, superabundant. One goes to such films as one goes to visit a pharaoh’s tomb, for its historic curiosity and impressiveness, not for its modern application or vivacity. In this case, however, the last two pertain. I saw it in a picture palace, and that is the place to see it, so catch or schedule it as soon as you can. The picture palace at my matinée was well attended. Join them.


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