Sunday, 28 September 2008

Intolerance (1916)

A few weeks ago I received this "gentle reminder" (their words, not mine) from my DVD rental service:

One of the best things about XXXXX is the 'no late fees' promise, which gives you the freedom to watch what you want, when you want - you're in charge of your viewing.

That said, we've noticed that recently you've been holding on to 'Intolerance' for a while. We thought we'd give you a gentle reminder to send 'Intolerance' back, just in case you'd forgotten to watch it, put it under a pile of magazines or something like that! You may even have gone off the idea of watching it right now - why not send it back and add it to your rental list later?

Of course it's completely up to you, but we also don't want you to miss out on our other top titles.
Happy viewing,
The XXXXX Team
Lovely isn't it? Basically, it's no late fees, but we'll annoy till you return the film. Of course, in all fairness I had the film since February - I must say I am usually quite quick at turning over the DVDs. This was an exception. Why? Because I didn't feel brave enough for 3h of epic silent movie, especially not after Birth of a Nation. Perhaps this was the encouragement that I needed because through the last week and a bit I saw the film (in four installments, since my patience is limited).

“Intolerance” tells four stories in parallel, united by the common theme of, you guessed it, intolerance. The two main stories are set in contemporary America and the final days before the fall of Babylon. The smaller ones are the story of Christ (with a few gaps, making me wonder if it wasn’t partially cut) and one set in the time of St. Bartholomew’s Massacre in Paris. The “intolerance” here is not only a religious intolerance, but a social one as well, of those who need to be protected from themselves.

According to some internet reading, Griffith decided to move forward with this project as a response to the attacks he suffered from his controversial “Birth of a Nation” (thus, the conclusion should be one needs to tolerate other’s racists views?). But all in all is a much better film. Of course, it’s still anti-semitic (most of the villains seemed archetypal Jewish to me…), homophobic (the villainous brother to the King of France is described as “effeminate”) and to a degree misogynist (I can’t recall the comment on screen correctly but it goes something like women who can’t attract men turn to social reformation), but not much more than other works from the period.

The film itself is rather interesting, actually very good at times, especially in the beginning and the ending. The final sequences with the conclusions of the stories approaching their climax are very good indeed and just at the right pace. The film is certainly one of the landmarks in storytelling in motion pictures. I read somewhere that was the birth of film editing. If this isn’t true it’s a good imitation. Its influence can be seen today still in films like “Rendition” with its multiple stories that come together in the end. Moreover, it is also compelling storytelling, managing very well to tell four distinct stories at the same time, with a far more appealing subject matter than its predecessor (and I am sorry to keep going on with the comparisons here, but it is kind of inevitable).

Of course there are problems other than the ones I already mentioned – I am undecided to which of the two leading ladies was more annoying: Mae Marsh as “The Dear One” (the name alone makes me sick) in the modern story or Constance Talmadge in the Babylonian one. Neither can act, and I have grown to hate Mae Marsh after having to sit to her behaving like an idiot in “Birth of a Nation”.

Finally there was something rather curious in the film. Most films set prior to 1918 are period pieces. But here that’s not the case, and these people on the screen were wearing the same (almost victorian) clothes, as the people sitting in the stalls. And here, more than elsewhere was it visible that the 20th Century started with WWI.

1 comment:

Deda said...

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