Intolerance (film)

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Intolerance
Intolerance (film).jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed byD. W. Griffith
Produced byD. W. Griffith
Written byD.W. Griffith
Hettie Grey Baker
Tod Browning
Anita Loos
Mary H. O'Connor
Frank E. Woods
StarringVera Lewis
Ralph Lewis
Mae Marsh
Robert Harron
Constance Talmadge
Lillian Gish
Josephine Crowell
Margery Wilson
Frank Bennett
Elmer Clifton
Miriam Cooper
Alfred Paget
Music byJoseph Carl Breil
Carl Davis
CinematographyBilly Bitzer
Editing byD. W. Griffith
James Smith
Rose Smith
Distributed byTriangle Distributing Corporation
Release dates
  • September 5, 1916 (1916-09-05)
Running time210 minutes (original version)
197 minutes (most modern cuts)
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent film
English intertitles
Budget$385,907[1]
 
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Intolerance
Intolerance (film).jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed byD. W. Griffith
Produced byD. W. Griffith
Written byD.W. Griffith
Hettie Grey Baker
Tod Browning
Anita Loos
Mary H. O'Connor
Frank E. Woods
StarringVera Lewis
Ralph Lewis
Mae Marsh
Robert Harron
Constance Talmadge
Lillian Gish
Josephine Crowell
Margery Wilson
Frank Bennett
Elmer Clifton
Miriam Cooper
Alfred Paget
Music byJoseph Carl Breil
Carl Davis
CinematographyBilly Bitzer
Editing byD. W. Griffith
James Smith
Rose Smith
Distributed byTriangle Distributing Corporation
Release dates
  • September 5, 1916 (1916-09-05)
Running time210 minutes (original version)
197 minutes (most modern cuts)
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent film
English intertitles
Budget$385,907[1]

Intolerance is a 1916 American silent film directed by D. W. Griffith and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Silent Era.[2] The three-and-a-half hour epic intercuts four parallel storylines, each separated by several centuries: (1) A contemporary melodrama of crime and redemption; (2) a Judean story: Christ’s mission and death; (3) a French story: the events surrounding the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572; and (4) a Babylonian story: the fall of the Babylonian Empire to Persia in 539 BC. Each story had its own tint in the original print.[2] The scenes are linked by shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood, rocking a cradle.[2]

Intolerance was made partly in response to criticism of Griffith's previous film, The Birth of a Nation (1915),[3] which was attacked by the NAACP and other groups as perpetuating racial stereotypes and glorifying the Ku Klux Klan.[4]

Storylines[edit]

Lillian Gish as "Eternal Motherhood"

This complex film consists of four distinct, but parallel, stories—intercut with increasing frequency as the film builds to a climax—that demonstrate mankind's persistent intolerance throughout the ages. The film sets up moral and psychological connections among the different stories. The timeline covers approximately 2,500 years:

  1. The ancient "Babylonian" story (539 BC) depicts the conflict between Prince Belshazzar of Babylon and Cyrus the Great of Persia. The fall of Babylon is a result of intolerance arising from a conflict between devotees of two rival Babylonian gods—Bel-Marduk and Ishtar.
  2. The Biblical "Judean" story (c. 27 AD) recounts how—after the Wedding at Cana and the Woman Taken in Adultery—intolerance led to the Crucifixion of Jesus. This sequence is the shortest of the four.
  3. The Renaissance "French" story (1572) tells of the religious intolerance that led to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestant Huguenots by Catholic royals.
  4. The American "Modern" story (c. 1914) demonstrates how crime, moral puritanism, and conflicts between ruthless capitalists and striking workers help ruin the lives of marginal Americans. To get more money for his spinster sister's charities, a mill owner orders a 10% pay cut on his workers' wages. A workers strike is crushed and The Boy and The Dear One make their way to another city; she lives in poverty and he turns to crime; after they marry he tries to break free of crime but is framed for theft by his ex boss. While he is in prison, his wife must endure their child being taken away by the same "moral uplift society" that instigated the strike. Upon his release from prison, he discovers his ex-boss attempting to rape his wife. A struggle begins and in the confusion the girlfriend of the boss shoots and kills the boss. She escapes and The Boy is convicted and sentenced to the gallows. A kindly policeman helps The Dear One find the real killer and together they try to reach the Governor in time so her reformed husband won't be hanged.

Breaks between the differing time-periods are marked by the symbolic image of a mother rocking a cradle, representing the passing of generations. One of the unusual characteristics of the film is that many of the characters don't have names. Griffith wished them to be emblematic of human types. Thus, the central female character in the modern story is called The Dear One. Her young husband is called The Boy, and the leader of the local Mafia is called The Musketeer of the Slums. Critics and film theorists indicate these names show Griffith's sentimentalism, which was already hinted at in The Birth of a Nation, with names such as The Little Colonel.

Cast[edit]

In order of appearance:

Production[edit]

Belshazzar's feast in the central courtyard of Babylon from Intolerance.
Left to right: D. W. Griffith, Billy Bitzer (behind the Pathé camera), Dorothy Gish watching from behind Bitzer, Karl Brown keeping script, and Mariam Cooper in profile, in a production still for Intolerance.

Intolerance was a colossal undertaking featuring monumental sets, lavish period costumes, and more than 3,000 extras. Griffith began shooting the film with the Modern Story (originally titled "The Mother and the Law"), whose planning predated the great commercial success The Birth of a Nation (which had made $48 million, about $678 million in 2014[6]), then greatly expanded it to include the other three parallel stories under the theme of intolerance.

Actual costs to produce Intolerance are unknown, but best estimates are close to $2.5 million (about $47 million in 2014), an astronomical sum in 1916.[6] The film was by far the most expensive made at that point. When the film became a flop at the box-office, the burden was so great that in 1918 Triangle Film Corporation was put up for sale.

A detailed account of the film’s production is told in William M. Drew's 1986 book D.W. Griffith's Intolerance: Its Genesis and Its Vision.[7]

Reception[edit]

Upon its initial release, Intolerance was a commercial failure. Despite this, Intolerance has received very positive reviews. Intolerance has been called "the only film fugue".[8][9][10] Professor Theodore Huff, one of the leading film critics of the first half of the 20th century, stated that it was the only motion picture worthy of taking its place alongside Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the masterpieces of Michelangelo, etc. as a separate work of art.[8]

The film was shown out of competition at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.[11]

In 1989, Intolerance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", going in during the first year of voting.

In 2007, AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) ranked Intolerance at number 49 of 100 films. The film currently holds a 96% approval rating on the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

Film critic David Thomson has written of the film's "self-destructive frenzy":

The cross-cutting, self-interrupting format is wearisome.... The sheer pretension is a roadblock, and one longs for the "Modern Story" to hold the screen.... [That story] is still very exciting in terms of its cross-cutting in the attempt to save the boy from the gallows. This episode is what Griffith did best: brilliant, modern suspense, geared up to rapidity — whenever Griffith let himself slow down he was yielding to bathos.... Anyone concerned with film history has to see Intolerance, and pass on.[12]

Influence[edit]

Intolerance and its unorthodox editing were enormously influential, particularly among European and Soviet filmmakers. Many of the numerous assistant directors Griffith employed in making the film — Erich von Stroheim, Tod Browning, Woody Van Dyke — went on to become important and noted Hollywood directors in the subsequent years.[citation needed] It has been parodied by Buster Keaton in Three Ages (1923).[13]

A replica of an archway and elephant sculptures from the Babylon segment of the film serve as an important architectural element of the Hollywood and Highland shopping center in Hollywood, Los Angeles (built in 2001).

Extant versions[edit]

Intolerance is now in the public domain and there are currently four major versions of the film in circulation.

Major versions[edit]

New York Times,
(Sat., February 19, 1921), p.15

        WARK PRODUCING CORPORATION, moving pictures, at 1,476
Broadway, has filed schedules in bankruptcy, with liabilities of $298,910,
unsecured claims and assets of $125,042, consisting of films, pictures,
prints, &c., $65,000; accounts $13,927 and deposits in banks $47,016.
Copyright on motion picture play, "Intolerance," is given as value unknown.
Among the creditors are D. W. Griffith, $84,334; D. W. Griffith, Inc. $975;
D. W. G. Corp., $60,230; H. E. Aitken, $8,136, and Norman Hall, $6,610.

Other versions[edit]

There are other budget/public domain video and Digital Video Disc versions of this film released by different companies, each with varying degrees of picture quality depending on the source that was used. A majority of these released are of poor picture quality, but even the restored 35 millimeter versions exhibit considerable film damage.

The Internet Movie Database lists the standard running time as 163 minutes, which is the running length of the DVD released by "Public Domain Flicks". The Delta DVD released in Region 1 as Intolerance: A Sun Play of the Ages and in Region 2 as Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages clocks in at 167 minutes. The version available for free viewing on the Internet Movie Archive is the Killiam restoration.

Lost footage[edit]

Cameraman Karl Brown remembered a scene with the various members of the Babylonian harem that featured full frontal nudity. He was barred from the set that day, apparently because he was so young. While there are several shots of slaves and harem girls throughout the film (which were shot by another director, without Griffith's involvement) the scene that Brown describes is not in any surviving versions.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Box Office Information for Intolerance". The Numbers. Retrieved April 13, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Tim Dirks. "Intolerance (1916)". The Best Films of All Time - A Primer of Cinematic History. 
  3. ^ Scott McGee, Intolerance, TCM - Turner Classic Movies, retrieved 13 February 2013 
  4. ^ NAACP: 100 Years of History, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), retrieved 13 February 2013 
  5. ^ Ruth St. Denis is listed by some modern sources as the Solo Dancer in the Babylonian Story, but she denied this in an interview. However, it is generally believed St. Denis and her "Denishawn dancers" appear on the steps of the Babylon set in the great courtyard scene.
  6. ^ a b Cross, Mary. 100 People Who Changed 20th-Century America (2013 ed.). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610690867. - Total pages: 624
  7. ^ William M. Drew, D.W.Griffith's Intolerance: Its Genesis and Its Vision, Jefferson, NJ, McFarland & Company (1986); (2001). ISBN 0-7864-1209-7
  8. ^ a b Franklin, Joe: Classics of the Silent Screen, The Citadel Press, New York, NY, 1959
  9. ^ Zito, Stephen F., American Film Institute and Library of Congress, Cinema Club 9 Program Notes, Post Newsweek Stations, Washington, DC, November , 1971
  10. ^ Huff, Theodore quoted in Classics of the Silent Screen, The Citadel Press, New York, NY 1959
  11. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Intolerance". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  12. ^ Thomson, David (2008), “Have You Seen…?” A Personal introduction to 1,000 Films; New York: Knopf, pg 403.
  13. ^ Knopf, Robert The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton By p.27
  14. ^ Biennale Cinema, 64th Venice Film Festival: The restored version of David Wark Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), La Biennale di Venezia, archived from the original on 3 October 2007 
  15. ^ Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) - Did You Know? - Trivia, Internet Movie Database 

External links[edit]