The Films of D. W. Griffith

Topics: Film, Lillian Gish, The Birth of a Nation Pages: 4 (1236 words) Published: October 7, 2008
Perhaps no other director has generated such a broad range of critical reaction as D.W. Griffith. For students of the motion picture, Griffith's is the most familiar name in film history. Generally acknowledged as America's most influential director (and certainly one of the most prolific), he is also perceived as being among the most limited. Praise for his mastery of film technique is matched by repeated indictments of his moral, artistic, and intellectual inadequacies. At one extreme, Kevin Brownlow has characterized him as "the only director in America creative enough to be called a genius." At the other, Paul Rotha calls his contribution to the advance of film "negligible" and Susan Sontag complains of his "supreme vulgarity and even inanity"; his work "reeks of a fervid moralizing about sexuality and violence" and his energy comes "from suppressed voluptuousness." Griffith started his directing career in 1908, and in the following five years made some 485 films, almost all of which have been preserved. These films, one or two reels in length, have customarily been regarded as apprentice works, films in which, to quote Stephen Zito, "Griffith borrowed, invented, and perfected the forms and techniques that he later used to such memorable effect in The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, and Way Down East." These early "Biographs" (named after the studio at which Griffith worked) have usually been studied for their stylistic features, notably parallel editing, camera placement, and treatment of light and shadow. Their most famous structuring devices are the last-minute rescue and the cross-cut. In recent years, however, the Biographs have assumed higher status in film history. Many historians and critics rank them with the most accomplished work in Griffith's career. Vlada Petric, for instance, calls them "masterpieces of early cinema, fascinating lyrical films which can still affect audiences today, conveying the content in a cinematic manner...
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