Intolerant? You will be...
29 August 2004
D W Griffith's Intolerance, his 1916 film which switches between four time frames to tell the story of man's inhumanity to himself. At a distance of eighty years, its surprising how much of the film holds up. For the uninitiated, the action tells the story of the crucifixion, the massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, the fall of Babylon and a contemporary story in depression hit America.

It's the latter two which have the most impact. This was the most expensive film of the time because in order to tell the story Griffith actually built Babylon on the backlot to scale and filled it with extras - imagine if Peter Jackson had actually built the whole of helms deep without any CGI material then hired all of those people instead of computer generating most of them and your there. It's famous because despite the larger cameras of the time he uses sweeping crane shots to demonstrate the epic sweep of the action.

The contemporary story, a sort of early century version of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home works because the performances, despite the lack of sound have a naturalistic feel - although some of actors display over the top hand gestures (a real danger in the silent era), the leads all have a quiet dignity and by the end, a race to save a condemned man I found myself getting rather excited - again for the time the editing is surprisingly swift and contemporary.

This stuff isn't for everyone and it eventually took me four and a half hours to see the whole piece after pauses and intermissions. I would also recommend finding a copy with a decent soundtrack. The version I rented had a nasty Hammond organ plinky plonky noise in the background which distracted rather than enhanced the action; I ended up turning it off and putting on some world music compilation cds which worked surprisingly well, especially when the music co-incidentally fitted the action onscreen. Not that I would say this is the best way to enjoy the films. Georgio Morodor still has a lot to answer for because of what he did to Metropolis.
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