Saturday, July 3, 2010

Intolerance (1916)

Director D.W. Griffith's expensive, most ambitious silent film masterpiece Intolerance (1916) is one of the milestones and landmarks in cinematic history. Many reviewers and film historians consider it the greatest film of the silent era. The mammoth film was also subtitled: "A Sun-Play of the Ages" and "Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages." Griffith was inspired to make this film after watching the revolutionary Italian silent film epic Cabiria (1914) by director Giovanni Pastrone.
After the widespread controversy surrounding his racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation (1915), Griffith attempted to defensively answer his critics with this work. He took a smaller feature film that he was working on about the contemporary, Progressive Era struggle between capital and labor [titled "The Mother and the Law"] and the theme of social injustice and combined it with three new stories to create a more spectacular, monumental, dramatic epic. All of the stories, spanning several hundreds of years and cultures, are held together by themes of intolerance, man's inhumanity to man, hypocrisy, bigotry, religious hatred, persecution, discrimination and injustice achieved in all eras by entrenched political, social and religious systems.
The four widely separate, yet paralleled stories are set in different ages - and in the original print, each story was tinted with a different color. Three of the four are based on factual history:

THE 'MODERN' STORY (A.D. 1914): (Amber Tint) In early 20th century America during a time of labor unrest, strikes, and social change in California and ruthless employers and reformers - a young Irish Catholic boy, an exploited worker, is wrongly imprisoned for murder and sentenced to be hung on a gallows. The boy is saved from execution in a last-minute rescue by his wife's arrival with the governor's pardon.

THE JUDAEAN STORY (A.D. 27): (Blue Tint) The Nazarene's (Christ's) Judaea at the time of his struggles with the Pharisees, his betrayal and crucifixion (told as a Passion Play in his last days) - it is the shortest of the four stories.

THE FRENCH STORY (A.D. 1572): (Sepia Tint) Renaissance, 16th century medieval France at the time of the persecution and slaughter of the Huguenots during the regime of Catholic Catherine de Medici and her son King Charles IX of France, and the notorious atrocities of St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (including its effects upon the planned wedding of a young innocent Huguenot couple - Brown Eyes and Prosper Latour).


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