3.5 Stars out of 4
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Intolerance indeed is love’s struggle through the ages. That is its title. D.W. Griffith’s follow-up and apology to the racially-aberrant Birth of a Nation. Great move that was. Intolerance is damn good as well, but must be appreciated in a completely different way than its 1915 predecessor. I loved Birth of a Nation for it imbuing the power and challenges cinema holds through the moving image. Intolerance’s fascination is in its fugue approach. It cross-cuts to demonstrate the passage of intolerance through history. Where Griffith mastered emotion in Birth of a Nation, Intolerance transcends time.
The four subplots involve the dissolution of Babylon through the vanquishment of Cyrus; the Judean Era during the crucifixion of Christ; the French Renaissance and the tragic St. Bartholomew’s Massacre; and then a simple tale on a wrongfully accused Boy, convicted of murder. What is Griffith supposing here? Intolerance. Intolerance, intolerance, intolerance. In terms of message, this is not a complex film. Paradoxically, as cinema and visual concept, it is extraordinary.
All the subplots intertwine as if one event and Griffith’s script is written in the way that all the prose could apply to each subplot. Historians have often argued that history is a set of patterns repeating itself. That is a postulation that is inspired in many films nowadays, even non-historical pieces (like Haggis’s Crash or Anderson’s Magnolia). To emphasize this theory, Griffith shows a mother (who I pose is Mary), rocking the sacred carriage in an azure-saturated shot. Same angle through the whole film. This shows the passage of generations.
Intolerance is a long silent film but it is assuaged with an innovative, brilliantly told narrative. I never found what it was saying particularly elaborate, but Griffith’s grandiosity can be found in its sets and its montage. Well not precisely “montage”. Intolerance moves with the intangible grace of time. Eisenstein’s montage, through the guidance of Kuleshov, would be born 9 years later.
4 Stars out of 4
D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation can only be understood in one context: its own. Yes, the film today is scornful and belongs in an immoral universe that surpasses the amoral. It is a three hour and fifteen minute silent film that speaks of everything that is reviled in today’s society. You feel no reason to watch the film, but when you do you are flabbergasted by its evil demeanour and how it commits to that in such a fascinating way. (continue reading…)