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Intolerance (as part of the Griffith Masterworks DVD Box Set) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

April 17, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

D.W. Griffith’s  1916 film “Intolerance” still stands as one of the most ambitious films of all time.  Nearly a hundred years later, you can’t help but marvel at how elaborate, how detailed and how grand it was to make this film.  From hundreds of extras, impressive set design and costume design and more, “Intolerance” is a complex, artistic and impressive film even by today’s standards.  Although not an easy film to sit for nearly three hours, “Intolerance” is still magnificent and for those who are passionate about cinema, must be seen at least once.

Images courtesy of © 2002 Kinto International Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Intolerance (as part of the Griffith Masterworks DVD Box Set)

DURATION: 197 minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Full Frame, Color Tinted, English Intertitles

RATED: UNRATED (Note: The film does have violence and nudity)

COMPANY: Kino Video

Released on December 10, 2002

Directed by D.W. Griffith

Scenario by D.W. Griffith

Titles by Anita Loos

Music Composed and Performed by Joseph Turrin

Starring:

Mae Marsh as The Dear One (Modern Story)

Robert Harron as the Boy (Modern Story)

F.A. Turner as The Girl’s Father (Modern Story)

Sam De Grasse as Arthur Jenkins (Modern Story)

Vera Lewis as Mary T. Jenkins (Modern Story)

Tom Wilson as The Kindly Policeman (Modern Story)

Ralph Lewis as Governor  (Modern Story)

Howard Gaye as Christ (Judean Story)

Lillian Langdon as Mary (Judean Story)

Olga Grey as Mary Magdalene (Judean Story)

Erich von Ritzau as First Pharisee (Judean Story)

Bessie Love as The Bride of Cana (Judean Story)

Margery Wilson as Brown Eyes (French Story)

Eugene Pallette as Prosper Latour (Frech Story)

Allan Sears as The Mercenary (French Story)

Frank Bennett as Charles IX, King of France (French Story)

Josephine Crowell as Catherine de Medici (French Story)

Constance Talmadge as Marguerite de Valois (French Story)/The Mountain Girl (Babylonian Story)

Alfred Paget as Prince Belshazzar (Babylonian Story)

Seena Owen as PRincess Beloved (Babylonian Story)

Carl Stockdale as King Nabonidus (Babylonian Story)

Lillian Gish as the Woman Who Rocks the Cradle

D. W. Griffith had a vision of the movies as the greatest spiritual force the world had ever known. Just one year after the huge success of Birth of a Nation, he was emboldened to prove his faith in the new medium with the superproduction Intolerance.

Four separate stories are interwoven: the fall of Babylon, the death of Christ, the massacre of the Huguenots, and a contemporary (early 20th Century) drama — all crosscut and building with enormous energy to a thrilling chase and finale. Through the juxtaposition of these well-known sagas, Griffith joyously makes clear his markedly deterministic view of history, namely that the suffering of innocents makes possible the salvation of the current generation, symbolized by the boy in the modern love story.

Griffith’s concept and execution of Intolerance are awesome, but audiences of 1916 were generally bewildered by his lofty intentions. He aimed too high and spent the rest of his career paying off the large debts that his vision had incurred.

With Miriam Cooper, Mae Marsh, Margery Wilson, Constance Talmadge, Robert Harron, Elmer Clifton, Tully Marshall

With the success of D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece, “The Birth of the Nation” in 1915, Griffith went on to create his most ambitious and expensive film yet.  “Intolerance” was a film that Griffith wanted to create.  From inspiration of epic films such as “Cabiria” and “The Last Days of Pompeii”, “Intolerance” would feature 125,000 men and women along with 7,500 horses.  Also, featured is a lavish, extremely detailed set and beautiful costume design created for each different era depicted in the film.  Needless to say, nearly a hundred years after this film was created, we can only be in awe by what is seen visually.

In today’s film even using technology, what D.W. Griffith created would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to create and for something this epic, CG would have to be used to showcases such elaborate (and also historically accurate) sets and show many thousands of people.  But to think, Griffith accomplished this for his film.  How he did it, no one knows.  In fact, no studio would even dare approve such a film today but somehow, Griffith managed to make this film happen in 1916 for nearly $400,000.  Incredible and unbelievable but it’s true.  Granted, several hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money back then but it’s hard to believe that the film was not created for over  a million dollars.

But the most unfortunate thing to happen to D.W. Griffith in regards to “Intolerance” was the film’s box office failure.  The film made a lot of money when it was first released but unlike Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” which had years to make money after it was released, “Intolerance” and the whole film industry just went through a major slow down mode as World War I was approaching.  No longer can filmmakers depend on the international box office and people were not in a movie watching mood.   Needless to say, no one expected World War I to hit so hard but it did and Griffith, carried the big burden of debt from this film and other future films which unfortunately, put himself in a situation that he had difficult recovering from.

“Intolerance” was just an enormous film.  In fact, its original cut put the film about eight hours long.  The film has been released on DVD from Kino Video and also Image and both are nearly three hours long and interesting enough, both DVD’s contain different scenes from each other while Kino’s version has a better print transfer.

So, what is “Intolerance” about?  Let us look at the definition from Merriam-Webster:

1 : unable or unwilling to endure
2 a : unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters b : unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights : bigoted

“Intolerance” is a film about the lack of tolerance which have led to the worst situations in history.  The film is divided into four storylines covering various eras.  The Babylonian (539 B.C.), the Judean (A.D. 27), the Renaissance (1572 France) and United States (1914).

The film shows us how “Intolerance” led to the fall of Babylon because of the introduction of religion and various groups believing in different gods, the Judean storyline covers Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, the Renaissance covers the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (a war over religion) and in the U.S., how corporate greed has hurt America, women campaigning against indecency and more.

“Intolerance” features each era in colored tinting and goes back and forth between storylines of life among citizens and families during the happier times until intolerance rears its ugly head and causes casualties, sadness but mostly the loss of innocent life.

“Intolerance” was so epic that D.W. Griffith two films based on the footage used from “Intolerance” – “The Mother and the Law” (the 1914 U.S. storyline) and “The Fall of Babylon” (the Babylon storyline).  But one must wonder how the film would have been if kept at the original 8-hour cut.  Even actress Lillian Gish has expressed that she wished the original was kept because so much footage was lost. But the problem was that “Intolerance” was a film that was constantly being re-edited by Griffith and so, no one knows what is the original version.  Even his producers tried to sue him in order to get the original back but so much editing was done, it was too late.  And the fact that there is no script and everything was inside Griffith’s head, hopefully one day, audiences will be able to see the full version.

When the film was shown in theaters, the original running time was 3 hours and 30 minutes and according to Robert K. Klepper (author of “Silent Films, 1877-1996”) back in 1999, the only place that carries the original (and restored ) print is the  Museum of Modern Art but it is inaccessible to the public.  The Kino DVD (the version included in the Griffith Masterworks DVD box set) is 3 hours and 17 minutes long.

VIDEO:

“Intolerance is presented in full-frame (1:33:1) and depending on each scene, there are different color tinting used for various era’s.  For example, during the Babylonian scene, we get sepia and red.  During Lillian Gish’s scene as she is rocking the cradle, her scene is in blue.  Others are sepia, grayscale, green, orange, purple and thus, there was a bit of experimentation going on with the color tinting (which was quite popular during the teens).

Picture quality ranges from really good to some that have some warping and negative degradation.  But for the most part, the video quality is very good and for those who have watched various versions of the film, I have been told that this Kino Video release is the best print version out there on video.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Intolerance” features the music composed and performed by Joseph Turrnin.  Turrin’s music matches up with the film quite well but I have not watched various versions of the film on video which have a different musical score, so I am unable to comment on how Turrin’s score compares to the others.  But from this score alone, he did a fantastic job.

Intertitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Intolerance” comes with the following special features:

  • Introduction by Orson Welles – (4:34) For “The Silent Years”, shown on television back in the ’70s, Orson Welles introduced the films.  In this feature, we watch the introduction as Welles comments on the film and the closing words after the film was shown on television.
  • Excerpt of the Last Days of Pompeii (1913) – (3:10)  An excerpt from “The Last Days of Pompeii”, one of the epic films that D.W. Griffith was inspired by before creating “Intolerance”.
  • Excerpt of Cabiria (1914) – (5:01) An excerpt from “Cabiria”, one of the epic films that D.W. Griffith was inspired by before creating “Intolerance”.
  • Excerpt of the Fall of Babylon (alternate ending) – (:59) Because of how the storyline ended with the Mountain Girl for the Babylon scene, for the full length film version of the Babylon storyline ala “The Fall of Babylon”, a different ending was created.
  • Pamphlets – Using your remote, you can view the various pamphlets used in 1916 to promote the film.
  • About the score – Using your remote, you can read information about the musical score by Joseph Turrin.
  • The Book – The following features text that can be accessed via remote which provides a summation of the structure and ideology of the epic film.

“Intolerance” is an epic film that just epitomizes the word “ambitious” when describing a film.

I was shocked to see how much went into creating this film and in awe about how epic this film came to be.  The production design is incredible, the costume design is numerous and the fact that over a hundred thousand people took part in this film and were outfitted in some sort of costume is incredible.

“Intolerance” is an incredible film but by no means is it an easy film to watch.  Rarely do I need to take breaks to watch a film but “Intolerance” was a first for me, in that I had to watch it in four sittings.  Even Orson Welles was correct about how complex the film is and could you imagine how audiences who sat hours to watch this film in 1916, even in 2010, its one of those films that you want to soak in and just watch and have the ability to rewind.

I found myself being in awe by watching the overall design and overall surrounding of each scenery and how it was shot that I was missing out on the main characters and watching them act.  So, I was constantly rewinding because there are many things going on and then the shifts through different era’s, it’s easy to get confused.

So, in many ways, we are very fortunate for DVD players, because we can easily rewatch certain scenes.  Audiences back then who had to watch this movie in one sitting, I’m sure they were in awe as I was, when it came to seeing how much detail and work went to create this film but I can imagine how viewers can easily be lost.

With that being said, my favorite segments of “Intolerance” were the storylines that D.W. Griffith ended up making two films out of and that was the modern U.S. and the Fall of Babylon storyline.  Granted, I wish there was a way to catch these films by itself on DVD.  The Babylon sequence is just remarkable to watch and how they created those sets, absolutely impressive.  Also, for Constance Talmadge fans, this film is what helped make her silent film career.  But in terms of overall storylne, the modern storyline has a lot of depth to it.

From seeing the corporations take on the employees that strike (no shields, but police firing on striking employees) to women who go to the homes of women they deem unfit and taking their babies and putting them up for adoption.  But most of all, an actual storyline that deals with false imprisonment and murder.

Overall, “Intolerance” is not an easy film to watch straight through.  Again, I’m not known for taking breaks on a film and I prefer to watch every film in one sitting but for “Intolerance”, it was difficult.  Not because of the complexities of the storyline but because I found myself rewinding because I know I was missing details.  I was really taking in the cinematography, the sets, the costumes and overall performances that each time there was a switch to a different era, I ended up rewatching sequences over and over.  And because of that, I would not have been a good candidate to watch this film back in 1916 because it is a film that could be quite exhaustive.

But I did enjoy this film but I will not be content until I see the full 3 hour and 30 minute version of the film.  I know there are details that are missing and until I watch a complete restored version of the film (which we know is available), somehow I hope it gets released on DVD or Blu-ray within our lifetime.

For now, the Kino Video version of the film is still an impressive DVD release that can be purchased ala standalone but if you really want the best experience and to watch even more awesome silent films from D.W. Griffith, the Griffith Masterworks DVD box sets are highly recommended.

In the end, “Intolerance” is a film that I believe those who are passionate about cinema should at least watch once in their lifetime.  It may not be a film that I can see myself watching repeatedly from start to finish over and over again but it’s definitely the most ambitious film that I have seen yet.

A DVD release that is definitely recommended!

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